We grab our journals. Clark’s, a classic black and white composition book, mine a recent gift of writing prompts. We sharpen pencils; I make sure Sophie has something to do, and together, for ten or fifteen minutes a couple of times a week, we write.
For over a year now, once a month Clark and I write together in a homeschool writing circle, but I wanted to encourage him to write more often. He loves to write when he’s in our class but rarely chooses to do so at home.
Challenge greets me when I feel like it’s a good idea for my children to know or practice something because I want the motivation to do so to come from them. I knew I wanted him to write more AND I didn’t want to tell him to do so. I needed to create space for writing, for him to choose writing. So I thought about the differences between our writing circle and our home, and I remembered my writing practice became more of a practice when I started writing weekly in community with other writers.
One morning I just asked him, “Want me to grab my journal and we can write together?” and he said sure as if it was a normal thing we’d always done. We set a timer, as we do in our class. I asked him if he wanted prompts. No, thanks, he said pencil already in motion.
We wrote until the timer went off. Not wanting to push, I casually asked if he wanted to share what he’d written. He happily read to me and listened while I read to him.
While we aren’t to the point yet where he asks me to grab my journal, every time I ask, he says yes. When he does ask (a mama can hope!) I’ll make sure I say yes too.
Ten Ways to Encourage Our Children to Write
1. We grab our journal and theirs and ask if they want to write with us. Just write. For fun. To shake out ideas and story. Then we sit somewhere quiet together and do just that.
2. We let our child pick a subject or prompt for us to write about, and then give whatever they choose a shot, even if they pick something silly or gross. While we may not like the idea of writing about boogers or wearing underpants on our head, the more we play with writing, get out of our comfort zone, the more they will too.
3. We write with our children in mind and offer to share what we wrote with them. We have to be okay with modeling what raw writing looks like without being harsh on ourselves. We don’t want to start out with a disclaimer, “This is dumb, but I’ll share it anyways,” (because they will do that too), and we also don’t want to read something they won’t understand or is not for their ears.
4. We ask our child if they want to share and are okay if they don’t. It may take time for them to feel good about sharing. We ask again next time. By NOT pushing a writer out of their comfort zone, we allow them to motivate themselves when they are ready, and for writing together time to stay fun and encouraging.
5. If they share, we listen. Writers who feel like they aren’t being listened to, stop sharing. We make sure there are no distractions.
6. We only offer feedback to our children’s writing if they want it and we make sure our feedback encourages more writing by not focusing on mistakes. We don’t offer criticism or critique. A quick way to shut down a writer or sharing is to say something like, “That’s nice but…” This does not mean we gush. Saying, “This is the best thing I’ve ever heard!” can also discourage writing.
– We might say, “Can I ask you a question about your piece?” And if they say yes, ask questions like-
What happens next?
Where do you get your ideas?
Can you describe _____ for me?
What was _______ feeling when that happened?
– We might say, I loved when ________ happened.
I’m curious about _______.
I felt ________ when _______.
7. We understand that at first, our children may not want to write with us. It’s okay. We keep gently offering. We can pull out fun writing supplies, maybe new journals, and let them see us enjoying ourselves. Eventually, they will join in.
8. We build our children’s joy of writing by creating time for writing that is not graded or assessed. This time is writing for pleasure time.
9. We can use writing games can build trust, enjoyment, and encourage reluctant writers to begin.
Play with dialogue- write a line of dialogue on a piece of paper. This could be from the point of few of a stock character, a pet, or someone known. Make it interesting or funny. Something they’d want to respond to. Pass the paper and invite them to respond in the voice of any character they choose. It might be silly and odd and not make sense. It’s okay! Have fun. Keep passing.
Take a walk, hike, go outside. Find a spot to sit together and let nature guide your inspiration.
Put writing prompts (make up your own, search the web, use the ones below) in a basket or bowl and offer them as an option.
Use storytelling cards, games like Apples to Apples or Banana Grams and charades to play with story and words.
Write with pictures and pictures of words- make collages together
A Few Prompts To Begin-
Describe your favorite place or time you were in your favorite place.
Write about a scar or a time you were hurt.
Write a story about someone who is the exact opposite of you or the same.
Write about a time you were scared or overcame a fear.
Write about your favorite animal, pet, or an animal you’d love to pet one day.
Write about a trip you’ve taken or hope you one day take.
Describe your perfect day or your worse day or a day when something surprising happened.
Look around the room, tell as story about something you see.
10. We read together, even when they are big. Writers are readers and books are fuel for writing ideas.
Encouraging our children to write might not always be as simple as grabbing our journals, but there are ways to offer support, and by doing so, we can build and foster a love of writing.
Women Writing for (a) Change- workshops for adults and children to write in community
Nancie Atwell- Writing Workshop
Inside Out- Strategies for Teaching Writing
Games for Writing: Playful Ways to Help Your Child Learn to Write
This article also appears in Life Learning Magazine.