Diana Thompson looks at the ways you can bring out a talent in your child by helping them to overcome a hurdle and enjoy learning to write stories
‘Tell us about the times you were naughty at school’ my friends and I would beg, again and again. My mother would oblige while we giggled and gasped in glee. Her powers of storytelling soared effortlessly and each re-telling grew in thrilling detail as our ecstatic response encouraged her to further heights.
Now spare a thought for many of today’s children, also engaged in story-telling but in very different circumstances. Only too frequently the writing they have achieved and shown the teacher with pride (or maybe with dread) is returned with well-intentioned comments on lack of adverbs but only cursory encouragement. Rarely acknowledged is the huge effort required to use so many skills in one piece of work, with complex thought processes involving both sides of the brain. No wonder that children of all abilities find the task too daunting (and frankly too much hard work) and decide that they ‘don’t like writing’.
And as for your own son and daughter – when they show you their homework, is it possible that your anxiety lest they fail to do themselves justice leads you to react in a similar way, compounding their belief that they are no good at writing and hate it anyway? If so, yours is a natural reaction and you are not unusual! But this will actually do very little good. Your approval and interest is everything to your children, and it is praise that they need, whereas disapproval can put them off for good.
The response that really makes a difference is your positive reaction, your laugh, shudder, gasp of surprise, thus making all efforts worthwhile. Take the role of the appreciative audience and your children will respond surprisingly quickly, soon wanting to find better ways to express their ideas in order to enjoy your reaction. Before long, enthusiasm, perseverance and rapid development can be seen at all ages and stages.
Michael Morpurgo’s advice to parents and teachers is, first and foremost, ‘take away their anxiety, take away their fear. Talk about the story itself and value what the children choose to write about’. It is only too easily forgotten that a crucial reason for writing is for it to be enjoyed by someone else. Today’s children are quite likely to think that any form of writing is a puzzling exercise linked to tests and marks, which has to contain a requisite number of adjectives and connectives, and other bewildering rules. This, of course, is not what real writing is about.
And this is where you, as a parent, can save the situation. First and foremost, read fiction and poetry to your child at every opportunity, right up to secondary age. If all else fails, play story CDs.
Laboured handwriting causes deep frustration when it cannot keep pace with ideas. A potentially talented writer can be physically unable to demonstrate this. So why not be the scribe? Your child dictates and you write! Gently mention repeated words or confused grammar, but do so in the positive spirit of collaboration. Working together like this can develop children’s writing surprisingly quickly.
Sometimes, when children want to write for fun, they don’t know how to fit it into their busy life. Give your child plenty of unstructured time.
Have available a Writer’s Tray, containing different sorts of paper and writing equipment for making little books. Include stapler, glue stick and small boxes to contain miniature concertina stories and poems. Include a tin of tiny objects to stimulate ideas, photos of unusual settings, and a Junior Thesaurus. Draw characters and setting before writing, to stimulate the imagination. Encourage different genres: comic books, plays, riddles, poems, songs. And if your child writes yet another space story, don’t complain; instead, collaborate, and together write an especially good one. Don’t criticise, don’t compare, make it fun.
Read the results out to the family. Show to granny and email an aunt. Make up stories on car journeys. Praise every effort. Contact youngwriters.co.uk, which supports all abilities and ages by publishing their work. Writing just for the fun of it can be a wonderful family pastime and lead to greater confidence and success at school. Enjoy!
Diana Thompson is an outstanding teacher of English at Laidlaw Education. One of her full-time pupils has recently won a national poetry competition and many of her pupils have had their poems published. Laidlaw Education provide education for pupils of all ages ranging from full time to one session each week; 020 8487 9517; laidlaweducation.co.uk