Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Helping the Struggling Writer

It’s not unusual for a child to struggle with writing, but it can be rather discouraging when your child flat out hates to write. There could be a variety of factors contributing to this dilemma, so let's explore some of the reasons a child may dislike writing and some solutions to address each of these factors.

The first factor is that perhaps your child doesn't like the physical mechanics of writing. Does he hold his pencil with an uncomfortable grip? Does he push too hard on the paper? Does he have improper letter formation that requires a lot of work just to form each letter? These things usually correct themselves, but not always. A good solution to this problem is to require typing as a subject. This removes the physical barrier to writing. My children were required to do their typing program every single day for the first few months, then only once in a while after that. Once they began writing stories on the computer, they got the typing practice they needed and were free to get their thoughts down without much effort.

Some children don't dislike writing as much as they dislike having to pull creative thoughts out of their brains. I like what classical educators have to say about this: Children need ideas put in their brains before they are required to create new ideas. They should have knowledge imparted to them and should only be asked to write about what they know. When they are older and have been exposed to great literature and a wealth of ideas about which they have formed a personal opinion, then they are ready to express themselves on paper. Until then, use narration prompts or help them create a list of writing topics they find interesting.

I have heard many homeschool moms say they use their child's writing assignments to pick out spelling words and teach proper grammar. All the spelling and grammar errors in the child’s papers are noted, highlighting his weaknesses and failings. This may be an efficient use of his written assignments, but it is also a good way to discourage his love for writing. Allow your child the freedom of getting his thoughts down without the fear of making mistakes.

Perhaps the most common reason a child doesn't like writing is that God did not design him to be a creative writer. This child prefers to solve problems–especially math problems. He doesn't see the benefit of writing; it seems purposeless. Frankly, creative writing–writing to entertain–isn't necessary for every child. The only writing that is absolutely necessary is academic writing. I would not force a child that hasn't been given a bent toward writing to do a lot of creative writing assignments.

If you see a dislike for writing in a younger child, have him narrate instead, retelling in his own words what he read or had read to him. This will go a long way toward good narrative writing later on. A child who can verbally relay information clearly will find it easy to put those spoken words on paper. Begin by having him put short narratives on paper. Increase the length of the narratives as the child is ready. This will help prepare him for academic writing in the late middle and high school years.

Keep in mind that not every child will love to write. However, a child who dislikes writing can still make A's on writing assignments if he is taught how to organize his thoughts and write a well thought out and organized sentence, paragraph, and essay. My husband didn't care for writing growing up but learned to write essays and now makes a living writing perfectly constructed legal briefs and contracts as an attorney. A child that doesn't like to write can still be successful in a career that requires a lot of writing. So don’t be concerned if your “non-writer” isn't flourishing in writing. Lower your expectations and give him time to learn. Encourage his other unique God-given talents, preferences, gifts, and abilities. As he matures they will all work together to usher him into God's special plan and purpose prepared in advance for him.

Jeannie Fulbright