If you want your child to master the art of writing, you have to record them telling a story before they can even begin the process of becoming a better writer.
You’ve seen that look before, and you know what’s coming. Your child approaches you with the essay they had to write in school face down with slight bewilderment in their expression. What will it be this time? Trying to make yourself as neutral as possible you take the paper ready to read again why your child just can’t translate thoughts into words.
Honestly, they’re not alone. How hard is it to translate your thoughts from what’s in your head to the paper or screen before you? It can seem daunting and most times it’s not an easy or seamless transition. When I first began writing I had to tell myself not to filter and edit as I wrote. I had to tell myself to actively write down every thought I had in my head before I was even able to begin writing about my topic.
This is called a free-write and what it actually helps you to do is de-clutter your head from all the thoughts that are blocking access to what you should be thinking about. But this is only one part of the problem. As I am a visual learner this worked wonders for me, but most children, especially young children, are audio learners—this means they need to listen to the information in order to process and apply. Sitting down and writing by yourself doesn’t seem to be very helpful for those audio learners—but there are ways that you can make this accessible to them.
So we are back to that cringe-worthy moment that has your child facing you down as you try to analyze the notes from the teacher. You catch yourself asking, “Well, what were you trying to say?” and become startled by a surprisingly good answer to the topic they have been asked to write about. Their verbal communication came across clear and direct but is in complete opposition to the paper you hold in your hand.
Why didn’t it translate?
Before you sit down and analyze the technicalities of the writing ask your child to verbally give you their thought process.
A huge hurdle, especially for children who struggle with writing, is not the fact that they cannot come up with things to write about but simply that they have not fine-tuned the process of transcribing what is inside their heads to a physical representation on paper.
There is a very simple solution. Children are natural storytellers. They are embellishers, narrators, and announcers. They are imaginative, creative, and far more capable than we often give them credit for. Most of this cache of skills, however, often materializes in a verbal or oral way. Think of the nonstop chatter that accompanies a particularly busy or exciting day. They are never at a loss for words and this is true especially when it comes to a topic that they’re interested in.
This is to say, it is not a lacking of ability to create these words, but rather the arduous task of translating them. This is what you can do:
Record your child speaking or telling a story. Something that is important to them or excites them to the point where they have an overabundance of information. Then take that recording and have them listen to it. Have them listen to the cadence of their voices, to their inflections and pauses. Have then pinpoint moments of detail or vagueness. Then, have them write down exactly what they hear in that recording. You would be amazed at how articulate this first draft of their writing will look like.
You want to make sure to ask your child questions about the story as they tell you. Giving them leading questions will allow them to solve inconsistencies as well as provide details that might be missing in the story. These are guiding questions that children also answer when they are required to talk about a certain topic. You want to make sure their story has an order, a purpose, and is also full of great details to land the reader/listener right inside of their thought process. This is the time to really make sure that story is shaping in a concrete and whole way.
When you aren’t focused on the technicalities and rules of writing, you find yourself writing without filtering. This is essential. Your child especially needs the room and space to tell a story without looking at a blank sheet of paper first. Therefore, writing down their story after a recording gives them a great idea of what they have said. They can also use all this raw information that they have just made and then go back and edit using all of the technical skills in school that they are taught pertaining to writing.
This is something we do in our classrooms at MathGenie. We give children the opportunity to share their work with their peers orally and also give them guiding questions and critiques to help strengthen their next draft. This helps not only with their writing skills but also draws upon the strengths of their verbal skills.
Editing and re-writing can also seem daunting, but these are formulas that are much easier to follow than getting all their thoughts on paper. This is the biggest part of the battle. So when you need your child to write, first ask them to speak. This is going to completely change the way they write.1