Parenting isn’t easy. Sometimes the guidebooks aren’t much help, because each child is unique. As a parent, I tried to do my best most of the time. I also forgave myself when I stuck my son in front of cartoons, or gave in over “disgusting” vegetables. When he behaved sensibly as a toddler, I breathed a sigh of relief. The day he wrote on my precious cedar table with green felt pen at age five, I wondered where I’d gone wrong, and figured he’d grow up to be a delinquent.
When my panicking about the scribbles was over, I decided to look at it differently. It wasn’t the act of writing I objected to, just where he did it. I thought about how much time I spent reading with him. Lots. And how much time did we spend writing together? Almost none. He saw me writing. I modelled being involved in the task of writing for him. But usually it was work and that was when I needed to concentrate. I’d encourage him to give me space and go play somewhere else.
After drawing up a contract about not writing on the furniture with him, and both of us signing it, it was time to look at positive strategies to encourage his writing.
Tips to Encourage Writing
Make writing just as much a daily habit as reading. You don’t want to turn him off writing, so it needs to be just as much fun as sharing a book to read. Sometimes we would write a sentence together about a picture book. He would dictate what I wrote while he drew. Sometimes, he would “write”, that is, make up letters and scribbles to represent words he didn’t know, and have a try at some he did. I never corrected him. That’s not what it was about. We’d display the pages on the fridge and over time, collect the writing into a special book.
Writing activities needn’t always involve “writing” or typing letters to make words and sentences. Sometimes we’d play games together. Some games involved seeing patterns, looking at shapes, matching, one-to-one correspondence, and sequencing. Some games were board games, others were computer games. When I realised my son could read, occasionally I’d write him a letter and post it in a mailbox we made. If he liked, he could write back to me. If I couldn’t make out the message, I’d ask him to read the letter aloud.
Take advantage of each incidental writing activity that comes up in everyday life. If it’s someone’s birthday, have your child write in the card, too. If you need something at the supermarket, ask your child to “write” a grocery list. When my son was young, we used to leave messages with magnetic letters for each other on the fridge. If he had homework, I’d try to restrain my inner pedant, and praise any attempt to spell words. When it became important for him to get a word “right”, I’d work on it with him, using sounds and patterns he knew from other words, and a dictionary.
I did my very best to make it fun for both of us, just like our shared reading time. But I never found a way to remove felt pen from cedar!
*** I write lots of articles about writing at The Book Chook blog in the hope of encouraging young writers to get started or develop their skills. As a writer myself, I love to share tips and methods that work for me. You’ll find articles like How Do Kids Write a Book Review? and Tips and Prompts for Young Writers by clicking on the Writing button in the right sidebar of The Book Chook blog.