So, you want your child to become a better writer. Good plan! The ability to write clearly and with ease is one that will help your child from first grade through the rest of his or her life.
Sure, school will teach your child the fundamentals of writing (grammar, syntax, and such), but that won’t necessarily make it easy or fun. Take-home essays and homework assignments can only help so much; the only way to become a better writer is to practice it over and over. Even as a college English major, I fully admit that writing is hard!
The first step to becoming a better writer is reading. Reading and writing come together as a package deal, so the more your child reads novels, newspapers, and other forms of the documented word, the more easily he’ll be able to string together his own sentences. Encourage your child to read all types of writing including fictional, journalistic, scientific, and historical pieces. This is the best way for young ones to truly understand how writing styles and tones should differ between and cater to different genres (which is immensely helpful when trying to figure out “how to write” for different classes).
Now for the real challenge: getting your child to practice writing. It takes more effort than zoning out to the television, and it’s not exactly a group activity, like a game of pick-up soccer is. Feel free to suggest the typical writing activities like acrostic poems and “pass it on” sentence games to your kids, but don’t hold your breath waiting for them to jump at the opportunity to do more of what looks and smells like school work.
Getting your kids to start writing (and liking it) is a crafty business, but it’s not impossible. Here are some tips for stealthily encouraging your kids to start reading and writing. I’ve realized that these are all methods that my parents employed on me, and I’ve turned out to be a word-and-sentence-loving, book-binding-sniffing, English major, so they’re apparently effective.
1. Use the right rewards system
Back in middle school, when all of my friends were paid for their good report cards with money and video games, I was given books for my accomplishments. For each good report card I received, I was brought to the local book store and encouraged to “pick two,” which my parents would pay for. This taught me that books weren’t burdens, but rewards.
2. Provide financial backing
This doesn’t mean you’ve got to buy your child a brand new laptop, but parents should pick up the cost of learning. Make it clear that you will always cover the costs of books, printer paper, journals, and other supplies that your child might need to become a better reader and writer.
3. Publish it
Many newspapers accept article submissions from local residents that they will publish online and in print (and there are often special contests and calls for submissions specifically written by children). Nothing encourages a child to start or continue writing quite like the possibility of seeing his words published. This is also a great time to remind your child that anything saved in an online archive can be accessed later to add to college or job applications.
4. Keep a blog
It’s better than a diary! I tried writing in a diary once in third grade, but I felt so awkward talking to myself that I stopped after a few days. A blog is public though, meaning that all of your child’s writing is for an audience; anyone in the world can read it (or if that’s not ideal, it can be made private, so no one sees it). Additionally, the technological age of the 21st century has turned many children onto typing and off of writing by hand, so a blog may feel like a more natural medium for writing than pen and paper.
5. Give writing-related gifts
Two of my most prized possessions include a leather-bound compilation of stories by Mark Twain and a good fountain pen (although I do love a good set of stationery to go along with it all). In order to make a writer out of your child, show him why all aspects of the written word, from the pen to the paper, to the binding, are to be appreciated.
The trick is to encourage your children to write… without making it feel like work. The ability to write will help your child out, not just in English class, but with science, history, and even math. And by the way, you can try out these tricks on yourself, too! It’s never too late to start writing!
Words are power.