Before becoming a professional photographer and a mom who buys one way tickets to New Zealand, I was an English teacher for middle school and high school students. I taught for seven years while I finished my first book. It feels like another lifetime but it was a time I cherish. Writing has always been my first creative love, and I LOVED inspiring my students to write — especially the ones who didn’t believe they could. If you have a reluctant writer at home, I have a bag of tricks to help you engage your child. Here are five of my favorite ways to inspire kids to write. They’ve all been tested on numerous students and my own kids, and the first couple ideas don’t even require a pencil or paper!
1. Weave a Story Circle
When my daughter Pascaline was only 3 years old, I would start making up a story for her. At some point, when I knew she was fully engaged, I would stop and ask her to take over. When she was little, she would giggle, feel embarrassed and then only add a few words. But that was perfect. Contributing to a story is super vulnerable no matter what age you are! I would clap and tell her how creative her ideas were, and then I would continue the story circle from her few words. As she got older, her few words turned into sentences and then into fully developed, bold ideas. She is almost 13 now, and our Story Circle has evolved into working on a magical fantasy fiction together. I write a chapter and then she writes two. But it all started with those few words and the back-and-forth magic of a Story Circle.
2. Be the Scribe
Kids who are reluctant to write are often overwhelmed at where to start. They stare at the blank page and feel their heart begin to race. Let’s help them out by removing the page. Blaze, my son, was intimidated by the idea of writing a story. He thought that being a great writer was all about the actual mechanics of writing the words down on paper. But being a great writer is about storytelling, and storytelling doesn’t require pencil or paper. I spent several months asking him to tell me a story. I’d say, “I’m going to be your scribe! Tell me a story with two characters, a problem they have to solve, and a funny or magical setting.” He would start to share his story, and I would write or type it as fast as I could. By removing the pencil and paper from him, he naturally added description, dialogue for the characters, and a surprise ending. When I read it back to him, he was in awe. “I wrote that story mama? Wow!” As his confidence grew in storytelling, I began to transition him to the writing of it. His biggest struggle used to be coming up with ideas for a blank page, now his biggest struggle is keeping up with all his ideas!
3. Set Them Up to Expect Rewrites
As a published author of five books, I used to tell my students that all writing is rewriting. I would set them up to expect rewrites as part of the process. I would show them all the edit marks from my editor so they could see how even a professional writer can’t get it all right in the first draft. A lot of my students thought that great writing meant one draft. But great writing is being willing to get all those raw ideas down on paper, and then going back over it to refine those ideas. Rewriting gives kids freedom to be messy with the first draft, because the pressure is off since they know a rewrite is expected anyways.
4. Forget about Spelling and Grammar
If your little one is a super reluctant writer, stay away from making changes to their spelling and grammar. Let all of that rest for now. It will come in due time. But if they never fall in love with storytelling, or even enjoy writing the smallest bit, it won’t matter how great their spelling or grammar is.
5. Integrate the Five Senses
So what should they refine in the rewrite? I love to have kids go over their first drafts and find spots where they can add the five senses. First drafts are often about all the facts, but the five senses is where the story starts to come alive. Encourage them to think of what their character sees, smells, tastes, hears and touches. Have them pick three to add to their story. What did the rain smell like? What did the dirt taste like in the cowboy’s mouth? What did the wind feel like on his face? Without realizing it, kids will often start to describe the five senses using similes and metaphors. That is something you can point out later! You can use their own words as proof to how great they are at using creative writing elements without even knowing it! Kids always light up when they see it in their work!
There is so much more to say than these 5 Favorite Ways to Engage Reluctant Writers for Kids of All Ages. That is why this is only Part 1. But I want to encourage you to give these first five ideas a try if your child is resistant to writing or anxious about it. Writing is one of the most vulnerable, creative acts, I have ever done. To share my ideas, write them down, risk others rejecting them, is no small thing. Celebrate the baby steps your kids make. Being a storyteller takes a measure of courage. Once they are hooked, it’s all downhill.
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