I enjoy talking to other homeschoolers this time of year and hearing their plans for the summer. Like many families those plans typically include things like travel, celebrations, camps, field trips, and yes… school.
I always find it interesting to hear which subjects are covered during the summer months — math and reading easily top the list, along with foreign languages, and fun projects thrown in here and there that usually focus on science or history. Less seldom do I hear… writing.
Writing is one of those things that kids seem to have a love/hate relationship with. Writing is both an art and a science and it’s work. Even good writers, even great writers, struggle to find the right words, constantly revise and edit themselves, and still question whether or not their work is adequate. Families often give kids a break on their writing during the summer months because, let’s face it — we all need a break and slogging through that writing curriculum just sounds so… hard.
Unfortunately (or perhaps, fortunately) just like math or reading, becoming more proficient at writing takes practice and consistency. But how can we inspire our kids to write willingly and joyfully, not just over the summer months, but all throughout the school year?
For some children, writing curriculum may do the trick, but for many — especially those that resist the process of sitting down and forcing words onto paper — we need to find another way to foster a sense of pride and accomplishment, not of frustration and dread. One approach that we have used successfully in our own homeschool is what we refer to as stream of consciousness writing. In a nutshell, we begin by taking away the fear of making mistakes — whether that be grammar, spelling, or punctuation mistakes, or simply the fear of writing something not worth reading.
Stream of consciousness writing is simply creative writing without the pressure to be perfect the first time. It’s removing the inner editor that says, “That’s not right. This isn’t good enough. I can’t write.” If great writing takes multiple revisions then why aren’t we allowing our children to write in the same manner? By getting something down on paper, and then returning to polish and perfect our craft (plugging in those pesky grammar and punctuation rules over time) we signal to our children that writing is a journey to be enjoyed and not just another subject to be checked off and filed as completed for the year.
So how do you get started? For younger children, encourage them to keep a daily (or weekly) journal. Pick up a fun notebook adorned with a favorite character or splurge and purchase a bound journal that you can present as a gift. Make a big deal out of the presentation. One approach would be to tell the child that you have a different idea for practicing his writing skills over the summer and that the idea will be revealed through a scavenger hunt, which ultimately ends in finding the notebook or journal. Include in the journal a personal note letting him know you are confident in his ability to become a great writer. Issue a challenge to fill a certain number of pages and decide on an appropriate reward that will be given at the end of the summer. Let him know that his writing will not be graded or corrected, but that periodically you would like to review some of the entries and discuss ways they can be improved. Encourage different types of writing, including creative and expository (informative). He can incorporate random musings, poems, or detailed descriptions of trips or nature walks. By practicing the art of writing consistently and without pressure you may find that some of the old fear and dread over putting words to paper starts to slip away.
For older children, you might consider an on-line writing program, but be careful that you don’t cross the line into writing drudgery. There are virtual writing camps available, such as Camp NaNoWriMo, sponsored by the Office of Letters and Light the same folks that bring the yearly National Novel Writing Month challenge in November to young writers and adults. My own non-writers participated in the NaNoWriMo program two years ago and produced wonderful “novels” that instilled a great sense of pride and accomplishment. The Camp NaNoWriMo program is for children ages 13 and up. Participants can build a virtual bunkhouse with like-minded writers and get the online support, tracking tools, and hard deadline to help them write a rough draft of a novel in one month. Camp NaNoWriMo starts again in July and is free of charge. There is even an off-line version of the camp with teaching materials and progress charts. All of these challenges can be completed individually or with a group. In our experience, it was more fun to get together with friends and encourage each other to meet, and even exceed, personal goals.
For help with the editing phase, parents can assist or it can be outsourced to sites such as Gathering Ink (disclaimer: the author of this post is owner and operator).
Whatever you decide, choose to make writing an adventure this summer, and tell us in the comment section what other ideas you have for keeping the kids writing all summer long!