CALLING PARENTS & HELPERS!
There are LOTS of ways to help young ones discover the wonders of writing.
This list has buckets and buckets of tips for ages 4-8 (yep, pre-writers, too!).
As you scroll through, simply pick your favs.
"When you think about it, writing is the most complicated language skill that any of us has to master. It takes the longest to master... So first of all, parents need to empathize with the fact that kids are having to work very hard to accomplish their writing assignments.
- Dr, Louisa Moats in Reading Rockets interview
ask questions & probe
Each drawing prompt in Zap's book is a springboard activity for writing. Help spark what to write with open-ended invitations or questions about your child's picture. Questions that invite more than one or two word answers. You'll likely be surprised how much story is hidden within a simple drawing!
"More often than not, finding the peak learning zone depends on children and adults having a real (even if fleeting) connection and the opportunity to engage in meaningful conversation."
- Erika Chrisakis, educator at the Yale Child Study Center & Author of The Importance of Being Little.
Be a Writing buddy
Inspire your children to become writers in just five or more minutes every day or two. Let your kids see you write and invite them to join in.
More ways to play:
Be a writing robot for ages 6 & Up (sometimes)
"Zip-zapper-ZOT! You're my robot." This is Zap's magic spell to turn his friend into a reading, writing robot. Created for youngsters that can't write yet, older writers can benefit from this trick on occasion.
Does your seven-year-old write a short sentence or two and that's it? Sentences that don't fully reflect his thoughts and abilities? This is common, especially when the physical act of writing is a challenge. Having a robot helper allows creative thoughts to fly more freely.
Brainstorming is featured on several pages in Zap's book. It's a spectacular way to spark ideas for what to write. Let's say your child brainstorms the question, "What animal will I write about?", then chooses a whale from all her answers on the page. She can then brainstorm AGAIN to get details for her story: "What do I know about whales?"
Brainstorming can be used in other ways as well. How to talk mom into a pack of bubble gum? How to make up with Sally? It's a useful strategy to call on for any question or problem.
Download Zap's printer-friendly brainstorm form and directions for use at home or school.
"call a friend"
This tip has worked wonders in the classroom for ages 6 and up. Especially when writing about an event or moment from the past.
Suppose a boy wants to write about a time he fell down (page 27), but has a serious case of writer's block. I say, "Pretend to call a friend on the phone and tell him what happened. Start from the beginning. OK?" Then I punch numbers into the invisible phone in my hand, listen for the ring, and pass it over.
The one-way phone conversation almost always centers on the action and mood of the event, which makes for interesting writing. When he hangs up the phone, I add, "You know just what to say. Write that down!" As soon as his pencil touches paper, I get out of his way.
When I check back in, I usually suggest he add something more from the phone call, like the sweeping gesture he'd used or the way he'd said a certain line. "Remember how your voice changed at this part? That was such a cool detail. Add that in, too."
Create A routine if You can
A family pet requires attention, a place to rest, and supplies. Adopting a writing routine needs these very same things.
First figure out the WHEN. After a meal? Before bedtime? When grandpop watches the kids? Quiet is nice but not necessary. I'm amazed by how much writing gets done in noisy classrooms.
Give a world of encouragement
A show of genuine interest and encouragement are probably THE most important things you can do. They let your young author know his or her writing is something you value.
Listen and talk with your child about his or her writing, if only for brief moments each week. Over time, your attention will make a world of difference.
"At the heart of my recommendations lies the relationship with the young child, which is the one learning tool that trumps all others."
- Erika Christakis, educator at the Yale Child Study Center & Author of The Importance of Being Little
I need to collect more evidence about this, though it's worth noting that an early pilot test of Zap's book inspired several ELL first graders to write. These bright, creative kids had resisted putting words onto paper prior to playing with Zap. What a delightful surprise to have witnessed this transformation!
I'm unsure exactly why they responded so well. Were they energized by the focus on storytelling versus mechanics? Did they relate to Zap because he's from a foreign land, cannot write yet, and makes lots of mistakes? Had I influenced them with a bubbly presentation? I can't say for certain and am seeking input to find out.
Play with revision - Ages 6+
Page 3 in Zap's book introduces editing using C-R-A-M-S. Check it out and start slowly, one step at a time.
Want another editing tip? Many authors belong to a critique group of other writers ( I'm in two). We read or listen to each other's work. Then help one another by pointing out parts where the writing is strong, places that could be stronger, and weak spots that need to be fixed or omitted. The friendly feedback helps us know what paragraphs to revise before sending our work to an agent or editor at a publishing house.
Why not set up a CRITIQUE CLUB at home? Simply take turns reading a piece aloud, then you--and/or other children--can each share: 1) one thing the author wrote that was out of this world, and 2) one thing the author could add or change to clarify or enliven the story. This helps your child improve while feeling like a pro.
read like a writer
Creativity muscles can be exercised by "re-imagining" parts of a picture book or other story. Try it after you read together. Here are some ideas on how to do this...
Four year olds can easily fill in the blank to change a refrain, such as in this popular book by Eric Carle: "Brown bear, brown bear, what do you see? I see a _______ looking at me."
For older children, "What if...?" questions following a story can open the channels of imagination. What if the monkey were a hippo? What if they were in a jungle instead of on a farm? What would YOU do if you were a bird that couldn't fly any more? What if the ghost were af-f-f-raid of the m-m-m-mouse? Invite your kids to come up with "What-ifs" of their own.
There are other ways to mix things up: create new sounds or different dialog, add a character, view a scene from another's perspective, change the end, or talk about the sequel.
The goal is to step into an author's shoes and begin to explore the world of possibilities. Interesting conversations are likely to emerge. Playing with the elements of creative writing--character, setting, plot and theme--is excellent preparation for every young author!
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Bookmaking for kids: http://www.bookmakingwithkids.com/?p=1976
California Writing Project's award winning booklet for parents: Because Writing Matters -Helping your Children Become Confident, Skilled Writers in and Beyond School. It costs 50 cents plus postage. Find the order form here: www.californiawritingproject.org/uploads/1/3/6/0/13607033/cwp_parent_booklet_order_form_.pdf
Many bookstores, copy centers, and businesses offer services to make your own books, though a single hardcover book can be in the $30 range.
Zap encourages beginning writers to use INVENTED SPELLING. As the example on the left shows, invented spelling is guessing how a word is spelled based on the sounds--the phonetics--of each letter.
Most educators agree that invented spelling is developmentally appropriate and, therefore, is a commonly practiced step on the path to becoming a writer.
write Cards & letters
Everyone loves to discover a hand written note in the mailbox. Who would love to get a letter from your child? Who would your child like to write? Add an astronaut, the tooth fairy, and leprechauns to your list!
An annual family newsletter is a wonderful tradition to begin. There are a number of ways young kids can pitch in: a drawing with caption, a personal news item, a wish for the New Year, and so on.
Consider a field trip to the post office to talk about how letters are delivered. Events adults take for granted can be fascinating when seen for the very first time through the eyes of a child.