Writing is tough for most children. This point dawned on me one day as I pulled my frustrated third grade child out from under the table at writing time. He was struggling to write a story, but couldn’t get past the first two lines. He complained loudly, “I HATE writing!”
In a moment of desperation and inspiration, my mind traveled back to swimming lessons the year before. My favorite group to watch at my children’s swimming lessons is the “Tadpole” class for beginning swimmers. At first they are completely and utterly afraid of the water. They get in, but it takes lots of coaxing and a great deal of trust on their part. Without fail each of these frightened children practically strangles his or her instructor as she walks them across the pool, holding each in her arms. The instructor seems determined to not let them fail. She walks them across the pool, back and forth. At first their toes dangle in the water as she walks them, then their feet and by the end of the 6-week class I was amazed at the progress of these little swimmers. They trusted her instruction and they trust themselves. They like the water and have begun to swim.
The older swim classes jump right in the water and splash all around without any inhibitions. They are at the point where they just need their swimming skills refined. They were once little swimmers too, but they were taught basic strokes and have had lots of practice. As experienced swimmers, they play games in the water and have swim races. The instructor is there to just guide and reinforce their skills.
It was at that moment I realized that learning to write is no different than learning to swim. My attitude with my son had been all-wrong. I was determined that he should be working at the third grade level even though he wasn’t there. Some writers jump right in and need only to refine their skills. With my son, the reluctant writer, I had to meet him where he was—instead of pushing him into the deep end; I went down to the shallow end of the pool and met him where he was. I taught him how to think out his ideas, brainstorm them on paper—writing key words to jog his memory, and to just START!
Like the swimming instructor, I had to carry him across the pool. He dictated his stories to me and I wrote his words. I taught him the “Writing Traffic Light” and we worked through the process.
With my son, I broke the writing process down into some of the following small pieces:
- I showed him the final product: “This is what it looks like when you are all finished.” (still allowing room for his creativity.)
- We brainstormed and made a general outline of where his story was going with brief sentences.
- I wrote down the key words for his story to help jog his memory as he wrote.
- I wrote, he wrote. The pencil traveled back and forth between us, like a ball in a tennis match, and he began to write more.
- I explained that this was the “sloppy copy” and that handwriting and spelling didn’t matter in this stage. It was a huge relief to him to know that it was ok to make mistakes in the green light step.
- I stayed nearby, doing something else while he wrote, as a way of giving him constant moral support.
- I let him go at his own pace. What I thought my son should be capable of was actually unrealistic for him. We slowed the steps down. What could’ve taken a single day, took three days, and it was ok.
- I gave him lots of encouragement. Confidence is such an important thing!
- I typed up what we had written and gave him a copy. I left some spelling and grammar mistakes that we could discuss. He laughed at my errors (which were actually his) and loved playing teacher and correcting the mistakes. We printed the story again.
- We elaborated on his story, as part of the EDITing step and made it better. I was surprised how much he liked doing this step, and how good he was at it. It was easy to add details when he had a basic skeleton of a story in front of him.
My son made his story SPARKLE by choosing a nice font, and printing it on nice paper when it was finally completed. He was radiant. He could hardly wait to share his story with everyone. He felt successful.
Will I always be there to write for him? No, but if I can get him into the metaphorical writing pool and let him see how much fun writing can be, then pretty soon he will be coming to the pool on his own and even jumping in the deep end!