I wrote this post as an advertorial
in the local circular of my new hometown: Henrico, Virginia.
I'm excited to start working with new families there soon!
Helping our kids love books and reading is pretty easy. But writing can be
a struggle. It's hard! It's boring! Or at least, our kids often think so. We
want them to be capable, fluent writers. But how do we motivate them?
Basically, the writing we do with our kids has to be meaningful, and it has to include the kids as active participants. For example, ask your kids to write a thank-you note to someone who was kind to them; that's meaningful. Ask them to choose who they want to write the note to; that's including them in the process. Here are some more tips:
Model your interest in writing and your enthusiasm for writing. ("I can't wait to email Nana about your soccer game!") Provide quality pens and pencils in many colors, and show your joy in selecting one. ("I'll use this green pen so my grocery list looks snazzy.")
Let your kids make choices about how they practice writing. That feeling of autonomy fuels their motivation. Instead of giving your kid an order ("Keep writing that story you started yesterday"), let her choose from options ("Let's write a story about a real animal, or a made-up animal!") Set ranges for requirements ("Try to write for a page or two") instead of exact demands ("Write a two-page letter.") Even something as simple as letting kids choose from a variety of pencils and pens may help build motivation. If you're struggling to get your kids to finish their writing homework for school, offer choices like these: "You can write on the floor with this clipboard, or you can write here at the table with me;" "I'll help if you want, or you can write on your own."
Your kids might say that writing is "boring" or "dumb" when what they really mean is it's too hard. We can make it easier. Aim for five minutes of writing practice, not thirty. Ask for three sentences, not ten. If your kid keeps forgetting what he was going to write because he's so focused on spelling, then let him record his spoken ideas and play back the recording as he writes it all down. You can provide a written list of words and phrases that your kid will likely use for his chosen topic to make it easier. And you can completely remove the difficulty of thinking of what to write: ask your kid to copy down something interesting, like the lyrics to his favorite song.
Should we use games to make writing motivating? Well, that can be fun, and research does suggest that fun leads to better attention and better learning. But then the interest fades after the games are gone. If you'd like to try it anyway, you might play a written version of Twenty Questions, with kids writing down all their questions for you to answer in writing. Or, help them create original Mad Libs. Or play a game of pretend that involves interviewing each other on paper or sending secret notes.
Should we use rewards? Maybe. If we want our kids to find intrinsic value in writing and want to share their work with others, then rewards send the wrong message. Removing chores or giving stickers, treats, toys, privileges, or money may provide excellent short-term results if you want your kids to practice writing willingly, spend more time on it, stay focused, and try hard. But in the long term, rewards become less motivating, and they can make kids believe that the reward is needed because writing itself must have no value. There's also some evidence that rewards make kids focus on looking smart and being the best rather than developing skills.
Lastly, keep praising your kids' writing. Praise their process as well as their results: "Awesome! You kept writing until you were done, even though it was hard." "Your story is exciting! Your friends will like it." "Your letter will really make Granddad feel appreciated!"
The more your kids succeed in writing, the easier they'll think it is, and the more capable they'll feel-- all of which feeds back into their motivation to write!