Written with Permission
By Tamara Christine Van Hooser
Young Kelly talks your ear off for hours on end with stories filled with wonder and imagination, but as soon as you ask her to write, the “clunk” in her spirit is almost audible as her enthusiasm quickly fades. You hear protests like “I can’t write!” and “Writing is boring!” and “I hate writing!” Cue the heaving, sighing, scowling, and rolling eyeballs.
If you live with this child, you know as her parent that a lack of creativity is not the problem. A child’s imagination often sends the ideas flowing so fast from her head that she gets frustrated when her hand cannot keep up. Others view writing as a pointless hoop to jump through just to prove to an adult that they know what seems patently obvious to them.
When you say “writing,” many children are overwhelmed because their thoughts run immediately to large chunks of text, complex plots, spelling, and punctuation. Keep in mind that not everyone has to produce great novels as did C. S. Lewis or Madeleine L’Engle. Written communication takes many forms: business memos, quarterly reports, letters, shopping lists, advertisements, recipes, navigational directions, scripts, programs, posters, speech notes, vision statements, grant proposals, and more. Some kids will be good at the imaginative while others excel at the factual explanations. Some writing forms need lots of words and some just a few. Show them that you don’t have to be a great storyteller to be a good writer.
Writing does not take place in an experiential vacuum. Before the child can write anything, he must have something to write about—preferably something in tune with his natural interests. So try giving your unenthusiastic writer an authentic audience by integrating writing into a creative project. By taking the emphasis off the writing, you bypass protest triggers and get the children writing before they think about what they are doing.
Map an Adventure
Action. Adventure. Excitement. If your child craves the exhilaration of thrilling plots, start with a geography lesson on map-making. Challenge her to create a map of an imaginary setting. Use intriguing place names and make notes of the exciting plot ideas for each map location, the challenges the characters face, or ways that the geography helps solve a problem. Read through the notes and fill in connecting details. Type and illustrate the story. Bind it as a book and hold a read-aloud debut.
Some children who dread the notion of creating intricate plots excel at factual description. Examine the instructions for several board games and identify the key elements of useful instructions: parts list, objective, how to play, and end game criteria. Split the children into two or more groups, or coordinate the project with another homeschool family. The children’s task is to create a game board, pieces, cards, or other necessary elements and write a detailed list of game instructions. Hold a game day to let the children play one another’s games and leave feedback on how easy it was to follow the instructions.
The condensed language of advertising slogans and product descriptions may be just the thing to jump-start a young inventor’s persuasive writing. Tell the child she has been hired as an inventor and ask her to imagine what she might invent. Provide raw materials to build a model of her invention. Then ask her to create a print advertisement to convince others to buy it.
Does your child aspire to great scientific discoveries and relish teaching others? Ask him to create an interactive, hands-on science experiment. Once the experiment is set up, he should make a list of the steps for another person to follow to replicate the experiment and observe the results.
For a family that cooks together, creating a cookbook provides a natural pathway for more learning, with applications in math and nutrition. Have the child choose favorite recipes in each menu category you want to include in the cookbook, i.e. breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack, appetizer, entrée, salads, vegetables, fruits, breads, desserts, and drinks. Ask the child to copy the recipes and add a short teaser description of each dish. Illustrate the cookbook, bind it, and make copies to distribute to others.
If your child is a budding sculptor or painter or just loves to draw or do arts and crafts, use her artistic skills to help her shape a story. Sculpt, paint, draw, or craft characters, buildings, vehicles, and landscapes. Listen to the stories that come forth as a result of creative play with her creations, and help her write a few of them down. Record her voice as she narrates her creative play, and play it back to transfer the story to print.
Some reluctant writers simply dread the tedious process of manual handwriting. Give them the opportunity to create stories, reports, or poetry collections with digital presentation software such as PowerPoint or Kid Pix . . . and they shine! By teaching them to present their ideas through technology, you enhance their writing quality and build valuable work skills for the future.
Word Problem Bank
Young mathematicians can write story problems for a word problem bank. Store them in a card file box and have each child add to the collection each week to keep in sync with the math skills they are practicing. The children can draw one card per day (to solve) or draw several as a math assignment once a week.
Movie and Music Reviews
Everyone, young and old, has opinions just begging for an audience. Let your child be a “critic for a day.” Read music and movie reviews and discuss how to present a useful opinion without libel. Try writing reviews of favorites and flops among new movies, TV shows, or music. Publish the critiques in a newsletter for your homeschool co-op to enjoy.
Cartoons let young artists tell a visual story with a few words of dialogue to develop plot or humor. Read comic books or newspaper funnies and note how the visual elements interact with the text to tell a story or joke. The visual focus frees the child from the need to produce lots of words.
If you have a young thespian on your hands, let him choose a setting, characters, and plot for a movie script. Design sets, costumes, and props. Recruit family and friends to play the parts, or create figures for an animated movie. Film and edit the movie and hold a premiere showing for the actors’ families and special guests.
Tamara lives in western Oregon with her husband, Christopher, and she homeschools William and Tessa. She taught elementary grades in public school settings for seven years. When she is not teaching or writing, she enjoys reading and volunteering at church. She considers teaching her children to “love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength and their neighbor as themselves” as their most important educational goal. To connect with her, please visit her Facebook page at www.facebook.com/teachingisFUN.
Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the February 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.