Did you know that C.S. Lewis read Beatrice Potter's stories as a child, and that inspired him to create his own stories with talking animals (Narnia series)? Great writers begin as readers of great books. Reading and writing should be learned, and taught, as integral components. So, the best way to inspire your children to write is to first inspire your children to read. Begin by simply reading books aloud to your children. Even after they can read on their own, they will love to listen to you read to them. I still read aloud to my teenage daughter and to my husband. Reading aloud to them will allow them to relax and enjoy stories that they would struggle to read on their own.
In the book, For the Love of Learning, I give a detailed description of what parents and teachers can do to inspire learning in specific subject areas, such as: reading, writing, math, science, and history. All children need a foundation of love for learning, confidence, and strategies in order to grow into great scholars and thinkers. Ideally this happens before puberty, but if you have an adolescent child who hates learning, lacks confidence, or lacks learning strategies, these practices will help fill in those holes.
To nurture a love for reading and writing, read aloud to your children often. Choose from a wide variety of genres--fiction, non-fiction, biographies, short stories, chapter books, plays, poetry, speeches, etc. As you read, share your own feelings about the piece. Why do you like it? What does it make you think about? Keep it simple but honest. Then do some writing together. If children are reluctant at first, you can lead by sharing your own writing with them. Write short stories about your children. Make up fictional stories with your children as characters. This will show them the power of stories and of writing. Don't worry about their spelling or grammar. You can even write for them, as they dictate a story. It's all about getting their ideas onto paper and showing them how wonderful writing can be.
To build confidence in reading, allow children to choose what to read on their own, and you read aloud to them from stories that are above their current reading level. Don't push them at this point in their education. They will get there. We want them to associate reading with positive emotions. We don't want them to associate reading with "work" or something they are forced to do. Here's a little trick that I did with my oldest that inspired her to read more on her own. I would read aloud from an exciting chapter book each night, and sometimes I would stop on a cliff hanger..."Oh, well, it's time for bed. I'll read the rest tomorrow." I would kiss her good night and leave with a smile--leaving the book there. She would grab the book as soon as I left and work hard to read what happened next. She didn't think of it as work, although it was. She pushed her own reading ability, but she wanted to do it.
A quick word about audio books...I love audio books. We listen to them in the car and sometimes just for fun. My whole family listens to audio books--my husband, me, and all of our children. However, you don't want to replace reading aloud with audio books. Children at this stage in development need to bond with family, and reading aloud is a great bonding activity. These children need to associate positive emotions with reading, which will happen as you read aloud to them, curled up together on a comfy couch, but not as they listen to an audio book.
To build confidence in their writing, simply allow them to get their thoughts onto paper, without criticism. Remember, all unsolicited "help" is criticism!
A parent recently asked me, "When do I stop teaching spelling and grammar?" The real question is when do I start teaching spelling and grammar. I don't teach spelling or grammar until my children ask for it. Some parents have expressed concern that their children will never ask to learn spelling and grammar. Well, they may never ask for those boring grammar lessons that are completely disconnected from any real reading or writing, but they will eventually care that the spelling and grammar in their own writing is correct. If they are exposed to many great books, they will learn spelling and grammar from example. Of course, I do point out, as I read to my children, little grammar point in the stories as they are relevant. For example, I will say, "Oh that ends with an exclamation point, so he must be yelling. Let me read that again with the right voice." They begin to see how punctuation helps to communicate the writer's message and tell a better story. When my children begin to write on their own, I may ask honest questions about what they are trying to say and help them choose punctuation that communicates their message. I don't do it in a way that criticizes them. I realize this is a tough one for many parents. Your child may not ask or care about spelling and grammar until he is in his teens. Allow me to reassure you, as a literature and writing teacher of middle and high school students, spelling and grammar can be learned very quickly when students have a foundation of great books (either they have read them or they have listened to them read aloud), and they care about their writing and have confidence in their ability to learn anything once they are ready.
To teach children strategies for learning to read and write well, show them that there are many ways to interact with a book. It's not just about sitting down and reading and remembering everything. Help children make their reading real by acting out favorite scenes, reciting fun poems together, drawing pictures of characters or settings. Show them that reading is a great strategy for learning about anything that interests them, but it's not the only way. Show them that writing helps us in many areas of our lives--not just "school." Make out lists together for shopping or birthday wish lists. Make lists of pro's and con's to help make a tough decision. Show them, through example and gentle instruction, that writing is a way to organize our thoughts, share our ideas with others, and solve problems.
To end, here is a list of resources to help you inspire readers and writers in your own home or classroom.
If you really want to introduce some grammar, try these fun books by Lynne Truss.
Eats, Shoots & Leaves
The Girl's Like Spaghetti
A very inspiring book for writing, when they're ready, is Gail Carson Levine's Writing Magic.
And check out the monthly Jr. Classic on www.sdlaa.com. Each month, a new classic book is featured. Just click on the title, and you will access a pdf full of activities and discussion activities based on that book. Completely free. You don't even need to register for anything!
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