Thursday, May 3, 2012

Using Your Child's Interests to Inspire Writing

Do you have a child who you think of as a reluctant writer?

Maybe he or she will tell you amazing stories aloud, but getting it onto paper is a bit of a chore for him or her?

Then, this might be of help to you:

Follow your child by following their interests: Use your child's interests to inspire writing.
That seems pretty straightforward and it is, really...
The only thing is that as adults, we tend to overthink this and we try to get them to still have their interests be something that seems remotely educational.
As adults who want their children to write, you have to let go of this to really encourage your child to write. You have to model writing and editing, both for work and for pleasure, so that they see that writing is what you do.
In the 3-6 Montessori-inspired environment, writing tends to flow from what the child is interested in learning how to spell...they enjoy using the movable alphabet and get very comfortable with beginning to write.
But from our homeschool experience here with the boys, as well as my experience with older than 6 year olds when I was in the classroom, sometimes, as the child goes from 3-6 to 6-9, there is a change of sorts.
They all of a sudden may become more reluctant as writers.

A child, especially one older than six years, starts to realize a few things:
#1. Some value judgments are being made about their writing.
Many children at this age will get frustrated, as what they would like to write about is NOT AT ALL what they THINK they are SUPPOSED TO share in their writing.
Some children get the sense that adults want them to write about something educational. When the child feels this, they will write to please the adult, not to please themselves. 
Really, a child should feel free to literally write about anything that pops into their heads. As far as modeling writing to a young child, adults should consider what presents itself in a child's life that is multi-sensory and interesting to the individual child, not whether or not the actual writing topic is educational, part of the core, part of the scope and sequence, or any of these sorts of things.

Case in point:
Big Bro loves building sets by Mega Bloks called Halo.
The best way to describe these sets is "soldiers vs. aliens"...
Maybe not one of my personal favs for a toy set, but he loves them and gets very creative in his play. They are fun for him: he can build the sets,  can create his own ideas for the interaction for the various soldiers and aliens, from how they are positioned to the sound effects and languages for each of the toys.
These would not be a toy set that you would find in any classroom, so to think "Yes, go for it"! and then, to encourage him to write about these toys may seem like a contradiction, but this is what is motivating to the child. 
The same is true for something like candy.
Big Bro loves Lemon Heads, Altoids, and Bubble Tape Gum.
Are these snacks that he eats all the live long day?
But when he does eat them, it is a multi-sensory experience right off the bat, as he can taste, touch, and smell them.  He enjoys eating them. So writing about eating these treats is something that will be fun versus writing that would be done dutifully to try to please an adult.

So try this: embrace what they love for the sake of writing, even if it is not your favorite they toys, movies or silly stuff.

#2. Their handwriting cannot possibly keep up with the pace of their ideas.  

Now, you may have a child aged 6-9 who can deal with the fact that their writing cannot keep up with their ideas, but for many young elementary aged children, this begins to create some frustration.
They might have an amazing story all set in their heads or that they could orally relay, but to get their ideas onto paper takes them way more time than the speed at which their ideas freely flow.
In many cases, it is not an issue of writer's block, but writer's frustration that there is some asynchronous development: they are much more advanced at generating a complex story than they are at physically mastering their cursive or print.
Now, in the 3-6 classroom, where a movable alphabet is used for writing, a child can usually deal with this. But when a child moves into the realm of 6-9 and their ideas come at lightening speed, regardless of  whether trying to lay out sentences using a cursive movable alphabet, or using paper and pencil, is a huge challenge for some children.

So, what to do? Encourage the child to try dictating their stories. They dictate, then, they write.
Whether you have a karaoke machine, a tape recorder, a dictate feature on your cell phone, or a dictate program on your computer, giving a child the option to dictate their story can be a huge help.
Some people hold the belief that that is not doing justice for a child who needs to learn how to write, but why not break the writing task into two components:
Developing the actual piece of writing
as well as actually handwriting or computer typing of the story...

There are real world advantages of teaching a child at a young age to get their ideas down via dictation and then, to go back and manually write or type the story.

Case in point:
One of my amazing Mayo Clinic doctors, Dr. Rivera, dictates everything into his computer. During my first office visit with him a few months ago, he welcomed me into his office, but then, instead of just pouring over the huge pack of medical records and anecdotal notes (all of the written materials I had come with), he interviewed me and then, following our conversation, he picked up his phone and dictated his entire set of notes into the phone.
He had me sit there and listen as he dictated from his recollection of our conversation.
He did not miss a thing, even adding the comment "Patient is happily married" as that is how I had answered his question.
Now, if one of the world's best and brightest physicians uses daily dictation, then why not teach that skill to a young child???
That has really inspired us to do just that here at Sunrise Learning Lab.
We have pulled out an old recorder for the boys. They have it available to record their stories, to sing songs, or just to be silly...but all of these times with speaking into a microphone and then, going back to listen to their recording is teaching them in a fun way about dictation and audio recording.
We also use my iPhone in this manner.
Using either the Voice Memos app or else the Video Camera feature on my iPhone, the boys can record their stories and then, from these recordings, they can translate them into their writing.
So they are getting practice with both audio and video recording along the way...
#3. Their spelling, grammar, and overall mechanics of writing are not in step with their ability to generate an awesome piece of writing.
This point # 3 goes hand-in-hand with not being able to physically write as fast as they can generate their free flowing ideas...another case of asychronous development for some, rather than an issue of writer's block.
You will find that some children are amazing spellers as well as writers, but in many cases, a child's actual vocabulary is so far beyond where they are with their spelling or formatting of their writing, such as indenting paragraphs, spacing of words, etc.
So again, a child might have one amazing story but they get sidetracked because they have to spend time with the mechanics and the spelling.
What works to help a child in this scenario?
Get them to get comfortable with not only using dictation, but also, with the concept of writing and rewriting...and sometimes, re-writing yet again...
Learning that editing is a natural part of the writing process is a huge step in the right direction.
What can an adult do to show this to a child? Model...then model some more!
Case in point:
Many times, as I am working on my blog posts, my sons see me writing and rewriting (and in some cases, rewriting yet again...yes, multiple drafts at times).
They also see their father doing the same thing as he has some writing that goes along with his job.
By them seeing us writing, rewriting, editing, and then, sharing our writing, they see that this is just what people do. It is a part of the writing process.
Just as meals wrap up here with dishes going into the sink and then, into the dishwasher, writing wraps up here with rewriting and editing. 
Let them be present as you dictate, then write, then rewrite / edit your own work.
Make writing something that is a pleasurable daily life experience that is just part of what they do and you do in your family, not a big chore.
If there are days that they don't choose to write, try to encourage (but do not force) them to share something aloud that they created, whether it is a song, poem, riddle, or puppet show.
On many nights when we may have not gotten writing into the day, we do shadow puppet shows as part of that night's bedtime routine.
We are also huge fans of puppets, especially hand and finger puppets.
Puppets are wonderful, multi-sensory toys that give a child confidence with sharing their thoughts and ideas.
Well, hope that these ideas will be of help to those parents or teachers who feel that they have a reluctanct writer.

Do you have any thoughts on this topic?
If you do, would love it if you would please link up and share!


Tricia said...

Thank you for the information and ideas. My oldest son loves to write, but he struggles with ideas to write about, not sure if that has anything to do with his ASD or if it's because he's a boy, or if it's just spot on for being almost 7 years old. But I am going to try to use some of your ideas to inspire him to write. Thanks!

Rebecca said...

First of all, so glad to see that you are feeling well enough to blog!! Yay!

Secondly, love your post! I'm so glad to hear that someone else is on the same page in regards to writing instruction. Writing is very near and dear to me, but I just wasn't sure how to go about teaching it. Especially since my oldest son (6) has always been a bit behind in the fine motor department. It's often like pulling teeth to get him to sit and write a sentence because it's physically taxing for him. So it was hard for me to imagine how his writing skills were ever going to develop given his issues.

On the other hand he's so verbose and has amazing ideas about stories. I finally realized he could dictate to me and I could type for him. This busted our writing possibilities wide open!!

Over the past few weeks, he has written dozens of very cute stories. I am very careful not to change or influence the words....I simply write what he says. Then I select specific writing skills to discuss when I feel he's receptive, and then we go back together and make corrections together. For example, we talked about using a consistent tense throughout a piece of writing. So we looked at something he'd written and made the corrections together.

After he dictates the stories, I print them out and then he illustrates them. I think this really helps with reading skills - both comprehension and decoding. Not to mention, it helps him to think more about the writing process (story structure, plot, etc.).

BrainPopJr has soon good lessons about writing that have been helpful. They had a lesson about story structure...we used that to create a "story board" for a story we read (The Sneeches) and then created a story board for the story we were about about to write. The story that resulted from this was really much better than some of the ones that came before was more cohesive and not so rambling. It has a clear problem and resolution.

We also some neat sentence strip activities that help to teach about punctuation, capitalization, etc.

I'd much prefer my child have the opportunity to share his big ideas, rather than be limited by the small number of words he can write and the small amount of patience he has for writing them.

And of course, the 4 year old little brother wants to join in the fun and he dictates his own stories too! I never thought it would be possible to be doing creative writing with a preschooler, but it really is! And the stories are such a wonderful little windows into their minds and souls...I will cherish them always.

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