Another find while I was cleaning out my sent items was an email response to a mom who asked how she could help develop her second grade son’s desire and ability to write well.
Here were my thoughts that day:
First, writing is just like a sport. There are some kids who are naturally athletic and go out on a field and look good from day one. But there are some kids who are not naturally athletic but become good with practice. Writing, like other things, just takes practice and the practice needs to happen in two ways—reading and writing. So, for the reading side of things, you definitely want to increase the amount of time your son reads. It may be that after he is done with his homework, he has to read for a minimum of ten minutes or something comparable. My very favorite strategy for reading is to give the child a bedside lamp as a gift (with Christmas coming up, this could be perfect timing). Sure, he might already have a bedside lamp but getting a cool new one along with the following message is pretty symbolic. The message is this: from now on, your son can stay up past bedtime if and only if he is reading in his bed. He controls when he goes to sleep by turning off his bedside lamp when he is ready. What I have found with this strategy is that it is best to start the going to bed process earlier by about ten minutes so he is in bed ten minutes earlier than he used to be. You can continue any reading you do with him at that time, but when you are done, let him read on his own with just his bedside lamp on. He will fall asleep naturally not long after bedtime but because he feels like he is beating the system by staying up past bedtime, he will be more excited about reading. A good thing to do to coincide with this is a regular visit to the library to check out books. Let him check out whatever number of books he wants and work through them as he wants. When I was a child, one of our Saturday morning errands– along with the grocery store– was a trip to the library. There was a kid’s room in the library and I was often the only person in there on Saturday mornings. I moved through every single stack at my own pace. My dad never hurried me or questioned how many books I came out with– it was an incredible gift that greatly informed my sensbilities and life.
Now for part two: the writing practice. First, buy some writing workbooks. Perhaps you can have your son do one to two worksheets at the end of his homework each day. Make it regular practice and he’ll come to expect it and you’ll both begin to see progress. Establish a pen pal relationship with him and a family member or close family friend. It can be a cousin his age or an uncle he loves (or maybe both– you want to definitely have a reliable and interesting pen pal for him so your son can look forward to his letters). He’ll see that writing is exciting and personal and can begin to learn how to tell stories on the page. When you travel, stop by a gift shop and let him pick out postcards and send them to the people of his choice. Have him write thank you notes for everything. In those thank you notes, encouragd him to detail to his gift giver what he will do with a gift or why he was thankful to do something with someone. Encourage him to give stories that he writes and illustrates this holiday season as gifts to his loved ones. He can feature each loved one in his stories. You will want to help him brainstorm what he wants to say before he writes anything and then go over his writing with him (if he’s older– for young kids, let them just write. Rules can come later).
For all you teachers, parents, aunts, uncles, readers and writers out there, what suggestions would you add?