Helping Parents Understand Writing Workshop: Keep Learning Going Throughout the Summer

I love watching parents and children enjoying our town library during the summer months. There’s so much joy in reading together and selecting piles of books to bring home. My own daughters could never believe how many more books I’d let them take home from the library than from the local bookstore–after all, I was using a plastic card in both places! Parents might not understand reading instruction, but many more parents (and people) consider themselves readers than consider themselves writers. Maybe that’s one of the reasons it’s easier to explain how to support their children’s reading lives that how to support writing lives during summer months–or any months, for that matter!

We all know that writing instruction has evolved, and it’s sometimes really difficult for parents to understand not only the strategies that we use in writing workshops, but also the underlying philosophy that serves as its foundation. I don’t have a lot of opportunities to speak to parents about the why’s, the what’s, and the how’s of workshop instruction, but when I do, I try to stay within that format. Why workshop? For me, more than anything else, workshop instruction teaches children that they not only can write, but also that they are writers. With that mentality, young writers are braver about their choices, processes, and products, more flexible as writers (and learners), and more open to ideas and instruction.

I remember some ugly morning moments at the breakfast table when my father made edits and revisions to my hand-written final drafts on the mornings they were due. (I wish I could tell you why I showed them to him!) He wanted to help–wanted me to be the best writer I could be– and with Dad in mind, I have developed some ideas for how parents with children in writing workshops can help their children, especially during the summer months. Please feel free to add, revise, or eliminate as my list is constantly evolving!

Ways to support your child’s writing life

  1. Ask your child to tell you stories, and help them structure the stories into a beginning, middle, and end format. Your interest will inspire him/her to want to add the details that make it a story, and telling stories is an important precursor to writing stories.
  2. Tell your child stories–ones from your childhood, ones from your days– He/she will love hearing about your life, and listening to stories will help develop the understanding of how to tell stories.
  3. Share any form of writing you do with your child–lists, notes, letters–they all help children realize the importance of writing.
  4. Give your child opportunities to tell you about what they know. If your child is an expert at Legos, encourage him/her to tell you about it. The more organized the explanation, the better, as this practice will help him/her develop informational writing pieces.
  5. Encourage your child to persuade or argue with reasons and evidence. Need a new pair of shoes? Convince me! Why do you need a new pair of shoes, and how can you tell? What will happen if you don’t get a pair of new shoes? How will your life improve? This sounds silly, but this type of thinking and speaking will dramatically help your child when s/he’s learning to write opinion pieces.
  6. Point out the revision process in anything you do together. If you are building blocks, sometimes, you make a different decision about the foundation. If you are cooking, you might add more salt. If you are painting a picture, you might need to start over. These are revision decisions that build flexibility of thought and are critical for writers of all ages and stages.
  7. Read. Read more. Stop and gasp when you read something beautiful. Stop and laugh when you read something funny. Stop and groan when you read something goofy. Your child will pick up on craft moves and amaze you because they will show up in his/her writing. Make the question “How did the writer do that?” part of your repertoire as you read with children.


Lucy Calkins coined the all-important tenet that we should teach writers and not writing. Just as this phrase serves as my true north in the instruction of writing, it can help parents and caretakers understand how to work with their children. At a Family Write Night, I presented this chart to parents, and they appreciated it:

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For the purpose of newsletters, I also created it in digital format. I think it would be a great handout to send home at the end of the year to encourage summer writing. Again, I welcome additional ideas for this chart!

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Partnering with parents/caregivers is such an important way to send the message that writing matters, and summer offers so many opportunities!

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