Wednesday, January 30, 2019



This is part four of a series about how to help kids not only learn to write well but to love it. Excerpts are taken from my book TEACHING KIDS TO WRITE WELL: SIX SECRETS EVERY GROWN-UP SHOULD KNOW.

Desire (Associative) Stage of Development

While children naturally imitate the behaviors and actions of those around them, eventually, as they grow a little older, they start to learn how to do things because they want to.

This desire first presents itself during the toddler years when the child’s will conflicts with his parents’ or siblings’ wills. An older brother plays with a truck and the three-year-old wants that truck for himself. He grabs it, and a tug of war ensues.

At first glance, this situation appears undesirable. Good children, of course, should share. But these children are also learning something very important: they are learning that they have their own unique wants and needs, and that they have the power to satisfy them.

This is the very reason why, as frustrating as it is for us adults, we let our children dress themselves, tie their own shoes, make their beds, etc. Most of the time, it would simply be easier for us to do these things for them. The dishes would be cleaner, the house would be more organized, and our children would always be wearing matching socks. However, we would rob our children of the satisfaction of accomplishing something on their own.

Human nature demands that we pursue our own interests. We don’t like other people making all our decisions for us. From a very early age, children stake out their own talents and hobbies and interests and dreams.

One little girl wants to be a nurse when she grows up. Another girl loves horses. A young boy is practically obsessed with baseball, while his brother dreams of being an astronaut. No one told these children what they should love or want to be when they grow up. They decided these things on their own.

When it comes to writing, and even reading, one of the biggest mistakes we make with our children is demanding that they read certain books or write on particular subjects with little regard to the child’s interests. Would you like it if you could only read what someone else told you to read? I could tell you to read Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. It is a very good book, and you might like it. But if you were forced to read it, how much would you really get out of it? You might end up resenting the teacher and hating the book.

That’s what often happens in school. Students are told what they will read and what they will write. The teachers, of course, have the children’s best interests at heart. It is for their own good that they read Huckleberry Finn or write an essay on the Revolutionary War. These things are important! They need to be learned!

Wouldn’t it be nice if every child could love what she reads or feel enthusiastic about researching a topic and writing about it?

The key to helping children enjoy writing is to tap into a child’s natural desire to pursue his or her own interests.

A child who loves football will want to read about it, write a letter to his favorite player, or learn how to play football himself.

A girl who loves poetry will want to read poetry, write poetry, and learn what she needs to know to become a successful poet one day.

As adults, we should pay more attention to our children’s interests and then use those interests to motivate our children to learn. Parents know their children better than anyone else and are better able to connect them to the very resources that will motivate learning. The primary objective should be the interest itself, whether it is rocket ships, rabbits, or racquetball. The act of reading and writing should be secondary.

Parents are best equipped to tap into their child’s unique interests and talents and to use those interests as a tool for teaching literacy. The child is, of course, learning to read and write, but he is having fun doing it and does not concern himself so much with those things as he does with what he is reading and writing about.

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