Anyone who has ever watched children play knows they are not merely building with blocks, squishing clay, or coloring with crayons. They are telling themselves a story the whole time, building a world and creating characters as they “play”. Because of that natural born love of a good story, it often doesn’t take much to nudge a kid into a full scale writing geek.
I am often invited to schools to do presentations or author visits, usually with the hope that meeting an author will help get kids fired up about their own writing. Whenever I do these visits, I always ask the students the same question: Who likes to write? Around 50% of the kids raise their hands. When I ask the question again, this time adding, “Who likes to write if you get to ignore all the rules,” 98% of the kids raise their hands. Hugely different response!
The following tips are designed to help remind your child–and yourself–that writing can also be a form of play; to help turn them into a story geek rather than a writing robot suffocating under too many rules. The goal is to reinforce those parts of writing that equal play in your child’s eyes and ignore the rest.
- Let them give rein to their natural enthusiasm and sense of play by ignoring the writing rules that make it feel like work. You want them to get in touch with that intuitive part of themselves that recognizes that writing and creating can be play. Rules can always be taught later, but a sense of joy, once lost, is very hard to recapture.
- Invest in nice quality notebooks and pens. It’s easy to dismiss the very kinesthetic pleasures of writing–the feel of a silky pen flowing across thick, smooth paper. High quality pens and notebooks can bring that extra pleasure to the act of writing. Plus it signals to them that this is a valued activity, one that can feel good physically and one that the adults in their lives value enough to indulge them in.
- Give them permission to not show anyone their work if they so choose (even you!). Some people need absolute privacy in which to experiment and risk failure, especially children who are used to doing exceptionally well at things.
- Do not critique their writing, even if they beg you. If they are dying for feedback, let them know what they did really well. Or better yet, ask them which part they had the most fun doing.
- As hard as it is for us adults, do not weigh down your child’s writing with your desires, dreams, and ambitions. If you child loves to write and spends hours writing, do not begin pushing them to become a writer or enter writing contests or in any way burden their writing with expectations of careers or publication. Let writing be one area of their lives that is process oriented rather than result oriented.
[This post originally ran September 2, 2010.]