Kids are weird. Watch them playing and try to tell me differently. I recently found my daughters happily ‘polishing’ their wooden play set with hand soap and conditioner. When asked what they were doing they said they were turning it into a rock museum and that it needed sprucing up. Adora, my eight year old, likes to think that our back deck is actually a pirate ship called ‘The Bloody Cutlass’, though Adrianna, who is ten, favors ‘The Devil’s Knife’.
Adora and Adrianna have both been labeled writing prodigies, but their imaginations, though brilliant, are nothing out of the ordinary. Most kids have an imaginary pirate ship or two up their sleeves.
Why then, do these same kids claim that they don’t know what to write about? How do we transmit this natural talent for make-believe to paper? How do we harness the power of imagination?
For starters, we stop using words like ‘harness’. Kids don’t want to be harnessed and they can see that sort of thing coming from a mile away. The real trick is to ‘unharness’ your child’s mind. Due to the rigid requirements of standardized testing, children have learned to associate writing with dull book reports, finicky grammar and punctuation requirements, and endless rules.
If your children don’t display a natural interest or aptitude for writing it’s best to blow the rules out of the water and just encourage them to let loose, to get it all down, and to think about conventions later. Don’t bug them about grammar, punctuation, structure, etc. Don’t encourage them to write about ‘constructive’ things. Encourage them to write about their real opinions of school or rules, or encourage them to get as off-the-wall as possible. Once your children realizes the sheer joy of expression and comes to think of writing as a place without rules or censorship, they will begin to think of writing as a form of entertainment. This is key.
Did I just say no censorship? I did. Kids have a fascination with vulgar, disgusting, and forbidden things. If writing becomes a place where they are free to explore and to express opinions or fascinations they are not allowed to express in ‘polite’ society, writing will have the allure of true freedom. An allure, as we all know, that is hard to match.
If your encourage your kids to let loose and tell them that there are no rules or boundaries they may write some stuff you don’t approve of. They may write stuff that is grammatically incorrect, full of structural errors, or just plain bad. But I can almost guarantee that they will get caught up in the mischief and novelty of being allowed to do whatever they want, and that they will come out of these exercises with a different attitude about writing.
Once your child actually likes to write, you have all the time in the world to work on conventions, grammar, and content. Because a love for writing, once established, is hard to squelch. Love leads to talent, and writing talent leads to mastery of all subjects. It’s a little known secret that the pirate ship ‘The Devil’s Knife’ can sail your child to academic success.
Joyce Svitak is the co-author of Flying Fingers–Master the tools of learning through the joy of writing
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