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It's important for my kids to learn to write well

My son also wouldn't write anything on paper, which I understand is fairly typical for boys. But writing skills don't progress overnight. He needs practice.


Who says? Okay, not overnight, but does it take years of practice? Or does it take years of using the skills in ways that are meaningful for the learner?


Are you saying that I should encourage, but not demand? I am still missing something in terms of how this unschooling plays out.


How well would you learn Hindi if someone decided it would be important for your future because they used Hindi in their lives and so made you practice for the next 10 years? Wouldn't your goal be to learn as little as possible to satisfy them? But if you were moving to India and you wanted to be able to speak to your neighbors, then wouldn't learning Hindi take way less time?


What your son needs is being immersed in an environment where it's naturally important to communicate his ideas. He also needs to see others using communication in a meaningful way and to read and hear others communicating in various ways. When he needs to communicate using the written word, he will.


In the meantime, you can make sure he has access to the skills. Listen to a variety of things: conversation, books and books on tape, comic books, movies (reading the scripts of favorites is really cool), plays, puppet shows, poetry, folk tales, nonfiction, cereal boxes, TV Guide, political talk shows, lyrics, ministers, magazine articles, Nintendo magazine, science shows, letters to the editor. There should be real reasons to write available (though he shouldn't feel pressure to do any of them): emails, IMs, message boards, game reviews. Anything as long as he's interested. He needs to hear good (and bad) literature so his ear can learn the rhythms of language. I've pointed out to my daughter why it's tough for me to read the Magic Tree House books out loud to her and she can now pick up on parts that sound awkward. (It wasn't a lesson, just an outgrowth of a natural discussion. Which is probably the heart of unschooling: just talking naturally about things that happen along. Despite the fact that I'm not much of a talker, some amazing things have come up in conversation.) It has probably inadvertently sowed the seed of her being more conscious of there being a range of how well written things are. She would have learned that anyway though perhaps unconsciously.


(That "happen along" part of unschooling is misleading. It's not that I'm leaving things to chance, nor am I deliberately bringing something in as a lesson. I direct a lot of things her way and just from experience know that from the wealth of things, there will be unexpected learning. Nothing I can plan though. She learned more than anyone would imagine about plots from a few weeks watching Gilligan's Island. ;-)


Writing is just talking on paper. When writing you imagine where someone mentally is relative to where you intend your words to take them. And then you plan out a course to get them there. Talk to your son. Ask him to explain what he's doing and ask questions to give him the opportunity to organize his thoughts and learn to see from the point of view of who he's communicating with rather than from his own position. (But only ask if you're interested! As as you would ask your husband or friend about something they're doing. Kids have good radar for lessons masked as conversation ;-)


Unless someone has gotten the idea that writing is hard by being forced to write before they are ready to or need to, or being forced to write in ways that aren't natural to them, once they realize it's just talking on paper, that little extra step is hardly any step at all. There are additional skills they can learn, like how to organize their thoughts for something longer, but it's not a skill that needs 12 years of practice. (A schooled friend of my daughter's came over to play with my daughter and they decided to make books together. The schooled girl told her there were all these things you had to do: title page, a plan, and some other things. My daughter said "Oh," and just made books. The schooled girl never did finish. Merely an anecdote that may mean nothing, but it is a piece of data.)


I think it only takes years to learn to write when people are forced to write things they don't care about. Where does most writing practice end up? In the trash, right? Real writing should make a difference in people's lives. Sure many jobs require project reports and documentation to write, but do we need to force kids to write boring stuff so they'll be prepared to write boring stuff?


High school is when it's more common for kids to feel the need to put words on paper. But, again, they need real reasons. Perhaps book reviews for Amazon, walkthroughs for games at GameFAQs, letters of complaint about a product, letters to the editor, a family newsletter, a pen pal, email, message boards, an article for the local paper, or one of the websites out there that kids can submit their writing to. Or make their own website.


But many of these things can be "laying around" for him right now, suggested when it's possible he'd be interested. And dropped when he's not or carried as far as his interest carries him. As long as he sees writing as purposeful, then there won't be anything other than natural barriers between him and putting words to paper.


What if he says he never wants to do writing ever?


Well, what if? There's plenty of professions where people don't need to write. But do you really think that if he loves something that he will choose something else just because he doesn't want to write?


We just wait him out until he thinks he needs it?


And why shouldn't it be important that he write when he thinks he needs it? Why should it be more important that he write when you think he needs it? Wouldn't that mean when all kids hit 12 months we should make them walk because that's when kids need to walk, and we all know how important walking is so they should get started when we think it's important? Unless there's something physically wrong with them, or their environment discourages it, all kids do eventually learn to walk just because they feel the need to.


If someone made me write an essay on math and writing and kids, it would be as short as possible to make them go away. But since I'm writing this "essay" to satisfy my own need to get all these thoughts in order, it's as long as it needs to be for me.



Do any of you have young boys that love to write?


I think that would be unusual. Writing at an early age indicates liking to write :-) Just like drawing or reading or skateboarding or playing video games or ... indicates a like of those things. Do you worry that they aren't playing with Legos or drawing or cooking or doing crafts or interested in dinosaurs or any of the other myriad of things that other boys might be doing?


Yes, it's part of the schooling mindset to be worried that they aren't doing something that resembles something they'd do in school. And that mindset is tough to work out of. Recognizing it is one step. But it's just one step so don't feel badly if all the schoolishness doesn't just fall away because you've discovered unschooling. :-) It can take years and lots and lots of reading and doing and asking questions.


The learning isn't in the writing or the historical novel or the science experiment. It's in asking questions and being curious and diving into things to mess around. :-) And that can come from a video game as readily as it comes from a science book. It's just whatever they happen to be interested.


It will help if you can make writing part of their lives so they can take it up (or not) when they find it meaningful. You can offer to write down their stories. Make them into books and perhaps illustrate them. (By hand or on the computer or with images from the internet or however!) Encourage them to add to shopping lists and make lists of stuff to bring on vacation. (Or you do the writing for them. Getting stuck on the idea that they need to do the physical part of the writing in order for it to be writing can set them back if they find the physical part difficult.) Email friends. (Even though my daughter (11) loves to write, she still finds physically writing difficult and isn't much into emails that are more than a sentence or two.) Write scavenger hunt notes and they'll probably want to write their own for you. You just need to make the opportunities available so they have access to the tools when they need them.


The point I'm trying to make is that making them write shopping lists or scavenger hunt notes won't turn them into writers. Being made to write a shopping list will get across the idea that writing is something to be avoided just as effectively as book reports will. But if they enjoy the process of adding to a shopping list, or sending an email to Grandma, or doing anything they enjoy or find useful, that will allow them to see that writing is a useful tool.


I am interested in hearing what the members have to say about how they handle creative writing. I do feel it is important that my kids learn to write well. Do you think this will come naturally or do they need to be taught?


I think you can force kids to write and some will end up as good writers. And some will end up hating the thought of writing. And some will end up feeling they're no good at writing.

It's possible -- but it's speculation based on nothing except people's desire to believe it's true -- that some that are forced will be better writers than if they had been allowed to develop on their own. But what of the others who hate and fear writing because they were forced? Is the price worth it?


Whether kids are forced or not, some will be good writers and some won't just because writing well is a talent. I could be forced to skateboard but I'd never even come close to the kids in the local skate park in talent and certainly would never be Tony Hawk regardless of how much a parent thought it was a useful skill and forced me to do it.


Far more important is having a real need to express oneself on paper for a real reason and not being afraid of doing it.


Yes, better writing comes from practice. But the practice is no where near as effective if it's done just for practice and not for a real purpose. If I were made to reply to posts for practice, I'd be a short as possible. Because I'm doing it for me, I'm as long-winded as I need to be ;-)


How about spelling and grammar rules. Do they help? Or, are they learned by just reading good literature?


I guarantee your kids know grammar just by using it. :-) They just don't have the words to describe it formally. I had grammar rules forced on me but I have gratefully forgotten as much as possible. And my brain shuts down when anyone tries to renew them ;-)


Parts of speech come up occasionally. Mad Libs are good for that. But, more importantly, they're fun! And should be done because they're fun, not because they have parts of speech in them.


I also want to know if anyone uses a spelling program or do you feel that kids learn to spell naturally?


Lots of highly educated people can't spell worth a darn. And they had spelling imposed on them. So either spelling is just something you have or don't have or having spelling imposed on people hampers it. I do know my daughter's spelling is improving as she writes.


I like the concept of unschooling and do it to a point, but still want to be sure my kids learn some basics.


They're basic because they're basic to life :-) If kids are living life then they're using the basics and learning them as a side effect of using them. Just as they used English to get what they wanted and got better at English as a side effect.



However, I don't see the progress in reading nor skills in writing in my elementary aged children that I saw in my teenagers at the same age since I've "relaxed".


Schools get us so scared about writing, making us believe it's an impossible task and kids need to start learning as early as possible. But that's only true when kids are forced to write when they have nothing to say and no reason to say it. Writing is just translating thoughts into written words to transfer them to someone else's head. It's just talking on paper. Writing is generally more formal than talking, even when writing is at its most informal, but people use various levels of formality in speaking depending on who they are talking to so writing isn't much different.


If kids are taught that writing is hard through boring, personally meaningless exercises then it becomes hard. If they have no experience with writing being hard, then it's as natural as anything else. (And some will be better at writing than others, of course, for the same reason some people are better at cooking than others.) But the fewer negative experience they have with writing, the easier it will be for them to figure out how they can get their point across.



Joyfully Rejoycing
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