Q. I want to help my fourth-grader get her ideas out and onto the paper so she can communicate through the power of the written word. I understand the grammar and spelling part. It’s more about how to spark her creativity and interest in using writing to share her thoughts, feelings and ideas.
Find your daughter’s passion
Helping a child write is like helping a child read—you need to find something she is passionate about. Children will devour books that spark their interest. It is the same with writing. If you can hook onto something she loves, it is easy to encourage writing.
For instance, does she love animals? You could help her research animals and learn more about them. Maybe she could start a blog for other animal lovers in which she could post pictures and text. Maybe she could write a letter to the local paper about an issue related to animals such as how animals are treated in the circus. If she loves a particular sport, maybe she could start a newsletter to share with friends who also love the sport with updates about athletes and teams.
Once you have figured out something she is passionate about, the ideas will come. Good writing depends a lot on having an audience in mind. It is hard for most of us to write just to write. I would suggest helping her identify ways she can share her writing. It might be with family and friends or it might be more public such as through a blog, letter to the newspaper, or website such as Cyberkids (http://www.cyberkids.com/).
Finally, it is great that you want to support your daughter in her efforts to write both for school and for fun. But, I would not suggest requiring her to write something outside of school projects. When writing becomes an assignment from mom, it takes all of the fun out of it. Let her come to you with ideas. And, remember that these are her ideas. Ask her questions to help her clarify her thinking. Provide support such as starting up a blog if she asks. Otherwise, follow her lead.
If you are interested in learning more about how to support your daughter in her writing, my favorite books about teaching writing are Regie Routman’s Writing Essentials and Lucy Calkin’s The Art of Teaching Writing. You might be able to check out either of these books from the local library.
Start a blogging club
I Googled kids’ writing blogs and got 10 to 15 possible links to explore. Think of an angle that doesn’t sound like another way to do homework. Writing can be work and fun. It might be about creativity, or about some other unexpected bits of learning – but celebrate the possibilities.
My granddaughter was in a fun neighborhood book club. Her club happened to be for girls, but there was a science club for younger brothers. I provided the books for that and they wrote about their science experiments (aka messes). Use your imagination. Kids can talk about anything. There could be a cooking club and the kids could blog about what they are doing during the week and meet once a month for face time.
A neighborhood club where kiddos blog about something that seems lively might be a place to start. I feel strongly that such blogs should be password protected and monitored. Kids would be talking, writing. Oversight always. In this day and age of internet predators that oversight is crucial.
It’s important to figure out what the purpose is for the writing/blogging experience. Who is the audience? If the purpose is flexibility and fluency for the writers and the audience is other fourth-graders then build some guidelines around that audience and purpose. If there is a different purpose and audience then clearly define that and build guidelines around that audience and purpose.
I would also give this “Blog about A Book” idea a beginning and an end. If the idea doesn’t work then float another idea. Maybe the time isn’t right for this. There are other ideas. Do something interesting with messages-in-a bottle and treasure hunts with riddles. The ideas are endless. The key is to get kids writing, anything – structure will come.
Connect with relatives and friends
If it makes you feel better, I have heard this concern from many parents of fourth-graders. Having made the shift from “learning to read and write” to “reading and writing to learn,” ability and engagement become major influences on kids’ literacy practices. For both ability and engagement, remember that reading, writing and thinking and speaking go hand-in-hand.
- Show your child a variety of text genres and teach her how to incorporate her personal thoughts and needs into writing. For example, help her see that writing can help her communicate via email with distant relatives or maybe she could create a play to act out with friends and family.
- Tap into her reading interests and see if her classroom teacher is willing to incorporate these interests into thematic writing pieces. You can buy her her first journal (a great reflection tool for “tweens” and “pre-teens”) and find fun places to write – like coffee shops, tea houses and parks.
- Finally, to make sure that writing isn’t too laborious, collaborate with your child’s classroom teacher to learn ways to scaffold and support the writing process. Along the way you can make explicit connections to spelling and grammar, but I agree, the focus should be on making writing fun-and useful.
About our First Person series:
First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.