Franz Liszt didn't learn to play the piano because his father took him to concerts. He also spent hours at the keyboard.
Yet many parents think that reading good books to their children will make them writers. That's important, but more important is that you learn to write by writing .
Your children can learn to write as they learn to read or play soccer: with clear directions and practice. Using simple at-home activities, parents can help their children gain confidence and writing skills; even pre-schoolers can participate. Hidden Preparation
Build a story around pictures. All writing, from novels to newspaper articles, has a beginning, middle, end. But many people plunge into the middle or trail off at the end, like the public speaker who murmurs, "Well, I guess that's about all I have to say."
Using old magazines, let everyone cut out several pictures. Past them on cardboard or construction paper and number them: 1, 2, 3, etc. Then put them in order and have each child tell a story about them.
At first it's fun to tell the stories; later have the children write them down and read aloud. Pre-schoolers can dictate their stories -- more practice for the one writing them.
Stretch out a large sheet of brown wrapping paper or plain shelf paper and let your children get down on the floor and decorate it any way they want. Anyone who can hold a crayon can join. They'll probably draw pictures and write a few words of explanation here and there. This loosens up their writing arm, and also makes a fine mural. Make Writing Necessary
According to Dorothy Rich, director of the Home and School Institute (a non-profit educational service organization), one reason few children can write a coherent paragraph -- but can add and subtract -- is that they need math when they go to the store. But they also need a grocery list. Several of these ideas are from HSI books:
Dictate the list to your 7-year-old, spelling what's necessary. Or while you're putting in a load of wash, call him/her to write "make doctor appointment" on the calendar. Work up to longer jobs like addressing envelopes for the bills or short letters, such as for magazine subscriptions.
Take time to print "Please stop the paper until Mon." and let your first grader laboriously copy it. A waste of time? No, it shows that the written word is necessary in the everyday world.
Have "writing times" when talking isn't allowed. (If necessary, younger children can dictate notes to you or older children.) Even a 4-year-old can learn to write NO? with the speed of Isaac Asimov.
At first, make it a half-hour game when everything must be written in notes or on signs. This is great on a rainy day when tempers and volume may be high. Somehow "You're a brat" on a note isn't quite as tormenting as having it yelled at you. Besides, thinking up a suitable reply (and writing it) takes a while -- time for the instigator to cool off or get involved in a project. Compliments, or leading questions can be written, too: i"Mom, could you make some of your delicious brownies for tonight?"
Ask for lists of "evidence" or reasons, such as for a later bedtime.
When the inevitable "all-the-other-kids-do" arguments start flying, you can say, "Write down your ideas and give them to me -- no more takling about it now." It will give you time for calm assessment; you could write your reasons at the same time. The Journal
Now that your child has seen that writing is useful:
Buy each child, from age 3 up, a brightly-colored spiral notebook, crayons, a couple of markers, and beautiful, long yellow pencils. Have them keep a journal, not a diary. Young children can draw in it, and most, by age 4, can learn to write their name.
Let the journal be a place for ideas and feelings -- not only for what happened today -- with everything from anger ("My mother yelled and acted like a witch, in my opinion") to last night's dream.
There is no right or wrong, good or bad, and it's PRIVATE. This is important, and it must be protected both from curious parents and vengeful brothers and sisters. (If everyone is keeping one, there's a shared stake in protecting privacy.)
With these ideas as springboards to others, the sky's the limit.
Most important, when asked , read your child's writing. And not with one eye watching the news. Respond to ideas and attempts at humor (rampant in 10-year-olds). As Dorothy Rich says, "One of the best things about parents-as-teachers is that you donht have to give grades!"
Don't worry about the grammar and spelling at first. Let your children develop confidence and the pleasure of expressing themselves; they're studying grammar and spelling in school. But what they may not be doing is writing (especially about things that matter and for an appreciative audience: you). Power of the Pen
After writing has become something of a habit, you can gently point out one or two spelling or grammar problems. Perhaps you can play short spelling games during dinner. After your writers see the satisfaction -- and power -- of the written word, they'll want to do it well.
One 11-year-old learned the power of the pen when he was hospitalized for six weeks with a bone infection. He received medicine through an intravenous solution ina plastic bag, hung on a pole with wheels so he could walk around. Although he could roam around the children's floor and dress in regular school clothes, Andrew was not allowed in the cafeteria. One day another patient didn't ask permission and went to the cafeteria anyway.
This made Andrew mad, so he wrote the hospital administrator a letter:
"I would like to know why I am not aloud in the Cafeteria. The reason I hear from the nurses is "The head people say the visitors are too sceamish to see I.V.'s inthe cafeteria.' Excuse me but, THAT'S DUMB!! How do they know what visitors think, all my visitors agree with me."
Within 24 hours he received a reply:
"After discussing your letter, we agree that the rule is, indeed, dumb. With permission of your doctor, you may go to the cafeteria ."
Doctors and nurses had ben trying to change the rule for months; it was done in 24 hours by the power of the written word.