As a literacy specialist, I want my children to love reading and writing as much as I do. Anyone who’s ever read my personal blog knows how I am trying to raise a literate human (now two literate humans). However, my daughter has academic challenges I never faced as a young learner. With many scheduled services (e.g., O-G, OT, PT, speech), I worry about weaving writing into her daily summer routine before she enters first grade. However, I know summer writing loss is real. I want to set her up for success when she returns to school this fall. This post offers six small ways to support any child who struggles with writing without requiring him/her to sit down to physically write daily.
This post offers six small ways to support any child who struggles with writing without requiring him/her to sit down to physically write daily. Seeing as these are things I’ve tried with my daughter, these tips include personal stories and some (of her) writing examples.
One of the many things I’ve learned from Betsy Hubbard is the importance of oral storytelling for young children. Therefore, I not only tell stories to my daughter, but I engage her in telling stories with me while we’re driving in the car. I help her frame her stories using language like first, next, then, and finally since this helps her tell stories in sequential order.
Recently, Isabelle and I were practicing storytelling in the car on the way home from our local botanical garden. Suddenly she said, “I could write about this in Kid Writing!” I was convinced she’d forget so I mildly intervened by emailing her teacher to tell her she had a butterfly story that she wanted to write about. The next day when she was in school, her teacher asked her if she still wanted to write her butterfly story. Luckily she said yes! (I’ll share more about this in a future post.)
Record your child’s stories.
One of Isabelle’s teachers took the class on a “field trip” to the Dead Sea. As a result, we received pictures at the end of the school day of the children with mud from the Dead Sea slathered all over their feet. I showed the photos to Isabelle and asked her about the “field trip.” She told me so much in a short amount of time. Once she came to a good stopping point, I said, “It sounds like you had a lot of fun today.” She nodded. “Do you want me to write down what you said so you can remember this ‘field trip’?” She nodded again.
After Isabelle retold the story to me, I read her words back to her. I asked her if she used the most specific words possible. She wasn’t sure. Therefore, I went back to two places in the story she told me and asked her if she could use more specific words. She provided me with more precise language, which I inserted. Then, she disappeared. Had I pushed too much? It turns out I hadn’t. She returned a few minutes later with a construction paper drawing of her and her friends with mud on their feet, which she asked to staple to the story I jotted down for her.
Make lists together.
Our afternoons are the same on most days, but sometimes our afternoons vary from the routine. One way I can keep my daughter on-track is to create a schedule. I used to create a picture schedule that included key words and simple sketches. However, recently, she wanted to start creating those schedules on her own.
This isn’t exactly heavy-duty writing, but the fact that my daughter wanted to take over the responsibility for making these lists is what mattered to me. (Perhaps it’s due to her penchant for sticky notes or perhaps it’s because she just likes to cross things off once she’s done… I don’t know what the reason is and, quite frankly, it doesn’t matter.)
Reflect on outings through art and writing.
We visited the Zimmerli Art Museum when we were in New Jersey last month so Isabelle, who is interested in art, could sketch the paintings and sculptures in her sketch book. We found a kid-friendly room inside of one of the galleries towards the end of our visit. Isabelle noticed a piece of paper entitled “My Day at the Museum” with a basket of pencils beside it. She wanted to fill it out so we sat down and she completed it. As she was drawing and writing on the museum-created form, I thought it might be neat for me to create a short reflection sheet like this for her to fill out on the car ride home from museums and botanical gardens we visit this summer.
Write cards and letters.
Last week, my family experienced great joy with the birth of a new cousin. Three days after the baby was born, he was in the hospital. When Isabelle crawled into bed for a snuggle on Saturday morning, I told her how our new cousin had to have a spinal tap and blood tests the previous night. As the big sister of a baby brother, she understood the severity and immediately asked, “Can I make the baby a card?”
While I know the baby cannot read yet, I didn’t want to minimize her desire to do good — or to write. After breakfast, Isabelle sat at her craft table to create a card for her new baby cousin. She was proud of her card when she finished and enjoyed putting it in the mailbox.
(Baby update: Our newest cousin was discharged from the hospital. All of his test results came back normal. We are thankful he is healthy!)
Build on oral stories by writing them down!
My father, who my daughter calls Zayde, which means grandfather in Yiddish, takes Isabelle into Manhattan for “adventures” (my daughter’s word) whenever she visits. Last month, they had an adventure while taking mass transit home from the City. As soon as Isabelle and my father got into my car, she was bursting with delight to recount the story of her bathroom story to me. When we returned to my parents’ house, Isabelle retold the story to my husband and my mom. After listening to her retell the story three times, I asked her, “Would you like to write this down as a story that you tell across pages?”
I expected her to say no. But, she said “yes!”
A few days later, we sat down together. I taught her the say-sketch-write strategy. (NOTE: Her Kindergarten teacher uses Kidwriting, rather than Units of Study so I needed to scaffold her telling a story across pages.) Here’s what she came up with:
We placed the story in a special folder and talked about doing this again the next time she has a story she’s yearning to share over and over again.
. . .
In Joy Write: Cultivating High-Impact, Low-Stakes Writing, which I reviewed last month, Ralph Fletcher writes about the importance of low-stakes writing since it builds muscles in our young writers. Fletcher points out the importance of cultivating joy in elementary writers:
In our march from womb to tomb there’s only a brief time when our ideas about writing/reading are in flux: when we’re forming attitudes we’ll have for life. For many children, preschool is probably too early. By middle and high school, student attitudes about writing, their identity as writers and readers, have become fixed. But during elementary school (age six to twelve), children are both intellectually aware and open-minded. Those first six grades give us rare opportunity to instill in them positive attitudes toward writing and reading. Are we taking advantage of that sweet spot, or are we squandering our opportunity? (2017, xiii)
I’ve learned that if I want to grow a writer at home, I must work with my child in ways that encourage, rather than force, her to write. It is my hope to find the sweet spot this summer so my daughter moves forward — even if it’s just a little bit — as a writer so she’s confident about her writing ability when she begins first grade this fall.
- This giveaway is for a copy of Joy Write: Cultivating High-Impact, Low-Stakes Writing. Many thanks to Heinemann for donating a copy for one reader. (You must have a U.S. mailing address to win a copy of this book.)
- For a chance to win this copy of Joy Write: Cultivating High-Impact, Low-Stakes Writing, please leave a comment about this or any blog post in this blog series by Sunday, May 7th at 12:00 p.m. EDT. Betsy Hubbard will use a random number generator to pick the winners whose name will be announced in the ICYMI blog post for this series on Monday, May 8th.
- Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so Betsy can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win. From there, our contact at Heinemann will ship your book out to you. (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.)
- If you are the winner of the book, Betsy will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – JOY WRITE BOOK. Please respond to her e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. Unfortunately, a new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.
I am a literacy consultant who has spent the past dozen years working with teachers to improve the teaching of writing in their classrooms. While I work with teachers and students in grades K-6, I'm a former fourth and fifth-grade teacher so I have a passion for working with upper elementary students.
I'm the author of Craft Moves (Stenhouse Publishers, 2016) and the co-author of Jump Into Writing (Zaner-Bloser, 2021), Welcome to Writing Workshop (Stenhouse Publishers, 2019), and Day By Day (Stenhouse, 2010).