Usually during the primary grades, a child is first asked to pen a composition. This sort of written expression is not unlike personal essays which appear in anthologies like Chicken Soup for the Soul or magazines like Guideposts. The same steps an adult might take to inspire herself and prepare for her first draft, a child would take. The difference here is that you, the parent-teacher, will lead your budding author in this journey. And just as a writer seeks a reward or recompense, there must be some reward for the child, be it a dessert, an outing, some special entertainment, no matter.

Step One

Come up with an idea for a story together. Suggest a theme. Or ask a question of your student such as: What would your perfect day be? If he doesn’t like that topic, ask him for one. What are his interests? “Pick one” you say. Does he have a pet he’d like to talk about or a sport he does or a musical interest?

Step Two

Talk it out. Let him or her orally report the story. If he’s hesitant, then put on your Barbara Walters’s hat and interview him. Make it fun. Use a mic. Maybe record his impressions. If the child likes to draw, have him sketch a picture of the main incident in his story or the setting for the narrative or the main character of his tale. This works for a non-fiction narrative or a fabricated one.

Step Three

Read Perrault’s Cinderella to your kid. Discuss the fairy tale by asking your student the following: Can you tell me the setting? Or draw it? Were any of your senses involved when you listened to the fairy tale? Did you hear the mop sloshing in the bucket of dirty water? If you could touch the hem of the fairy godmother’s dress, what material do you think it was? What were Cinderella’s fears? Her fantasies? What was the conflict in the story? What did she want to happen and what obstacles did she have to overcome? What was her goal?

Step Four

Have your child retell her own story idea and see if it contains a problem—conflict. Ask your student if he’s the main character of his story or is it someone else? Is it a pet, for instance? Ask him what this character (protagonist) wants. What will this character need to do to succeed? Jot down your child’s responses to your queries. If your child cannot think of anything or is unwilling to participate, prod. Yet, if you have no success, close the notebook, and do other homework, and come back to this later or another day.

Step Five

Take a walk with your child outside. As you journey down the street, point out that everyone starts with a step, one step. Show him what you see, hear, touch, smell or maybe taste along the way. When you return home, ask if he learned anything new or saw anything unexpected along the way.

Step Six

Converse with your child about his dreams. Have him recite what he can remember about them. Was there a storyline in the dream? What happened? Was his dream scary?

Step Seven

Take out your legal pad, and tell him you will be his scribe. He needs to dictate his story to you. You will physically write it. His story should fall between three-hundred and five-hundred words, but this goal can be resolved later. This is only a messy first draft.

Step Eight

Encourage him to start with the most exciting part of his tale —a catchy piece of dialogue or whatever that will interest a reader from the get-go.

Step Nine

Urge him to be specific with time and place and keep the action going. Is there a message to his story? What? Remind him of the messages of Cinderella: Take risks. Let friends help you. Don’t settle.

Step Ten

Have your child type it on the computer. Use spell check. Then you reread and edit it for grammatical errors. Find an audience for him to read his story to— a sibling, a parent, a grandparent, the babysitter, a neighbor, the dog; it doesn’t matter, but he needs to read it aloud to ensure it sounds as he wants it to sound.

Once your child has found success in writing a composition, he should be less reluctant to pen the next one. Suggest he keep a small notebook with him to jot down interesting things he sees or hears each day. If he could pen a few lines in a journal or a blog on the computer each day, he will become a more proficient writer and most likely will enjoy it more. Remember to reward your child. He earned it.

Copyright 2019, The Old Schoolhouse®. Used with permission. All rights reserved by the author. Originally appeared in the Homeschool Supplement 2019 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade publication for homeschool moms.

Erika Hoffman

Erika raised four children and resides with her husband in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. She teaches a course on composing the personal essay at Duke University, where she earned her B.A. and M.A.T.