What?! You mean, some people hate writing?!
As a writer myself, it’s hard for me to imagine anyone not enjoying it! However, I know that for many kids (and adults, for that matter) it is not their preferred activity.
Being a good communicator is an important skill, though, and I have often been grateful for the ability to clearly communicate my ideas with others, particularly with regard to “touchy” situations where the wrong words could lead to misunderstandings and damaged relationships.
So I think it’s vitally important that we teach our children how to get their thoughts and ideas down on paper effectively. I am a strong believer that one of the best ways to learn how to write well is to simply do it!
I am not against outlines and tips for improvement, but I have distinct memories of being forced in school to create outlines for structuring my writing and feeling completely inhibited in my expression. It was a frustrating experience.
I believe a better method for teaching the reluctant writers in your household is to offer plenty of opportunities for free expression without the fear of being graded or critiqued. Outlines can be learned later after their comfort level has improved. Here are a few ideas:
- Good regular practice for improving writing skills
- Beneficial in processing events
- Privacy means freedom to simply express thoughts and ideas
- Can be combined with doodling and art
- Pick something special
- Choose a small size (easier to fill a page)
- Decide on lined (for writing, only) or blank for encouraging drawing, as well
When I was in 5th grade, my teacher noticed my ability with the written word and suggested that my parents get me a journal and encourage me to write in it daily. Thus began a beautiful 7-8 year relationship with my beloved journal! (Actually, I filled at least a dozen of them, but who’s counting?) For a good stretch of years, I rarely missed recording the day’s events and my thoughts and feelings.
I used to say that if I didn’t write down the day, it was like it never happened. In fact, I remember sometimes missing a day and going back and writing that days’ entry. Naturally, after journaling almost daily for 7-8 years, my writing skills improved. I found creative ways of describing situations and became rather poetic with my writing.
Journaling is not only a great way to improve writing skills, but it’s also fun way to keep a record of experiences your children want to remember with the added benefit of helping them to process those events and experiences. It can be very therapeutic, especially with difficult experiences. I remember how helpful it was to “talk out” my teenage angst. Putting a voice to my pain was relieving.
Of course, any cheap notebook works for this task, but nothing draws a child in quite like a journal with a unique, special design. There’s just something more exciting about writing in a leather-bound, hand-stitched journal with a cool design imprinted on the cover. I believe spending a little extra money on a journal that exudes “specialness” is a wise investment.
We recently visited Books-a-Million and were enamored by all the beautiful journals! Korban was particularly fond of a small journal (a tiny one, actaully) that was only $5. It happened to be his birthday, so I bought it as an extra present. I have been pleasantly surprised by how often he’s written in it!
And one of the benefits of the size is that it doesn’t take a lot of content for him to fill a page. That’s especially helpful for a young boy, since his fine motor skills are still developing!
My daughter, on the other hand, often found her writing morphing into drawing sessions in her lined journals, so she decided just to use sketch books as combined journaling/drawing books. The blank pages invite her many doodles and drawings and then the words seem to follow. It’s a fun and creative way to combine these two practices.
For those more prone to drawing who don’t need the lines, this is a great option. For younger ones, you may want to print some of those special lined pages with space to draw at the top.
- Stay in touch with friends and relatives
- Show gratitude and kindness
- Opportunity for artistic expression
- Keep a space with cards and stationary
- Use an online service like Send Out Cards
- Consider pen pals
- Make it practical (thank-you cards, sympathy cards, etc.)
This is one of the most lifeschooling-ish methods of teaching writing! Communicating through letters and cards is something we do in our everyday lives (or should), so it can be a practical way for your children to learn while doing something important. Even thank-you cards are a dying practice (sadly, I am guilty of contributing to their demise), but they shouldn’t be!
In this age of the e-mail and text, it’s wonderful for anyone to get a card in the mail, especially one that is hand made by your child or has some form of artistic expression included. I always loved getting sweet drawings from some of the little kids in one particular family at church when we would be home sick.
In our school room, we have a hanging wall pocket “thing” that is embroidered with “Letters” at the top. It stores all my cards, stationary, stickers, etc. and makes card-writing simple…or it should if I was better about using it. (#keepingitreal) That being said, my youngest has often pillaged the pockets for special cards for his writing projects.
However, for those of us who have a hard time actually getting the card from the kitchen table out to the mailbox (a couple years ago, I found some 10-year-old Christmas cards neatly addressed and stamped, just waiting in anticipation to make the journey that would never be), there are services that can help!
I have been using SendOutCards for about 6-7 years now and really love how simple and fast it is! Your children can design their cards online and even add photos or scanned artwork, then click send and the company will print, stamp, and mail the card for you! I try to take time each Sunday to use it for sending out quick notes or encouragement or birthday cards.
Another great idea for encouraging writing is to sponsor a child through Gospel for Asia. We did this for a period of time and it was precious getting the letters with pictures and drawings from “our” child.
How about the time-honored tradition of pen pals? That can be a fun opportunity for your children to not only get some practice writing, but to also learn about other cultures and traditions. Here is a site with a list of pen pal websites, including one for writing to soldiers.
- Helps in memorization
- Relieves the pressure of having to come up with ideas
- Teaches sentence structure and good style indirectly
- Only use high-quality writing and poetry for copywork
- Bible verses are a great option!
- Allow your children to select what interests them from some options you provide
While this is one of the less creative options, copywork can be a very comforting method for those who practically have an anxiety attack simply from looking at a blank page!
Copywork allows children to learn sentence structure and the natural rhythm of words in a very non-stressful way by not having to come up with anything on their own. It may not be where we want our children to end with the learning process, but it’s a great beginning and can help encourage them to eventually venture out on their own!
Another benefit is that memorization is aided well through copywork. Give them a choice of some passages you would love for them to memorize, such as classic poetry or Bible verses. You could even find some silly poetry for them to copy if it would make the process more enjoyable to them!
4. E-mail and Texting
- Teaches typing (often easier for kids with dyslexia)
- Very practical
- Can be incorporated into lifeschooling activities (responding to e-mails for parents, etc.)
- A practical way to help teach children self-discipline
- Provide a good online filter
- Set limits for texting
- Encourage texting with family primarily
This may not seem like “legitimate” homeschooling, but let’s face it, it’s legitimate lifeschooling! It is part of our everyday lives, so we might as well learn to view it as a valid learning opportunity and maximize the benefits. Your children will need to be effective communicators with these tools!
Furthermore, some children who struggle with dyslexia find typing on a keyboard to be much easier. I recently heard Hal and Melanie Young share how one of their boys struggled with writing when he was young, so they tried letting him use a computer to type his thoughts instead. They were shocked at how much this helped him learn to write better!
Of course, there are precautions that would be extremely wise to take. Don’t allow your children unlimited and unmonitored access to the internet or phones, especially if they are young or have not shown spiritual maturity. We all know it’s a crazy, wicked world out there, full of traps that even the strongest Christian can fall into (1 Cor. 10:12)!
Because of that, I would highly recommend using a filter such as Covenant Eyes. In our home, we use Linux devices (we’re nerdy) and have yet to find a good “mainstream” solution for our specific situation. We use a program that works for our specific setup, but likely not for yours.
That being said, I know many people who have been very happy with Covenant Eyes and I have been impressed with what I’ve learned about them! This program is all about accountability, which is a key component because NO software is going to function perfectly and block everything. We need to disciple our kids so they will be able to stand firm when they are no longer in our care.
Another aspect of character training that can be addressed is self-discipline. Older kids can learn how to monitor the time they spend online and use it wisely, but it’s a good idea to set some limits until they can handle it.
Assuming you have Covenant Eyes or another good blocking and accountability software, e-mail and texts can be a fast way for them to stay in touch with grandparents and other relatives. A good typing program can help them learn to form proper typing habits, too, and it’s important to discourage them from using too many acronyms in their texts.
You can also help your children learn to run a household by allowing them to be involved with some of your household-related communications such as e-mails requesting refunds or information on an order, appointment confirmations over text, or other common day-to-day communication.
What could be more practical than this type of learning? Just be sure to edit their “work” before letting them hit “send” or their learning process might affect you in unexpected ways!
- Great for younger kids who may still struggle with fine motor skills
- Great for kids who struggle with dyslexia
- Offer to transcribe for them often
- Resist the temptation to correct too much
If good old fashioned pen and paper, or good old “new fashioned” (if that’s a thing) keyboard and screen are not cutting it, why not try dictation? You may discover that the struggles your child has with other methods disappear when he’s allowed to just speak everything in his head. This was another suggestion from Hal and Melanie Young, whose son was suddenly writing research papers with ease once he tried dictating them first as recordings, then typing them.
Of course, with younger children you may want to write or type their stories directly for them. But you may also try letting them record them in private first if they are shy and listening and typing them up after they’re in bed.
And speaking of the shy ones… Obviously, if you are hearing every word that comes out of their mouths, you may be tempted to correct their grammatical or structural errors. Don’t. At least not until they have become very comfortable with this process.
They will often pick up on the correct grammar and syntax as they read more, and the setbacks of discouraging them due to premature correcting are not worth it. (As a perfectionist and frequent over-corrector, trust me on this one.) It can be extremely hard for some children to be vulnerable enough to share their thoughts and stories with you, so make it a fun process with as much encouragement as possible!
Along those lines, demonstrate that you love their work by regularly offering to dictate for them. Look for improvements and tell them. Hang up their stories on the fridge or ask if you can share them on Facebook or in an e-mail to family. Nothing shows your excitement more than “bragging” on them!
I hope these five tips have helped get your creative juices flowing! Don’t feel overwhelmed, though, thinking you have to try all of them. As I tried to make clear, we certainly don’t do all of these! But every family is different and what works well for one may not work for another. So pick and choose at your discretion.
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