How can parents encourage their children to love writing


By Chuck Bernstein

(Special to India Parent Magazine)

At the end of every Write Now! writing camp, parents tell me how thrilled they are that their children have come to love writing for the first time. That comment is quickly followed by this question: what can I do to ensure that this new attitudetoward writing continues?

There is much that a parent can do to foster a newfound appreciation and joy in writing. However, a more fruitful first question is, what can parents do to ensure that they do not quash their child's developing interest in writing? Two years ago, I authored another article for this publication entitled, "Teaching Kids to Hate Writing." I pointed out how traditional school instruction is inciting students to hate writing: the red-ink highlighting of everything that is "wrong" with a paper, the focus on spelling and grammar instead of thought and organization, the typical submission of a single draft, and, unfortunately, the teacher's dispositional bias against the burden of reading 30 or more papers in a short period of time.The most important thing for a parent to do is to have the courage and self confidence not to reinforce the negative messages students frequently receive from teachers.

Parents should try to take a long-term view of the development of writing skills and, to the extent possible, acknowledge their children's positive observations, understandings, and expressions. A parent might even suggest that a student undertake a voluntary rewrite even if it that will have no impact on the grade received. Reinforcement by a parent of a teacher's invalidating response to written work will not encourage the student to enjoy the writing process or to write more, both of which are essential to writing improvement.

In short, if you want your student to become a good writer, the first step is to endeavor to not become part of the problem. That calls for thought and sensitivity. If you desire to do more, there is much you can do to inspire your student to honor and cultivate the written word:

  • Start with valuing reading-Make reading an essential activity that must be done every day, without fail, like brushing teeth. Make sure that some of the reading is good, time-tested literature, while still allowing your child to indulge his or her interests in fantasy, science fiction, adventure, and so forth. School and children's librarians are excellent resources to help broaden students' reading interests. In order to minimize the temptations of screens, be sure to use traditional books.
  • Limit screen time-This is a difficult task today, but it is essential to help your child be an active initiator, which writing requires, rather than a passive recipient of information. If you have the fortitude to limit screen time severely (to, say, half an hour per day), do it. If not, have your child keep a log and purchase screen time by reading and writing, using an exchange rate of, say, one hour of screen time for every two or three hours of independent (not homework) reading and writing.
  • Set a good example-Parents should demonstrate that reading and writing are activities that they value by spending time doing those activities themselves.
  • Initiate family activities that involve reading and writing-Either before or after dinner, have a 30-minute family reading break where everyone reads a favorite book. It can be done by one parent if the other parent arrives home late, but it would be better for both parents to be involved. Dinner table conversation can start with a quick summary of interesting observations or turns of events in readers' books. Similarly, consider a 30-minute letter-writing session once a week where everyone writes a letter to a friend or relative. This provides an excellent opportunity to thank people for gifts or invitations and bring them up to date on family news. The letters can be sent by mail or electronically. During a family trip, ask each family member to keep a journal and make an entry for every day; family members can then take a minute at dinner to read their entries, which are likely to be very different. A family "creativity night" where everyone writes a short story or a poem would be especially daring, and might generate some excitement when the works were read aloud, even if unfinished.
  • Attend as a family book readings at local bookstores or schools-This provides an opportunity for young people to understand that authors are people like them who did the hard work of preparing books for publication.
  • Attend as a family cultural activities, like a movie, a play, or a concert, and then discuss them afterward-Describing what was seen or heard is an essential writing skill; in California schools, it is called "summary writing." Analyzing the meaning and judging the significance of what was seen or heard is another essential skill called "response to literature" in the California curriculum. Supporting an opinion about the activity is a third essential skill: "persuasive writing."

Writing is thinking on paper. As children mature, their thinking should be encouraged to develop, too, so that they see the connections, causalities, and meanings among events

Writing develops in the same way: simple sentences ("The bird flew away...") give way to compound sentences with conjunctions ("The bird flew away, and/because/but/so...") that indicate more complex thinking. Parents can encourage more elaborate experiences and, thus, thinking either directly through family activities or indirectly through reading and other cultural events. It takes effort, but those proactive initiatives are effective in establishing an intellectual and emotional foundation for articulate, expressive, and thoughtful learners.

About the Writer:
Chuck Bernstein is president and founder of Early Learning Institute, a Palo Alto-based educational organization that operates three child development centers and two private schools in the San Francisco Bay Area. The programs serve over 500 students and employ 125 teachers and administrators. Though his responsibilities are primarily administrative, he also teaches writing and presentation skills.