Wednesday, February 6, 2019



This is part five 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.

Discipline (Autonomous) Stage of Development

As children grow older, they will need to understand that sometimes we must learn for the sake of learning. They may not love math, but they need to learn the times tables anyway. They may not have a natural interest in history, but it is important that they know the difference between the Revolutionary and the Civil Wars.

These are just examples, of course. As adults, we understand that there are some things in this world that are important to know. We also realize that there are some things we must do whether we want to do them or not. The laundry must be washed and folded. The lawn must be maintained. The bills must be paid. A child learns how to commit himself to even seemingly undesirable tasks by watching his parents’ examples. If the parents procrastinate, complain, and fail to get the job done, then the child will likely do the same. However, when parents are committed and dependable, their children will learn the value of these qualities and will be more likely to develop them as well.

The difference between adults and children, however, is that adults generally understand why a thing must be done. We understand that even though we don’t like mowing the lawn, if it doesn’t get mowed, the grass will grow too long and make the yard look ugly. Unfortunately, adults sometimes forget to explain the why to their children. We tend to give a command, such as “Mow the lawn!” And when the child moans and asks, “But why?” we might respond with, “Because I said so!”

While knowing the why may not automatically make your children more committed right now, over time it will. Just as understanding the why of certain tasks is important, children should understand the why of learning to write well. What motivation is there in writing a five-paragraph essay if the objective is nothing more than learning how to write a five paragraph essay? However, if the essay becomes a tool for learning something of interest to the student, then the motivation increases.

I taught a class in essay writing not long ago where my objective as the teacher was for my students to be able to create an outline, conduct research, and write a well-organized essay on a particular topic. I recalled having to write essays in high school and how much I dreaded them. So I decided to find some way for these students to learn what was necessary without turning them off to writing all together.

The answer was in allowing each student to choose a topic that was of great interest to him. The topics ranged from hamsters and alligator lizards to the history of baseball and how to play Yu-Gi-Oh. While I taught the very concrete skills they needed to write their essays, I allowed complete freedom in the subject matter.

On the last day of class, each student read his essay aloud. Not one student expressed boredom, frustration, or even apathy in their assignments. Rather, everyone was enthusiastic and proud of their accomplishments. Their primary objective of learning about something they loved was obtained, and my objective of teaching them how to write an essay was also obtained.

Children need to learn to write well, but unless there is some obvious benefit to them, they will resist learning it. I am not talking about unrelated incentives like candy or an allowance. I am talking about a desire to develop a skill that will enable them to pursue their interests.

If a child needs to improve his penmanship, have him write something that must be read by someone he cares about. Grandpa has to be able to read his letter, so he needs to write as neatly as possible.
If an older child needs to write a book report, have him choose a friend that he thinks would like to read it, too. Have him find some fun way to tell this friend about the book, such as creating a book cover, making a poster, or retelling the story in his own words.

If a teen needs to learn to write a bibliography, let him gather together some of his favorite books and practice on those.

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