It’s difficult enough to get children to want to write throughout the school year. But, with summer at our door, it’s harder than ever to motivate them to pick up a pen, much less do some creative writing. In this article, I show you why creative writing should be tossed to the side so that you can make way for authentic writing activities your reluctant writer will beg for.
Reluctant writers need to understand why writing is important before they can be given the task of writing. If we continuously require them to write a narrative based on imaginative creatures, we risk losing their interest.
The best way to understand this is to ask yourself: How often do I sit and write stories about unicorns and castles? Not only is it rare, it’s also difficult to do.
Children learn to write if:
- the writing is meaningful to them
- they have a real audience for their writing
- they see adults engaging in writing for authentic purposes
Requiring your child to invent a story is actually more difficult than you may think – even if his imagination runs wild on a regular basis. This is because you are asking your child to draw on experiences he has never had.
Forms of writing to motivate a reluctant writer:
Unless your child thrives on creative/ narrative writing, begin with written language tasks that offer a more meaningful purpose.
- Retells or recounts: Have your child write about pertinent events in his life. During the summer months, he may keep a journal and jot down significant things he will want to remember for next summer. He can keep a science notebook of all of the things he discovers outdoors along with some sketches. Perhaps, he can write all about his summer camp experience. Have him write a letter to a distant family member about the strange bugs he discovered this summer.
- Explanation: Have your child explain how things work or why things happen a certain way. Different from a recount, your child can answer some of his own questions. For instance: Why does it thunder? How did this plant go from seed to flower? Encourage your child to write the explanation for a real audience member, like his younger sister who may be afraid of thunder.
- Opinion/ Exposition: Family discussions often bring about different opinions about a topic. If your family is debating about the number of hours technology should be used in your home, have your child write a persuasive text for his parents. (The whole family can get on this one!)
- Procedure: Cooking, crafting and creating are breeding ground for writing opportunities. Encourage your child to write the steps to building his wooden birdhouse (after he builds it). If you’re going on a road trip, have him write the directions for getting from point A to point B for his parents to follow (be sure to double-check it before you leave!) Have him email his aunt the recipe for the best nut butter and jelly sandwich on the planet.
Integrate writing activities into daily life:
Don’t “give” writing assignments to your child. Instead, see what his day is like, the questions he raises, the activities you engage in as a family, etc. and pluck out writing opportunities from those events. If you listen with the intent of finding an opening for writing, the task will be more naturally integrated into your child’s day. He will be more inclined to write as a result.
Things to say to motivate a reluctant writer:
“Oh! Look, James, this is the second red bird we see today! What’s the difference between this one and the one we saw this morning? Let’s sketch them so that we don’t forget and we can look them up later to learn their names.” (Bam! You’ve helped him start a science journal.)
“Your father and I know that you both want new bicycles this year. If you write down the reasons why you think this would be a good idea, we will consider it.” (Persuasive essay)
“Grandma still can’t figure out how to work the iPad. Can you write her some directions so that she’ll know how to use Facetime with us?” (Procedural writing)
Materials to keep your child motivated to write:
Even though the school year is over, having brand new tools makes the writing task exciting for your child. Consider purchasing these inexpensive items:
- fancy patterned notebooks of different sizes (take your child with you to have him make the choices on his own)
- colored pens
- pencils and erasers
- a case to hold these items
No matter the writing form or the materials your child uses, keep in mind the three rules I listed above: keep the writing meaningful, give your child a real audience, and let him see you writing for authentic purposes too. Invest in a notebook yourself and write alongside your reluctant writer!
The goal is to encourage your child to write about events that are significant to his daily experiences – either for his own private purpose (journal/ diary) or for an audience (like his grandparents). Keep in mind that it’s easier for him to retell facts than it is to create a story about a character he never met.
Before the summer ends, you will find that your child will be writing more and even asking you for a new notebook!