Saturday, October 2, 2010

Writing with Kids

Among other things, I am a specialist in elementary language learning - reading and writing. I'm not quite sure how that happened but the stars aligned and I ended up completing Sr. level coursework that qualified me as a "specialist" and certainly made me into a theorist. The result: I have some fairly strong feelings about what writing with kids could/should look like. Since I'm also a product of whole language learning before it was even de rigueur (thank you, Miss Young!), I am especially convinced about the type of environment that fosters a love of writing and continues to support a desire to write.

In order for a child to want to write, a child must have a compelling reason to write and someone to share it with - and hopefully has something so pressing to share or to say that he cannot help but want to create a written record of it. That desire to write has to come from within, self-motivated, rather than externally required.

Children often have more complex and detailed things to say than their mechanical level of writing can keep up with, so it's important to provide them with whatever props they need to get their ideas out and onto a page. For some children, that might mean that a parent (or helper) scribes. Others can use voice recognition software to get their ideas into a word processing program. Others can learn keyboarding skills that help them move beyond what their handwriting level currently is. And a combination of all of the above is great, too.

I'm not a big fan of most home learning material out there that supports writing. A lot of it removes the joy from the process and focuses only on the mechanics - grammar, spelling, penmanship, rules of composition. What is missing, in my mind, is the step that helps children feel passionate about sharing their ideas in a written format.

Julie Bogart has created a program for writing called Brave Writer. It is really written for parents who are unsure of how to support their children's writing in the home learning environment but also don't want to use the pre-digested materials that usually show up on trade fair tables. I have a copy of The Writer's Jungle (it's in a binder) and it's great for this purpose. Julie also has materials for teaching spelling, punctuation and grammar, but she doesn't lose sight of the importance of the writing milieu. Or the emotional state of the child. Or the parent/child relationship.

I don't think the program is perfect for everyone and it certainly isn't necessary to buy the program in order to support your children's writing. And I do find it a refreshing change from most prescriptive writing programs out there (and it's completely non-sectarian).

Here are a few of Julie's articles that demonstrate her common sense approach to writing (and learning at home):

Please note: the Brave Writer program is still a directed approach in many ways, so do check out the articles listed to see if the approach will fit  your family's learn-at-home style.

A wonderful book for supporting emerging writing is Peggy Kaye's Games for Writing: Playful Ways to Help Your Child Learn to Write. There are games to support the physical development of writing as well as games to support the creative process. The book says it's for kids ages 5 to 8, but I believe you can extend many of these games to use with the slightly older child who is interested in writing.

For your own inspiration, I suggest Lucy Calkins Raising Life Long Learners: A Parent's Guide. She's a writing specialist and although her suggestions at times are a bit "schooly", she understands the importance of allowing the writing to come from the child. If you've been thinking about writing yourself, do read Natalie Goldberg's incredible books about writing, especially Writing Down the Bones. Anne Lammott's book, Bird by Bird, is also fabulously inspiring.

When it comes right down to it, developing a love of writing is similar to developing a love of reading. If the child is in a home where writing is happening and writing is enjoyed, then she, too, will see the value in writing. And, if she is in a home where reading is happening and is enjoyed, then she will, perhaps, want to write stuff that other people will want to read.

It's not a process that has to be pushed. When children have an authentic and personal reason to write and feel that what they write belongs to them, they will write and they will do so gladly, without coercion or power struggles.

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