A child may know how to narrate stories effectively, but writing them down can be difficult. We can help our children develop the skills and motivation to feel comfortable expressing thoughts in writing at a young age. To empower a child to write, we can help them see that writing is a skill they can learn, and that it’s not just useful – it’s fun! Here are five ways to empower a child to write.
1. Offer the materials, tools, and space for writing
First, we can make writing instruments available to children – pens, pencils, chalk, markers, crayons. Of course we should keep Magic Erasers handy when kids inevitably write on the walls, but we can minimize the number of these catastrophes by providing child-oriented writing surfaces such as special paper just for them, or a chalk or dry-erase board. Teaching a child to carry a pencil or crayon with them is a great way to encourage them to see that opportunities to write are all around them.
We can also provide an environment conducive to writing. Teaching children that writing requires concentration means they will need a quiet space without distractions. Decorate the writing space in a way that is meaningful to the child writer – tape up copies of their writing, or let them design their own space using balloons, alphabet charts, or other learning materials. They can even design their own motivational posters with quotes from their favorite authors.
Introducing children to the computer keyboard can motivate a child to write too, especially if they don’t enjoy fine motor activities. Open a word processor and type as your child watches. Ask them to copy what you are doing, or give them the freedom to explore what the different keys do. Let them print out what they’ve written in a large font size, and if they’re willing, they can trace over the letters. This activity can be a breakthrough for many children who are feeling overwhelmed about the physical challenges of learning to write.
2. Involve other children
Watching another child write is incredibly motivating for many children – it’s a phenomenon known as leadership writing. We can teach our children that writing with a friend or sibling is a fun activity. They can play games together like make-your-own Mad Libs, or Story Building (one child writes a sentence, then the other child writes the next sentence). Getting that instant reaction to what we’re writing – especially if it’s laughter – is a huge payoff and incredibly empowering for children.
3. Incorporate Praise and Rewards
Small, unexpected rewards for achievements in writing can be also encourage children to keep practicing their writing, especially if they have just done something new and difficult. It’s extra fun if the reward matches the accomplishment. For example, we could give a child a new special pencil for learning to write a sentence, or a story book for writing an entire paragraph. We should always be sure to praise the effort that the child is making with specific comments about how they did it: “Congratulations on writing a sentence! That was a lot of letters to write in a row and you worked hard at spacing them correctly.”
4. Play Games
There are so many writing games available for children, not just on paper but also keyboard-based and on tablets. Traditional crossword puzzles can build vocabulary; playing Scrabble requires both vocabulary and creativity. Keyboard games such as Fruit Ninja teach kids how to type properly. And some games you can play anywhere – such as using a stick or finger to write in the sand or leaving messages in geocaches. Making writing part of everyday play empowers children to use it as a medium of expression.
5. Teach Self-Editing
Writing is particularly empowering when children understand that they can change what they’ve written. Ask your child to re-read their stories out loud. Ask questions about the story, and whether they like the way it ends, or if they want to change things – even if it’s little things like colors or the setting. The goal is to awake their own inner editor. As children learn how malleable writing is, they will surprise you with their willingness to want to improve.
Lisa Griffin is a blogger and freelance writer whose lifestyle credo is “Children don't remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are."