I love watching my kids get excited about writing. At 6 and 3 they’re still learning how to print their letters quickly, confidently and with ease, so we take an approach to writing that takes the pressure off the kids to produce every letter in every word themselves. The main goals at this stage are to have fun, get ideas down on paper and experience the thrill that is reading (or listening to) your words as they leap from the page.
This is the primary writing strategy we’re using right now: somebody suggests writing down a story, we get out a blank book, I get comfortable with a pencil in hand, and I write as fast as I can while a girl tells me her story. The girls add illustrations, titles and random words in their own printing as they are inspired to do so. I make blank books by folding copy paper in half and sewing a straight line down the middle with my sewing machine, but you can use any other blank notebook if you wish. One thing I’ve noticed in my own writing and with my girls is that if a notebook is too fancy it can actually stifle creativity. It can be hard to write your thoughts freely when you want to only use your lovely notebook for perfect, lovely things. At the same time, a notebook should be nice enough to be pleasing in a basic way. I originally tried making blank notebooks by stapling down the middle instead of sewing and nobody wanted to use those books. Not even me.
Before we began writing stories by dictation Beatrice was excited by making letters, cards and other random gifts for people. These were then either mailed in the actual mail or delivered to our family mailboxes, which we made by hanging folded origami style paper pockets on our bedroom doors. Her passion for sending mail started when we set up our first writing station and she’s never looked back. Now that we have started making our own books together she’s branched out into making her own tiny books and giving them to us as gifts. The key here is that making and giving gifts is something that Beatrice really loves to do and spontaneously wants to do on her own. Showing her how to address an envelope hooks onto the interest she already has and uses that momentum to motivate her to complete the more challenging part of the project.
Copywork, Spelling and Other Technicalities
While I am happy to take dictation for my girls, I do want to see them eventually grow into doing their own writing with a pencil and paper. We’ve tried lots of different ways of practicing letter formation, from penmanship workbooks to make-your-own-poem games. The strategy that has worked best for Beatrice is for her to practice by copying something from a favourite book. Workbooks with lines of repeating letters to copy have been rejected every time with the claim, “It’s too boring!” I can’t blame her there, really. However, copying a long, complex sentence from a book that I thought was well above her ability went much better, to my great surprise. Maybe she got a kick out of the challenge, or maybe she was so pleased to be writing something from her favourite book that she stayed interested and engaged. Copywork teaches spelling, punctuation, sentence structure and rhythm as well as penmanship practice, so we’ll be going with that for a while and leaving the workbooks on the shelf until the girls are old enough to study grammar in a more structured way. In the meantime I’m OK with invented spellings, run-on sentences and breaking every grammatical rule in the book. The time will come to learn the mechanics of writing as the girls get older.
One of the best parts of our writing practice is reading the girls’ work aloud for them. Claire especially loves to have her books read aloud, and will bring them to us to read to her almost as often as she chooses other picture books for us to read. She is clearly proud of her books, and I hope both girls continue to be this proud of their writing as they grow up.