Seven ways to get kids ex­cited about writ­ing

‘Ev­ery child, has some­thing they’re pas­sion­ate about’

The Hamilton Spectator - - LIVING - MOLLY SPRAYREGEN

Whether you’re writ­ing an email or a novel, it’s vi­tal these days to un­der­stand the craft of telling a story and telling it well.

For kids, writ­ing well helps not only at school but with many offthe-page skills, from con­fi­dence to cre­ative prob­lem solv­ing.

What chil­dren may not un­der­stand is that writ­ing can also be fun. Ed­u­ca­tors say there are many things par­ents can do at home to get kids ex­cited about writ­ing.

Here are seven:

Use what they love

Show your chil­dren there’s more to writ­ing than book re­ports and re­search pa­pers. Those are im­por­tant, yes, but the first step to help­ing kids en­joy writ­ing is giv­ing them free­dom to write about what they love.

“Ev­ery child, even the most re­luc­tant writer, has some­thing they’re ex­cited and pas­sion­ate about, and there’s a way in,” said Mar­jo­laine Whit­tle­sey, a teach­ing artist as­so­ci­ate at The Telling Room, a Maine-based non­profit writ­ing cen­tre.

Youth-ori­ented cre­ative writ­ing cen­tres on the coun­try use sim­i­lar tech­niques. Tim Whi­taker, founder and ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of Mighty Writ­ers, in Philadel­phia, said his group lis­tens to what kids are in­ter­ested in — from su­per­heroes to girl power to bas­ket­ball — “and we build our writ­ing top­ics around that.”

Be­gin vis­ually

Help kids learn to cre­ate new worlds out of pic­tures — ones they draw them­selves or ones they find. Amy Rosen­bluth, co-founder and ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of Lake Erie Ink, an Ohio-based youth writ­ing cen­tre, said her or­ga­ni­za­tion’s comic-mak­ing camps are among its most pop­u­lar.

“When you’re writ­ing a comic, you’re learn­ing all the el­e­ments of writ­ing a short story, or re­ally writ­ing any­thing,” she ex­plained. “We teach them sto­ry­board­ing. They start out with char­ac­ter devel­op­ment, then set­ting, con­flict, all the same el­e­ments, but you get to draw your char­ac­ter first be­fore you add the words.”

Share peers’ writ­ing

Kids may feel more mo­ti­vated to write when they’re ex­posed to work by their peers, said Caro­line Pat­ter­son, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Mis­soula Writ­ing Col­lab­o­ra­tive in Montana.

“Sev­eral times we’ve had stu­dents who hear work by kids their own age and go, ‘Well, I could do that,’” she said.

Many youth writ­ing or­ga­ni­za­tions, like New York City-based Wri­topia, pub­lish stu­dent work on­line that par­ents can share with their kids.

Avoid crit­i­cism

“Be an ally to your writer — cel­e­brate and love what­ever they’re writ­ing,” said Re­becca Wal­laceSe­gall, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of Wri­topia.

Par­ents should be “laugh­ing when the child is try­ing to be funny, be­ing moved when there is some­thing emo­tional. These are very sen­si­tive mo­ments. These are high stakes mo­ments when a child is shar­ing their writ­ing. Don’t take them lightly, don’t laugh in a con­de­scend­ing way even if it feels a lit­tle bit off — hold all that in.”

That helps kids feel heard and ex­cited about their work, which will lead to more writ­ing.

Rosen­bluth, of Lake Erie Ink, urges par­ents not to fo­cus on spell­ing and gram­mar when their chil­dren are work­ing on cre­ative writ­ing.

“Spell­ing and writ­ing don’t have a lot in com­mon,” she said. “Writ­ing is think­ing. It’s cre­at­ing.”

This doesn’t mean you can’t go back and work on the me­chan­ics later, she stressed, but they shouldn’t be the start­ing point.

Demon­strate that the pen has power

Brian Townsend, a Chicagob­ased fifth-grade writ­ing teacher in the Kipp Char­ter Schools net­work, tries to show his stu­dents how they can use writ­ing to make a dif­fer­ence. He shares mo­ti­va­tional speeches and in­spi­ra­tional songs to demon­strate how good writ­ing can com­mu­ni­cate pow­er­ful mes­sages. He even had his stu­dents write let­ters to their sen­a­tors about a bill that would af­fect the food served in their cafe­te­ria.

He wanted to re­mind them of the real pur­pose be­hind writ­ing: to ef­fect change.

Change the ques­tions

Jaya Mukher­jee, a pro­gram man­ager at a youth lit­er­acy cen­tre in Chicago, Open Books, said par­ents can use writ­ing prompts that might be more ef­fec­tive than start­ing with a di­rect ques­tion. Ask young writ­ers, for ex­am­ple, to list 10 things they would save from their home if it were on fire, and then have them pick one item from their list and write about why they chose it. That ap­proach might re­move the daunt­ing feel­ing of star­ing at a blank page.

Write with them

Sev­eral ex­perts said sit­ting down to write be­side your child can be a pow­er­ful tech­nique. As Whit­tle­sey said, “By do­ing it along­side them, I think we’re demon­strat­ing that we’re ex­cited about writ­ing too, and that it’s ac­ces­si­ble to every­one.”

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