How do you raise a writer?

Here is a recent question from a homeschooling mom of a 6 and 8 year old.

“ I think I have the other subjects figured out, but how do I work on writing? They really don’t like writing.”

My take:

First: Relax.

At these ages all you really need to do is have writing be real, meaningful and FUN!!!! Think about playing with writing rather than teaching writing.

One of our favorite ways to play with writing was making clue hunts. Dale loved to find things, so we would hide a treasure and write clues, a little kind of riddle – sometimes they rhymed – that would lead to the treasure. There might only be 5 clues total, each clue leading to the next clue and the final clue leading to the hiding place. I wrote them for him, we wrote them together for friends and family, and as he got older, he could write them for me. I can’t remember if this started as a rainy day game or a way to make having just a few presents seem like more fun. We would hide the birthday cake and party favors, or the breakfast ingredients on easter morning. We used a small basket and hid all the things to go in the basket rather than having it be filled to begin with.

We loved to play with writing riddles, jokes, silly poetry, Haiku, alternate song lyrics, rhymes for inside of cards and letters, and love notes to hide in a lunch or under a pillow.

Second: Stay present.

Focus on thinking about where they are now instead of the future and whether they will ever be writers. Don’t worry about judging and measuring or comparing their writing.

BTW Dale did not like to write when he was in school, and there were times when he hated writing – which usually corresponded to me pushing it in a “you’re not doing it right” way.

Start a daily writing practice that is fun and meaningful: a gratitude journal. You can have a family journal, but there is great power in each person having their own and writing in it once a day as a daily ritual all at the same time.

It doesn’t matter if they can’t write yet. They can scribble or draw or whatever they can do at their level. This can be for just a few minutes- make it short and sweet and then allow folks to share, if they want to. You go first. They can tell you what they wrote. Please, don’t kill the moment or motivation with praise, which  is unnecessary and counterproductive. Just listen to what they are saying and acknowledge that you hear and see them. You can say, thank you for sharing if you need to say something.

How to  raise a writer? Dale Stephens and his grandpa writing a song
Dale and Grandpa writing a song.


Third: Model writing and reflection.

Demonstrate the joy and purpose of writing: to share our ideas and to connect. Show them that you love to write and how much you use writing to think and do things in the course of daily living rather then as a lesson. Our actions speak louder than words

“Hey, let’s make the shopping list.” “What should we have for dinner this week? Let’s write a menu.” “I miss Grandma, lets write her a letter.”  “I love this _______, let’s write a thank you note.” “Let’s make a plan for what we want to do today.” “I’m going to write a list of all the pIaces I want to go this year, how about you?”

Start a blog and let them see you writing and sharing and getting feedback. Instead of always asking them to participate, try waiting until they want to contribute or start their own projects.

Fourth:Pay attention.

Try to notice, without emphasizing, if they are struggling. Can you pinpoint where the difficulty lies: is it handwriting, generating ideas, or getting the ideas from the heart to paper?

Mea culpa moment:

Once I was running a poetry activity at a nature camp. One little girl was struggling, so I went to help. We were writing about the sitting beautiful old apple tree we were sitting under. I asked her leading questions about the 5 senses and how she felt and took notes as she answered my questions. I congratulated myself as I handed her the paper.  “See, you know exactly what you want to write. There you go. You can write your poem now.”

She shook her head, looked at me with her big brown eyes  and  bravely sighed, “ Well, I’ll try but I can’t read or write.”

I’d totally forgotten that she was the youngest in the group. She was only 4 years old, tall for her age and an incredibly self-possessed younger sister of another camper. All the rest of the campers were 8-12.

I was so in my own head about how the activity was going, I stopped seeing the child in front of me.  Paying close attention to the child will help give you ideas for how you can support your developing writer. Write your ideas down so you don’t forget!

The more you write and provide real, meaningful opportunities to write, the more your kids will see the value of writing and want to join in the fun.

Good luck! What ideas do you have for making writing fun and meaningful? I’d love to hear them. Email me  at learningbeyondschool or tell me on twitter!  Thanks, Lisa.

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Q&AEven when you choose to unschool, as a parent you will have moments when you are the teacher. Don’t worry if you don’t have a teaching credential. The critical elements that make a great teacher are often not taught in college, nor are they required to earn a teaching credential.

So, you may be asking yourself these questions:

How can I be the best teacher for my kids?  As a self-directed learner, how do I become my own best teacher?  Continue reading