I often read reports about writing being the forgotten art and how the digital age spells doom for writing and spelling and I am surprised. Of course, the digital age hugely influences the younger generation and for some, they will spend more time tapping away on a keypad or keyboard than they will writing things down but that does not mean that writing is something of the past. How can it be when children need to write so much in school? How can it be when writing is such an integral part of life; whether you are writing notes, lists or a daily diary, we are all writing and the call of the keyboard might be one that is hard to dismiss, but proper writing by hand with pen and paper will and should always have an equal role to play in daily life.
I love writing. There is something about putting pen to paper that I find rewarding. It might not always be neat, I don’t have a spell-checker on hand (oh actually there is that old-fashioned concept of using a dictionary) but if I am thinking about ideas for a post or a story or even a list of any kind, I like to write it down.
Why is writing so important?
Firstly, writing plays a huge part in education. Writing is something that takes place every day in schools from Reception through to Year 13 and even at university, pen and paper are still widely used for note-taking and essay-planning and writing. For that reason alone, writing is essential as it helps to fashion the people we become at the end of the education process. But there is something special that happens when you put a pen to paper and write down words, sentences, paragraphs. There is a cognitive process that can help many people to process that information and recognise or remember it more readily simply by the act of writing it down.
For me, writing is a very personal thing. We all have our own style of handwriting and if we write, we are leaving a mark on the world that can’t be erased by a click of a mouse. It is part of us. I love reading through cards and letters written by family who are no longer with us; it is like being with them again and I’m not sure it would be the same if it was in Comic Sans. I treasure my children’s hand-written cards, notes, school books and it is lovely to look back at the way their writing has evolved over the years. It is fascinating to see how many family members have similar hand-writing too and I can’t wait to see if any of my children will have hand-writing like mine.
Does reading play a part?
Reading and writing have a reciprocal relationship and they help each other. Reading will help and inspire writing; cementing the foundations of language that they already know and adding to it. Writing helps readers to recognise and retain information and particularly in young children, it helps them to see the way language is structured.
I am a huge advocate of giving children every opportunity to read and I wrote a post last year with tips to help encourage even the most reluctant reader. Reading gives children big and small access to new vocabulary and sentence structure that they can use in their own writing. Reading can also inspire children to write. If they enjoy reading and they way a good story and the characters make them feel, they might want to write themselves. My eldest son was turning into a reluctant reader around the age of 8 and then Harry Potter changed it all. After he had devoured the J K Rowling books, he never looked back and he is always reading. This inspired his ambition to be a writer and after achieving a top mark at English A Level, he is off to study creative writing at university. I have no doubt that reading has played a big part in both his decision and his success.
So how do we encourage children to write?
So where do you start to encourage your own children to write? It is something that needs to be done naturally and in a fun way as like with many things, if you try to force the issue, it won’t work. Most children will have written during their school day and so if you announce that you want to do some writing, I can imagine that many will disappear out of the room. Yet, if you make it a game or part of something that they will enjoy, you will be surprised how easy it is to get them writing.
Set the right example
I have often heard it said that we are the biggest role-models and influences in our children’s lives and if they see us writing, that will help to reinforce the important to writing. I spend a lot of my time online and I do worry that this is not a good example, but I try to offset it. I am a self-confessed stationery addict which really does make it easier. I have notebooks everywhere, I have a meal planner, I write lists, my blog posts ideas and plans are all hand-written. My husband often writes the children little notes in the morning before he goes to work which the children love. All of these things help to inspire them and to help show them the value of writing.
Have the right equipment
This is an essential one and it is important to give them the right environment to write in. Keep a supply of pens, pencils and notebooks or paper to hand. You know what appeals to your children; find a notebook with something on that you appeals to them. I bought a notebook with different sport balls on for my son and he loves it and uses it to write down all sorts of things. A pot filled with pens and pencils that you keep near a table means that they can always grab a pen when they need one. We have a brightly coloured LEGO desk tidy which didn’t cost much but the children always go to it when they need a pen, pencil or rubber.
Post-it notes are also a great resource to encourage writing as there is something appealing to children about the colourful sticky squares. My daughter is obsessed with them and even though her writing skills are still in the early stages, she loves writing ‘messages’ and sticking them around the house.
Simple Writing Games
If I said to my two boys (who are 9 and 11), let’s sit down and write a story, they would probably laugh at me. One wet afternoon in the recent school holiday, I sat down with some scrap paper and some new pens that we had been sent by Zebra pens and said that we were going to play a game. We played Who, What, How, Where, When and Why? This is a brilliant little game that I play with language learners and you choose a person (who?) write it at the top of the piece of paper and then you fold it over so that the next person can’t see it and pass it on. Next is the what? What was the person doing, the funnier and sillier the better and then you fold over and pass over again. This process continues with how? where you choose an adjective, where?, when? and then you end with why?
We played it for ages and had a great laugh in the process as we ended up with some very funny stories at the end. The boys loved it and soon worked out that the sillier their answers were, the funnier they would be. I can definitely recommend this game to anyone. The Zebra pens were perfect too as we had different colours to choose from and they are really good pens to write with. Find out more about Zebra pens here.
Other games that involve writing are who am I?; using post-it notes, you can write down the person you are and stick it on your neighbours forehead and they have to ask questions to work out who they are.
Including writing into role play activities with younger children is also a great idea. Play cafes and give your child a small notebook and help them write down simple orders or a shopkeeper and help them write out signs and labels for their stock. Make pretend menus for their cafes, which can be a great excuse to add a bit of colour to their writing.
What about crosswords, solving codes or anagrams? There are endless printables available on-line for children of all ages and this is a good way of engaging thinking and writing skills at the same time. Give them a long word on a piece of paper and challenge them to make as many smaller words as they an out of that word. Most children enjoy a challenge.
Write to Granny
If like us, you don’t live close to the children’s grandparents, why not encourage them to write letters or postcards to their grandparents or other family members. They don’t have to write much but I’m sure those few words will be very well-received. You could make it a regular thing where you all sit down and write something together.
Make their own magazine or newspaper
Why not create your own magazine or newspaper? This is so easy to do and involves a bit of paper and some time spent planning and organising and lots of writing. It could be on a theme or just a general one. Maybe they could even write their own book?
Make a family time capsule by putting a few items into a box and include letters. Agree on a time to open it, say five or ten years and then write letters to your future self. Put it away or bury it and remember to open it again as a family. This is a great and fun way to store memories.
Most children love to help and you can get them writing by ‘helping’ you. If you have to write a shopping list, get them to write it for you or at least add the things that they would like to buy. Perhaps they could write a list of jobs that need doing or a list of things that you would like to do as a family during the next weekend or holiday.
Encouraging older children to write
Some children love projects and I know I did when I was young. Get them to choose a topic that they love and do some research on it if they need more information. They can add pictures and photos and maybe buy a cheap A4 display book for them to put their project in. We have a few from over the years and we all love looking back at them.
Projects don’t necessarily mean a huge amount of work either. L is a sports nut and especially enjoys football and rugby; spectating as much as playing. He will often sit down and make up teams for future games or tournaments or write match reports of games he has watched. We call them mini-projects but they often involve a great deal of writing.
When I was young, I had a number of penpals around the world. I loved it. Writing the letters was almost as exciting as receiving them. Not only is it a brilliant excuse to write, but it is a brilliant experience for children and it helps to make them more culturally aware too. These days of course, many pupils communicate via email, but there is something special about receiving a handwritten letter with different stamps and postmarks on. There are a number of websites that can set your child up with a penpal either electronically or via ‘snail mail’. It might be worth asking your child’s school if they have a partner school where penpals could be set up.
Diaries and memory books
As your children head for their teens, a diary is a great idea. Somewhere where they can jot down their innermost feelings or just jot down what they did that day. You can buy lockable diaries too which might appeal. If your child is more creative, why not get them to create a journal or a memory book where they can craft a book all about their lives and what they like or have done. Holiday journals are a lovely way of making special holiday memories last a bit longer. Encourage them to collect mementos during the holiday and get a nice scrapbook or notebook to turn into a holiday journal. This makes a nice family that you can all do together and with a few photos and pictures along with the all important writing, this is so much better than a simple photo album.
If you do have a keen writer, why not encourage them to enter competitions; whether it is factual writing, articles, stories or poems, there are lots of competitions for young writers. Search the internet for competitions for younger writers such as Radio 2’s 500 words which runs each year and entrants have to be between 5 and 13 years old.
This post is part of my work with National Stationery Week which is taking place between 31st March and 6th April and the aim is to get people writing. I am receiving a few stationery items as part of this campaign but all opinions in this post are my own.