Teaching Children to Write by Aiming for Fluency, Not Perfection
So how do we teach children to write without dominating their work? Learning how to homeschool well means tackling this prickly problem. We are so eager for our kids to succeed, that we can’t keep from sticking our fingers into their pudding, but we do so at great cost–their creative expression and any hope that they might enjoy writing. By following a few basic principles, we can free our kids up to express themselves in writing and maybe learn to enjoy the process. What we need to do is to aim for fluency, not perfection.
Practice Free Writing
First, we must allow them to write freely as often as possible. That means lots and lots of rough drafts, with no need for multiple rewrites and a final, “good” copy. Whose idea was it for children to correct and recopy every word they write? Talk about tedium! If we cut back on the rewrites, they could write twice as much. A steady diet of free writing is essential. Every professional writer that I know has some sort of journal for this type of writing.
Avoid Over Correcting
Parents can be sticklers for over correcting children’s work, but homeschooling well means motivating kids to write, not teaching them to hate it. We wonder why children write as little as possible, use short, uninteresting vocabulary and hate writing, Here’s why: the shorter the piece, the less there is to correct and rewrite. Smart kids use short, boring words to reduce the chance of making errors.
A boy I knew once asked his mother, “How do you spell octopus?” She replied, “Just write fish. At least you can spell that.” What a sad lesson he learned that day! An overemphasis on correctness of spelling, grammar, neatness and punctuation will destroy creativity and will teach a child to write less. The more they play the game of pleasing adults instead of freely expressing themselves, the sooner they will learn to hate writing.
Provide More Time for Experience
Why do we insist on chaining our kids to a desk and pencil? Instead of spending precious time recopying text, an activity that serves little purpose, they should be running, playing and exploring–gaining experience from which to write more powerful and authentic stories, poems and reports. Experience is the raw material for writing so the richer one’s experience, the more that person has to write about. And experience in recopying text is not the stuff of great works of art!
Aim for Fluency, Not Perfection
Professional writers know that the more we write, the better we write. Parents and teachers often haven’t figured that out. If we would first encourage fluency in their writing by letting them write whatever comes into their heads without second guessing their ideas, without worrying about how to spell it, punctuate it or write it neatly, imagine what they might create! Why not only require them to edit one out of every ten pieces? And how about if they don’t recopy any of it? Let them write the original draft on every second line, make a neat stroke through the word that they are editing and write the new word above it. Then on with creating!
Compare Learning Writing to Learning to Talk
When they learned to talk, we adored their babbling. We didn’t bother to correct their baby talk, and wonder of wonders, that babbling eventually turned into well-structured speech. Let’s apply the same principle to writing. They need to babble a lot on paper to learn to write well. They don’t need constant correction; rather, they need the freedom to explore their language. If they read good books, are read to regularly and do a lot of practice writing, they will eventually develop their own style and will learn to correct their errors. How, you ask? That takes me to the topic of editing, which I will save for a future article. For now, please step back and let your children write. For their sake, aim for fluency, not perfection.
Dianne Dachyshyn is a freelance writer and a motivational speaker who lives in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. She works as a home education facilitator, helping homeschooling families plan their programs and deal with challenges. Dianne is passionate about teaching children to write. Visit her website at HomeschoolWell.com.