For the reluctant writer, practising writing at home or with a tutor, on top of schoolwork, can seem like hard work. However, there are many things you can do at home to help your child improve their writing skills without actually making them “write”. And best of all—they’re fun!
Thinking About Writing as “Building a House”
Let’s use an analogy. Say you’ve decided to build a house, but you know nothing about construction. What skills and information are you going to need?
- Firstly, you’re going to need to know something about architecture: the common styles and shapes of different kinds of houses, and how the rooms need to be positioned.
- Secondly, you need to think about the technical details: the electricity, plumbing, glass-fitting, and so on to make the house safe and functional.
- Thirdly, you need the right materials so that you can build a strong and attractive house from the foundation up.
Applying this approach to writing, we realise that there is a lot more involved in composing a simple poem, letter, or essay than just putting pen to paper. Children need to develop a sense of structure, the technical skills of grammar and spelling, and build up a large variety of materials to work with in the form of vocabulary (nouns, verbs, adjectives, and so on). They also need to develop the fine motor skills that will allow them to write neatly and fluently, and without physical discomfort.
Read on to discover five ways you can help your child to develop these skills—most of them without actually having to put pen to paper!
Mastering the Art of Storytelling
Any author will tell you that, in order to write well, you need to be able to tell a story. Whether it’s for writing letters, emails, newspaper columns, or even a history book, knowing how to weave together the details of “what happened” in an interesting and coherent way is essential.
To help your child develop their storytelling skills, you could try the following activities:
- Narration: Read your child a story and have them tell the story back to you in their own words. As the story is already written, retelling it helps to develop recall, sequence, and vocabulary while taking away the burden of having to invent something new.
- Picture Prompts: Look at a picture together and make up a story to explain what is happening. The colors, scenes, people, animals, and buildings can give your child an abundance of springboards for description, explanation, and invention.
- People Watching: Engage in “people watching” when you go out, making up pretend backstories for different people on the bus, in the shop, or on the street. This can also be a fantastic opportunity for talking about stereotypes and how there is much more to people than meets the eye.
- Collaborative Story: Create a fictional story together in which you take turns telling the next part of the story. You can do this verbally, or on a piece of paper that you fold after each turn, leaving only the latest addition visible to the next person. These stories tend to have all kinds of interesting twists, turns, and surprises. Roll with it and have a good laugh!
Children’s stories are often very entertaining, but sometimes they don’t make a lot of sense. To help your child develop a sense of logic, you could try the following activities at home:
- Cause and Effect: After watching a movie, reading a story, or listening to the news, have a discussion with your child about what different characters did (cause) and the results of their actions (effect). This kind of discussion can also take place as part of family discipline— “because you ate all of the cake (cause), now you will need to bake another one (effect).”
- You Learn What You Live: Tell your child about your family of origin and early experiences, and how they shaped the person you are today. Perhaps you grew up in the city, and that’s why you don’t mind the sound of traffic. Or perhaps you grew up with lots of siblings, and that’s why you enjoy throwing dinner parties.
Improving Spelling Skills
Spelling is important for communicating your ideas accurately and also for making a good impression. For example, a job application that contains spelling mistakes is not likely to be accepted, but one that is well written will show a prospective employer that you care about doing things well. Here are some fun ideas to help your child improve their spelling:
- Reading: Encourage your child to read as much as possible. The more they see words spelled correctly, the more easily they will be able to spot words that “look wrong” in their own writing.
- Games: Play games like “eye spy” for them to identify items in the room that begin with a specific letter, or for more advanced learners, one where you to take turns coming up with words where first letter is the last letter of the previous word, such as Chair, Remote, Envelope, etc.
- Rhymes: Learn and invent rhymes and songs with pairs of rhyming words, such as “The Quartermaster’s Store” and “Down by the Bay.” Write down the rhyming pairs and talk about rhyming words that are spelled the same (row, tow) and those that are spelled differently (dough, toe).
Growing a Large Vocabulary
Just as with spelling, the best way to grow a large vocabulary is to read, read, and read some more. Here are some easy ideas for building vocabulary:
- Vocab Lists: Make a list of five new words your child comes across in a book (or in a chapter, or magazine). Find out what they mean and start using those words correctly in your everyday conversations until they become part of your child’s vocabulary.
- Out and About: Read street signs, posters in shops, and anything else you see as you are out and about. Talk about what each one means.
- Do and Learn: Learn the vocabulary used for different topics by participating in them, such as learning the terms used in recipe books when cooking together (chop, broil, roast) and terms used for sports when playing a backyard game (pitch, shoot, pass).
Strengthening Fine Motor Skills
This final tip is especially important for younger children but can help students of any age who struggle with the actual mechanics of picking up a pen (or pencil) and using it to write. Help your child to develop their fine motor skills with activities such as:
- Building with Legos
- Building with gears
- Using clothespins to hang out the washing
- Playing board games like Operation
- Cutting out black-line shapes with scissors
- Tracing over a picture
- Drawing in the sand with a stick, or finger-painting
- Experimenting with bubble-writing and calligraphy
- Buying a “how to draw” book and paying attention to lines, curves, direction, and pencil pressure
With all of the activity ideas mentioned above, remember to keep it fun and turn it into a game. If your child learns that writing is easy and enjoyable, they will be more motivated to have a go at it! For more posts about reading and writing, be sure to check out 12 Tips to Help Build Your Child’s Writing Skills and 10 Reasons Why Reading is Important for Kids.