Amongst the 3 R's* I find writing is the most challenging for my kids - physically and mentally. While I try to be patient, it is hard for me to let some of my 7 year old’s handwriting pass. The ‘s’ straddles two lines, the ‘a’ looks like a ‘d’ and invariably every line has been erased and re-written at least once! Then there is the creativity and content – I find stories start off promisingly but often come to an abrupt end. So the last few months, I have started trying out different ways to get my son to write better and to actually like writing. Here are some of the tips that have worked for me:
Read, Read, Read.
When it comes to style, grammar and writing content, I believe one is heavily influenced by the books and authors one reads. So be sure to pick out books with great grammar and vocabulary for the kids. This is especially true when kids are a little older and move to chapter books. Some of the books I read aloud to my kids (since they were quite little really) just so they can savor the words and writing style are Rudyard Kipling's Just So stories, A.A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh and E.B. White's Stuart Little.
Story versus Sentences. Writing stories or anecdotes seems to appeal to my kids much more than practicing words or sentences. I find that writing a personal narrative about something they enjoyed like a birthday party is an easier way to start before they move onto actual stories.
Combine writing with Art. Kids love to draw or paint. So ask them to write a story or a line about something and then draw a picture to illustrate it. You can get journals that have a space on top of the page for an illustration followed by a few lines for writing.
Lists galore. For some reason, my kids feel very important whenever I tell them to make a list. I guess they feel they have a say in defining what they want. So I make the most use of this fascination to practice writing skills. Some of the items that you could get them to make lists on include:
- Birthday party guest list
- Menus for the week
- Week’s timetable for homework and activities
- Art supplies that they want
- Books that they want from the library
‘Offline’ Communication. Chances are that our kids will all be far more adept at using a keyboard than a pencil to communicate. So before they get to that stage, let them use some of the old-fashioned ways of communicating to each other and to the extended family. Some suggestions that have worked for us:
- Writing ‘sorry’ notes to each other or parents whenever they want to apologize for bad behavior
- Making hand-made birthday cards instead of store-bought ones
- Writing post-cards or letters to grandparents when traveling or during vacation. They love sticking stamps and mailing letters and a trip to the post office is always fun.
- Keeping a small journal when traveling. Of course, it will help if that journal has a lock or a favorite character on it to make it more inviting.
Games and Toys. There are some fun games that involve writing – examples are Hangman, Name-Place-Animal-Thing - you can learn how to play it here . Also, when playing a board game like Scrabble, get your child to keep score. That way, they not only get to write but also to practice addition! You can also enlist the help of simple toys such as a Doodle Pro or LeapFrog Scribble and Write .
Have the Right Tools handy. I have found that having the correct writing tools can make the process much easier.
- Try to stick to wide-lined Primary composition notebooks or paper – the kind that that have a dotted line in the middle to help distinguish lower case from upper case.
- Sharpened, colorful pencils can often make all the difference. I generally keep a stock of pencils with favorite characters like Angry Birds or Disney Princesses. My kids love to choose them before they start their writing work and get to keep the pencil if they do a good job.
- Fancy stationery works, especially with girls!
Finally, Pick your Battles. It will be hard to win this battle in its entirety so as a parent you will need to prioritize what’s important to you – i.e. do you focus on content/creativity first and then move onto neatness and spelling or vice-versa. For me the creativity of the idea and how well it is expressed comes first, then grammar, then neatness and finally spellings. It will vary from parent to parent. But knowing and communicating to your child what’s most important for you in their writing also helps them focus and take baby steps towards becoming a better writer.
For tips on helping your kids develop reading skills see our article How to build Reading Comprehension skills for your kids.
*Reading, Writing, Arithmetic (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_three_Rs)