As an online English professor I know what it means to teach “the dreaded class.” Aside from public speaking courses, composition seems to be the most intimidating class students take. The way they tremble during introductions, you’d think I’d asked my students to swim with sharks.
Although writing well can feel like jumping into deep waters, I encourage my students to take deep breaths and realize that it won’t be as bad as they think (they might even have a little fun). After all, we are in this process together (I still make mistakes and am learning how to hone my craft). By the end of the 8 weeks, most of my students would say “it wasn’t that bad”—hard but painless—and they might even enjoy some of the creative exercises.
When I homeschool my elementary-school kids, I have to tone down my composition teacher mode and recognize their own capabilities (not just in vocabulary but sentence structure and dynamics). I don’t want them to merely articulate their thoughts, but to enjoy the process as well. Sometimes I think kids dread writing because they’ve always seen it as a limiting and exhausting exercise, writing about something they don’t care about anyway. (Incidentally, if the writer doesn’t care about the subject matter, the reader won’t be interested either—the boredom and disinterest overwhelm the reader.)
Since I have a MFA in creative writing, I try to open up composition exercises with creative and adventurous ideas (If your backpack could talk, what would he say? Imagine if you lived in a Lego world, which one would it be and why? If your dreams came true, what would happen? Use “what if…” statements to launch ideas). Personally, I don’t think it’s a good idea to start your kids off with book reports and historical research papers. Ask them what they find most interesting and have them write about that. If you want them to learn how to do research, ask them what time period they’d choose to live in and have them write a fictional piece using historical background from that era. Have them write a play about a family during the Tudor Period, or put together a poem set during the Civil War. Help them to see history through a different lens—one that involves more than dry dates and facts.
Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man. ~Francis Bacon
If you want them to love writing, get them to love reading. Few things inspire me to write (especially fiction) than reading good fiction. And don’t merely toss them the classics; explore various genres and time periods. See what sparks their interest. Reading doesn’t only expand understanding and imagination, but perspective, vocabulary, and comprehension. When a child reads words he doesn’t understand within the context of a story, he starts to grasp larger concepts. Reading helps a child put words to feelings, experiences, and frustrations.
Read. Everything you can get your hands on. Read until words become your friends. Then when you need to find one, they will jump into your mind, waving their hands for you to pick them. And you can select whichever you like, just like a captain choosing a stickball team. ~Karen Witemeyer
When they are young, the goal for your children should be just to write. Help them to get ideas on paper. Don’t underline syntax issues or circle misspelled words. Don’t worry about punctuation or sentence structure or handwriting. Doing so on a creative project can deflate their motivation. Address those critical concepts at a later time and in a different way (in grammar or spelling class). Buy them a journal: a place they can pen thoughts that no one else will read or judge. Avoid the red ink pen.
Reading and writing, like everything else, will improve with practice. And, of course, if there are no young readers and writers, there will shortly be no older ones. Literacy will be dead, and democracy – which many believe goes hand in hand with it – will be dead as well. ~Margaret Atwood
Children need to realize that writing is vital if they want to impact the world around them. God granted us an incredible gift and responsibility with verbal communication. Knowing how to wield words makes us powerful and effective. Regardless of the career your child will choose (teacher, engineer, accountant, CEO, baker, shoemaker), utilizing language to a clear and concise end will not only make them more successful but will enable them to inspire and change their listeners in a way they’d otherwise fail to. We have a beautiful privilege to use our words to God’s glory and to further His kingdom. Without them, we can still convey love, but with them, we can move mountains.
Psalm 45:1, “My heart overflows with a good theme; I address my verses to the King; My tongue is the pen of a ready writer.”
Precision of communication is important, more important than ever, in our era of hair trigger balances, when a false or misunderstood word may create as much disaster as a sudden thoughtless act. ~James Thurber
Kristin L. Hanley is a homeschool mom, writing professor, and Bible-study leader. Her book, Navigating a Sea of Emotions, came out this year. In addition to reading, she loves to hike, bake pies, and watch BBC period pieces. Kristin and her family live in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri. To find out more about Kristin or read her latest blog post, check out kristinlhanley.com.