I’ve written about this before because it’s not a new challenge; it’s been going on for a while and is a constant source of..well..emotion. All the emotions: concern, irritation, frustration. Even anger. On a bad day. My bright little man – well at nearly 11 not so little – has basically decided that he can’t write (and by that, I mean creative writing not handwriting) and is lacking all confidence in that arena to the point that any homework or project with writing involved is a bloody nightmare.
So, what have I done about it? Well I’ve talked to his teachers and other mums, read A LOT around the subject and have tried to attack it from a few angles and some are working it has to be said. So, for any parents out there that might be pulling their hair out over the same issue, here are the things that have worked with my son and are my top 10 tips for helping your child with their writing.
Encourage them to read.
And I mean anything. It can be graphic novels to a magazine about PS4 games or even the same book over and over again. Don’t be precious. And make sure that reading is approached from three angles; it’s imperative that they read independently, as well as with you (we read a couple of pages each when we do this) and that you continue to read to them. Make it fun, get into character, emphasise intonation and pronunciation; do silly voices. Get them engaged with the stories and characters in the hope that it will lead to continued reading and a love of reading at that. As that’s the foundation of good writing isn’t it?!
Discuss the books!
Reading alone is not enough; there needs to be context and engagement. You need to discuss the storyline, the characters, the themes with your kids; help them to develop opinions and tastes as a reader and to be able to have thoughtful discussions.
Encourage reading in the house, as a family activity, so that they see it as a fun pastime, not just as homework that needs to be done. I wanted my little man to see how much pleasure I get from reading so switched from my Kindle (app on my phone) back to bonafide books so that there is a visual and he sees me reading books rather than staring at my phone all the time! I want him to be surrounded by books and for them to play a big role in his life too. I also write alongside him and show him my process e.g. when I’m writing a blog or a piece of content for a client. I try to be a role model as a reader and writer and my advice is for you to do the same, as the more that they see you do it, the more likely it is that they’ll have a go themselves.
Watch the movie
My son and I love movies, so we typically watch the movie of a book afterwards – if there is one – and discuss the themes, the casting, was it faithful to the book, what did he envision, was he happy with the outcome. Anything to keep the discussion going.
Moving on from reading to the actual writing part, I find that some of his mental block is due to the planning and organisation side of the process, so this is where we get visual again. We use multicolored Post Its to map out the layout and sequencing of the piece of work. And I make sure that any research that he does is not just text, but YouTube and websites; he jumps on my laptop and enjoys getting to know his subject when we attack it from a multimedia perspective which leads to more interest and motivation as he tackles the writing.
And sorry, I don’t mean to teach you to suck eggs here, but I’ve had to remind myself of this one more than once; make it fun! Know what will get their creative juices flowing and expand on it e.g. when my son was baulking at writing sentences from his spelling words, I suggested that he used them to write 10 things about his brother that annoyed him and good god he couldn’t get his pen out quick enough!
Sneak it in!
Use other homework exercises to squeeze in writing practice without them realizing it e.g. my son’s great at spelling but rather than just letting him write his words out we extend it into a piece of writing so that he’s using the words in context and developing his confidence and skills a little more whilst thinking he’s doing his spelling homework. Not the dreaded writing!
Make sure that you give them time and space to do it; writing takes mental energy and can be stressful, so try and make sure that you give them time and space and remove distraction and noise i.e. brothers and sisters and in our case an annoying little brother!
Tools of the trade
This one might be more for me as I’m such a stationary loser – yes, I’m 44 and should know better – but make sure that they have some nice writing bits and bobs to encourage the act of putting pen to paper. I enjoy buying cool stationary, notebooks and pens for my son; we have fun choosing it together and it makes the writing process a bit more appealing when he’s keen to crack open his new stuff!
Focus on the right stuff
When he’s working on a piece of writing, I also try to just focus on the creative side of things and helping him to articulate his ideas, develop beautiful imagery and expand his vocabulary. And I praise that. As much as it kills me – as I’m a grammar loon – I try not to get caught up with the mechanics of grammar and punctuation; I correct it gently but separately and attack the fundamentals in in a different way and at a different time. Again, I’m not teaching you to suck eggs but lavish praise, compliment and engage; ask lots of questions and show that you’re interested in what they’re writing. I encourage my son to edit his work rather than jumping in and identifying errors – which every bone in my body is itching to do – which is very important for building confidence.
So, there are my 10 tips for helping your child improve their writing skills; I hope that it helps in a small way as I know how soul destroying it can be when you’re working through these kinds of things.
Do you have similar experiences or other tips to share?