When it comes to essential life skills, writing is way up there, but some kids are reluctant to put pencil to paper. And during the COVID-19 pandemic, when crisis schooling is proving to be a challenge for both kids and parents, it may feel even more difficult. But writing practice doesn’t have to mean writing lines or doing other written drills; there are many more creative and simple ways to help kiddos learn to write during the every day routine.
No surprises here—one of the best ways to encourage kids is to reinforce the connection between reading and writing. Get them to choose books and spend time together reading aloud, says Regie Routman, an education expert who works with teachers to support literacy instruction. “Read aloud wonderful picture books, as well as great fiction and non-fiction books,” Routman says. “Just savour the time together, talking about the story and illustrations. Talk about the books without trying to teach.”
Order new supplies and use found objects
Let your budding writer pick their materials (cool notebooks, colourful pencils, animal-shaped erasers, scented markers, etc.). You can also forage in cupboards and junk drawers for potential writing surfaces from old bits and bobs around the house. Old greeting cards are the size of postcards. Get your brood to write to their grandparents, then pop the cards into an envelope to mail. Ask them to write out the day’s menu on old stationery and stick to the fridge. Have them write out the grocery list for the week on Post-it notes.
Let them observe
Routman says it’s important to show them the writing you do on your smartphone or desktop—emails, tweets, Instagram and Facebook posts. Let them have a turn. (Yes, they need to practise good old pencil-and-paper writing, but typing out a fantastical story about polar bears at a buffet definitely counts.)
Junior Scrabble and Boggle are great for spelling and vocabulary, and Rory’s Story Cubes promote oral storytelling. Download a variety of apps that allow for writing practice with their finger or a stylus—they won’t even realize they’re practising.
Make it real
Kids are motivated by authentic tasks, so get them on projects: writing out a birthday or holiday wish list, a poem to frame, a script for a play they can act out with their siblings or friends via Zoom.
Don’t expect perfection
Parents often fret about perfectly formed letters and correctly spelled words. While we always want kids to take their time and do their best work, their ideas are just as important—maybe even more crucial—as the mechanics. Letter reversals and inventive spellings are super common during the first few years of school. If kids are encouraged to give their best effort when writing (without too much correction or criticism), they’re definitely on the “write” path. (We couldn’t help ourselves.)
Originally published in the Fall 2018 issue. Adapted in May 2020.