From the time I was a small child, I have loved telling stories. At the age of 9, I told everyone I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. Imagine then, having two sons who struggled learning to read—let alone write stories. Both of my sons resisted writing for several of the reasons I discuss below. However, by using some of the tools I mention, they found ways to not only tell their stories, but grow to enjoy the writing process.
Why Your Child May Resist Writing
First, it’s important to figure out whether his resistance to writing is related to penmanship or composition. In other words, does his hand hurt when he writes, or does his brain hurt when he writes? Sometimes, it’s both. If his hand hurts, the parent can take dictation when he tells stories and work on strengthening his hands separately. Some of the best ways to do this include working with clay, weaving and sewing, cross stitch, and knitting or crochet.
But My Brain Hurts When I Try to Write!
But what about a child who struggles with composition? There are four possible reasons for this. First, many children get so preoccupied with grammar, spelling, and punctuation rules that they can’t get down to the business of communicating their ideas. They become overly focused on where to put the commas and whether their sentences have a noun and a verb or not. Then, they get upset when they can’t remember what they wanted to say.
The second possibility for struggling with composition has to do with generating ideas. Or, their minds are so full of ideas, they don’t know which one to choose. So, they sit there staring at blank pages, frozen with indecision. Another possibility is that they do know what they want to write about, but they don’t know how to organize their thoughts. Everything gets all jumbled up in their minds and so, they too end up staring at a blank page.
Lastly, many children see a story in their mind’s eye that they don’t know how to express in words. They are visual thinkers who struggle with the vocabulary to tell the story that plays like a movie in their heads. Many children who resist writing struggle with more than one of these issues.
Some Creative Helps to Get Your Child Writing
To avoid preoccupation with mechanics, encourage free writing. Free writing means that the child writes whatever pops into his head without regard for mechanics, spelling, or anything else. The idea is to keep typing or writing without thinking too hard—almost like brainstorming—without passing judgement on what he writes.
Another way to help with this, as well as encourage ideas, and help a child organize his own ideas, is for the parent to write part of the sentences for him. Leave important words blank and offer possibilities. For example: The ____ (cat, dog, hamster, bird, snake) slowly (ran, walked, crept, skittered, flew) to the ____ (park, house, tree, woods, street). An easier and more tactile option uses magnetic word tiles instead of writing in the blanks.
Many families are familiar with using written story prompts, but some children respond better to photos, paintings, cartoon images, or GIFs. The best images are action oriented, not people posing for the camera. Discussing the before and after of the image they see can provoke some imaginative responses. This can also help them develop the sequencing skills needed to organize their writing. Sequencing several pictures to tell a story further develops this important skill.
Using Hands-On Tools
Other things I have used include story cubes, story quilts, and story jars created from the ideas in the book Show Me a Story by Emily K. Neuberger. Games also help. One favorite that helps with sequencing skills and imagination is “Finish the story.” The game requires at least three people. One person starts telling a story and then stops at an exciting point at which the next person is supposed to continue the story. And it goes on like that until it’s the last person’s turn, and that person ends the story. Or, instead of going around a circle, players can toss a ball to the next person instead.
The most important thing with encouraging children to write is to remove whatever barriers are holding them back. Keep it playful, and work on weak areas separately if possible. Every child loves stories. After all, we are part of the greatest story ever. His Story.
Copyright 2019, The Old Schoolhouse®. Used with permission. All rights reserved by the Author. Originally appeared in the Fall 2019 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade publication for homeschool moms.