Writing for Kids: Is it better for Kids to focus on Writing Concepts or Grammar?
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When I say writing, what do you think? Do you think of self-expression, art, creativity, or even fun? Or do you think grammar (cringe), punctuation (who really knows how to use a comma anyway?), and essays (please stop, you’re going to give me nightmares)? If you’re part of the group that thinks of the former, I’m celebrating. Writing has so many benefits and rewards and it’s such an important part of communication. But if you’re part of the latter group, I completely understand.
In our attempts to teach writing, we tend to stick to the concrete. Here’s a formula you can follow to create sentences. Here’s one for where to put punctuation. We even try to create concrete ways to describe plot. Concrete is easier to teach, especially to young writers. Unfortunately, the result is a majority of the population viewing writing as arduous, boring, and confusing. Now don’t get me wrong, these things are important.
Without grammar and punctuation, everything becomes a confusing mess. It would be about as clear as an artist that wanted to paint a forest and just dumped a bucket of green on the canvas and called it a day. But if you’ve ever watched an artist work, they might start out with a bunch of green blobs that don’t look like much. Then they add another layer or two of green blobs in a little lighter or darker shades. After that comes little needles of brown. Then they add a smear of dark blue. Then layers of blue, purple, red and orange. After that a lot of blending, touching up and smearing. Suddenly the artist has a beautiful painting of a lake and forest at sunset.
Writing works much the same way. Our first draft might look a lot like the canvas blotted in green paint. There’s a bunch of words and ideas, maybe a few periods and maybe you thought to hit enter a few times to start a new paragraph. But it’s messy and unclear. And that’s okay. If the grammar and mechanics side don’t come naturally, that’s okay. Most of our children possess enough of the basic skills to just get started. The nit-picking of grammar and mechanics are the blending, touching up and smearing that come at the end. So what about the steps in between? Here are a few concepts that you can work on with your child so they don’t get bogged down in thinking that writing is all about mechanics.
Just like a good painting is composed of the small details that make it seem real or whole, so is writing. Writing for kids is just painting a picture with a different medium, words and a reader’s imagination. Most of the students who come through my door will tell you an entire story in about two to three sentences tops. We went to the beach. We went swimming. It was fun.
Honestly, it’s usually a little messier than that, but you get the idea. We all know more happened than that, but those details are missing. What about the big gust of wind that took the beach umbrella for a spin? What about your little brother eating sand only to find out sand didn’t taste as good as he thought? What kind of beach was it? Sandy or rocky? Warm or cold? Lake or ocean? There are so many more pieces of information there to make their painting complete. They just need a reminder to use them.
Utilize the Senses
A huge part of adding detail is using the 5 senses. This is where writing for kids transcends painting a little bit. Writers get to utilize more than just visual cues. We get to immerse our readers in all five senses. I can take you to a cool shop with glass fronts filled with rows of cupcakes and pastries topped with swirls of pink, green, cream and brown frosting. Plates adorned with swirls of chocolate and mint leaves. The taste of sugar mingling in the air with the scent of cinnamon and cocoa. These senses help our mind paintings come alive.
If your child is writing about soccer, encourage them to use specific examples from their own games or practices or something they saw in a game on TV. Encourage them to use the proper names of the positions. Generalities don’t paint vivid or clear pictures. Specific details let the reader know that the writer knows what they’re talking about.
Believe it or not, the world is full of different methods of organization. We have chronological order. When we look at something, our eyes follow a path along the object we’re inspecting. Plants grow in certain arrangements. Rivers flow specific directions. So it only makes sense that as we’re describing truths of the world in our writing that we follow some method of organization as well. Whether that entails starting generalized and moving toward specificity, least important to most important, left to right, top to bottom. The method you pick will be determined by your topic and the mood you want to create, but getting all those details in the right place can make a world of difference in effect and clarity.
How to teach it
Teach your children how to observe. Point out the fresh earthy smell when you go camping. Teach them to notice how the sunset reflects off the water at the pond down the street. Comment on how strange the clattering sounds when you’re on a bridge beneath a train. If you can teach them to marvel at their sensory input, they’ll be better prepared to apply those details when it comes time to write.
Integrated Learning Strategies is a Utah-based center dedicated to helping mainstream children and children with learning challenges achieve academic success. Our services provide kids with non-traditional tutoring programs within the Davis County, Kaysville, Layton, Syracuse, Farmington, and Centerville areas. Areas to find Integrated Learning Strategies include: Reading tutors in Kaysville, Math tutors in Kaysville, Common Core Tutors in Kaysville, Tutors in Utah, Utah Tutoring Programs
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