Teaching Children to Write Without Taking Over

Teaching kids to write is one of the biggest challenges that a homeschooler faces. Just how do we get those little guys to wax eloquently on paper? Doesn’t it make your hair bristle when they groan, “Ah, Mom, I hate writing!”

We try everything to make it work. Don’t we make them fill the page? Don’t we circle every error, correct every misspelled word, harp about their grammar? What more can we do? Unfortunately, sometimes we do too much. Let’s consider the following example to illustrate what I mean.

Yanking the garment from your hand, the toddler says, “Me do it! I do it myself.” From a young age, children express independence by attempting grown-up tasks. They want to dress themselves, make a sandwich, set the table. We smile at their childish efforts. Colors don’t match, the sandwich is sloppy and the table setting haphazard. A wise parent accepts the creation, resisting the urge to fix it. I confess that I wasn’t always a wise parent.

How many times have I stepped in to help? “Here, Honey, let Mommy help.” That statement is the kiss of death to the child’s creativity and independence. When children complete a task with an adult-modified result, they know as well as everyone else that their creativity was lost in the shuffle. Grandma knows when the child carries that perfectly decorated angel food cake to the table while you gush ecstatically, “Just look what Zelda made, all by herself,” that there’s not a chance that she actually did. Everyone in the room, including Zelda, knows that there’s a lot more Mommy in that cake than Zelda, but no one admits it.

Are you seeing the similarity? Now let’s apply this principle to teaching children to write. How can we step back and allow them to write without over correcting, modifying, or rewriting–in other words, taking over?

But Dianne, I hear you thinking. How can I teach my children to improve their writing skills? I want them to do their best. Perhaps the child’s best is far below your comfortable standard. Perhaps the standard that makes you comfortable is unrealistically high. The worst thing we can do is to do the work for the child.

When a child writes a story, a report or a math test, the end product should look as if a child wrote it. It should sound as if a child wrote it. A child’s story with an adult voice begs the obvious question: “How did that happen?” It simply shouldn’t sound that polished.

There should be mistakes because children have not yet mastered spelling, grammar, punctuation, word usage and style. If a story pops out of the printer perfectly formatted, paragraphs correct, punctuation flawless from commas to semi-colons, complicated sentence structure and figures of speech lined up like motor homes at a trade show, there’s something wrong.

Like Grandma, we all know that there is no way the child produced that piece of work herself. The sad thing is that we broadcast our embarrassment of our children’s imperfect work when we clean up all the errors in our desperate attempt to make the writing better. The truth is that it isn’t better; it’s just altered. By us. What’s sadder is that we aren’t even doing it to make the child look better. We are mostly concerned with how we look.

In a future article, I will share some more tips on how we can encourage our children to do their best at writing without taking over.

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.

avatar Dianne Dachyshyn (14 Posts)

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. Before working as a facilitator, she home educated her three children for seven years. She has sold curriculum, worked as a private consultant to homeschoolers, served on a homeschooling board and has been a keynote speaker at homeschool conventions and support meetings. Dianne is passionate about teaching children to write. From her experience in the classroom, in homeschooling and in relationships with other writers, she knows that this is by far the most challenging area to learn and to teach. Dianne Dachyshyn is available to speak to groups on the topics of homeschooling, parenting and teaching writing. She can be reached at dianne@homeschoolwell.com.

5 Responses to Teaching Children to Write Without Taking Over

  • avatar
    April S says:

    Thank you so much for writing this. Our society is so focused on perfection, that I think we often forget we can’t expect it from children. Especially when creativity is involved. Children need creative outlets and that means something they can do to express themselves and not be judged. It’s too easy for a child to become not interested because we adults complicate something they love. We must remember that what is acceptable for us is not acceptable for them.
    The example of the angel food cake is perfect. A part of me can’t help but think how much more memorable such a situation would be with a less-than-perfect cake with wonky decorations. Instead of just a pretty dessert, it would become a memory of the cake that Zelda made when she was little.

  • avatar
    Aminhotep says:

    Kids are very observant. If we are the only audience to their story, by interupting the creative process to correct spelling and grammar, we demonstrate that form and compliance with conventions has a higher value than ideas. We may say otherwise later, but lesson makes a stronger impression when taught by example.
    .-= Aminhotep´s last blog ..Why does school suck? We teach it to suck. =-.

  • avatar
    Connie S says:

    This all so true. Some of us do have a tendency to want it to be ‘just right’…perfectionism sneaking in. It’s a fine line between correcting and educating. Anxious to read your next installment.

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