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Laying a Foundation for Writing Success


It's a dreaded subject for a lot of parents, mostly because few adults feel competent in their own writing abilities and even less sure of how to go about teaching and/or grading writing.

I'm going to let you in on a little don't have to be an expert to produce great writers! And I'm going to give you some help and advice this week to get you started.

Let me take some of the load off right away--Formal writing instruction doesn't need to begin before at least 4th grade (you can even get by until middle school, if you want).

"What! REALLY?" you might ask.

Yep, it's true. None of my kids started any kind of writing instruction before 4th grade (the first and last kids--my two middles didn't start until more like 8th grade). And guess what? They're all competent writers--or well on their way to becoming one.🙂

'Whew' Now that we got that misconception out of the way, let me tell you what you CAN and SHOULD do in the early years to prepare your kids for more formal writing later down the road.

READ...a lot...and widely. Read to your kids every single day (even once they can read for themselves). Read them picture books, chapter books, magazine articles. Read them fiction, poetry, non-fiction, biographies. Vary the genres. Reading (and reading widely) lays the foundation for writing. It increases their vocabulary and their general knowledge base, which is so important for effective writing. Plus, it exposes them to all kinds of styles of writing, to imagery, to idioms, and a whole host of other things that will make them not only effective writers but captivating ones as well.

Correct incorrect grammar in their speech. If they say, "That was a real good dinner, Mom!" respond with, "Thank you! I'm glad you liked it. But you should say really good, not real good." Here are common errors kids (and adults) often make in everyday speech:

  • real instead of really

  • lay instead of lie

  • bring instead of take

  • him and me instead of he and I

  • would/could/should/must of instead of would/could/should must have

Play games and engage in fun activities (like Mad Libs--there are even free online options!) which will expand their understanding of language and increase their vocabularies and creative thinking. For a list of language related games click here. You can also encourage your children's natural ability to tell stories. Storytelling, besides being a form of creative writing itself, helps your child develop skills of organization and flow that will come in handy later, and it helps them begin to develop their own writing "voice." If you'd like a resource to foster creative thinking, I recommend my book Stupendous Story Starters. It can be used as an actual creative writing program for any grade level, but it can also serve as a springboard for a storytelling game! Select any of the 62 story starts and read it aloud, then ask your child to tell the next bit of the story. (You can let them go for as long as their ideas flow, or if you have multiple children, you can set a time limit.) When their turn is done, either you or another child pick up where that child left off--storytelling round robin style! It's a lot of fun, and you'll be surprised at the creative and zany stories your kids come up with. 🙂

Incorporate narration, summarizing, and/or comprehension questions in your child's school routine. Whatever you call it, having your child think about what he/she has read and explain it is so valuable in laying the groundwork for the writing process later on. Narration and summary require a child to evaluate all the information they've taken in and determine what is important then synthesize that into something new. Comprehension questions help sharpen a child's attention to details and build their remembering muscles. And good comprehension questions will help develop those skills of analysis, evaluation, and synthesis so necessary in creation. (All Bloom's taxonomy learning objectives!) If you'd like a program that helps develop these skills in your child, consider using my book 100 Books to Learn to Read.

With just a little attention on your part and time spent in quality reading and play, your children will be set up for success when it does come time to adding in formal writing instruction.

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