It’s hard to teach your own child.
Every parent has this urge to fix their child’s mistakes – be it in household chores, their maths test or their writing tasks. Because it is in our DNA to eagerly support our child, we are sometimes at a crossroads, deciding whether to let them learn from their mistakes (to promote independent learning) or correct the mistake and risk overdoing it.
As much as we delight in letting them be independent problem solvers, as parents, we need practical tips on helping our children write better. Below are some ways we can become a better writing partner for our kids:
Be a coach instead of a parent.
Experts say that being a parent and a coach are two different things. As a parent, you need to avoid doing the actual writing to fix your kid’s work. Writing specialists say that children respond better when you establish a reader–writer relationship. Cultivate the idea in their mind that you help, not because their paper needs correcting, but because every writer needs another set of eyes to read their work—just like professional writers have editors.
Practice, practice, practice.
Tell your child, “The more you practise the better you will become”. This is true of anything in life. No one is a natural writer. Everyone from Charles Dickens to J. K. Rowling has had to work to improve his or her art. Encourage your child to practise as often as possible to make sure that when under pressure during academic writing situations, he or she will be able to apply what was learned during practice exercises.
Read, read and read some more.
Great writers are great readers. The more children read, the more they will expose themselves to an endless variety of linguistic techniques which will, in turn, expand their own range and repertoire. We first learn by mimicking and then by bravely experimenting to create interesting, new compositions. Tell your children that in order to write well, they must first have a love for reading, and reading everything—from child-friendly blogs and books to newspapers, poetry and great works of literature. And no, text messages and tweets do not count!
Develop a vocabulary notebook and system for recording vocabulary, expressions and techniques.
Teach your children how to note different techniques and language that might be of use in order to improve their work. Good writers take notes—they use them to record ideas, thoughts and techniques that interest or engage them. Explain to your children how taking notes is the first step to improving their writing range.
Also expound on the need to use new words quickly after learning them for the first time. The only way to fix words in one’s long-term memory is to understand and use them. A vocabulary journal or notebook is a way of ensuring children can develop a system for recording new words which is effective in helping retain them.
Read aloud and listen.
According to writing experts, parents should let their children read their writing pieces aloud and parents should listen without interrupting. We need to do this for several reasons. First, this demonstrates that our children’s writing has value and that we are paying close attention to it. Next, it is said that one of the important benefits of developing effective writing is to enhance critical thinking skills. Hence, your young writer is thinking while he or she reads their writing piece aloud and you do not want to interrupt their train of thought. Lastly, you are reinforcing your role as a coach—someone who is validating their ability to do critical analysis and affirm that their opinion is just as important as anyone else’s.
As parents, we need to resist the urge to just focus on our children’s writing errors—whether it is in spelling, punctuation or other technical aspects of writing. Instead of veering towards the mistakes, boost your children’s writing confidence by pointing out the strengths in their piece and be specific about why you like it. Describe in detail how it has left an impact on you as a reader and not as a parent or grade-giver. This will provide positive reinforcement that is a powerful tool in helping them write better.
Be a good example as well and let them see you write (or read) and that you enjoy doing it. Let them write notes to friends and family, greeting cards and even recipe procedures while making something in the kitchen. Leave an impression in their minds that writing is not just a school activity. Inculcate in them a love of words and the knowledge that by stringing them together they can have a powerful tool to express their innermost thoughts, ideas and emotions.