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Teaching Writing at Home

The Key to Creative Writing: No Rules

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Girl writing
Creative Commons/Flickr user Alexandratx

Every teacher and homeschooling parent would like to help their kids become good writers. Learning to craft essays and informational pieces that communicate your ideas clearly and persuasively is a useful skill no matter where your interests lie.

Being able to write poems, stories, or other creative works is valuable too. It can help you express your inner feelings and connect with other people in a way that factual writing often can't.

But when kids complain they don't like to write, it's time to change tactics. Here are some tips to help you encourage the writer inside your child.

Let Them Be Creative

When professional novelists get stuck, they use a trick that your students can use too: Just write. Don't worry about grammar. Don't worry about messing up details. Just write.

Even kids who say they hate writing will produce page after page when they don't have to worry about following rules and formulas. Writing instruction that focuses on getting all the details right can sometimes miss the most important part of writing -- giving the writer a way to communicate.

When you help kids develop imagination and an interesting "voice," proper grammar, spelling, and sentence structure often come later on its own. Practice, repetition, and reading for pleasure can help kids begin to pick up the finer technical points of writing well.

But if you put too much emphasis on grammar at the start, the writing kids produce can become stilted and shallow. And once they've lost the knack of writing lively sentences, it can be hard to get it back.

Help Them Find Inspiration

For lots of writers, students as well as professionals, getting started writing can be the biggest problem of all. One common solution is known as the story starter or writing prompt. Here are some examples:

  • Give them a head start. Come up with the first sentence, or part of a sentence, and see where your child goes with it.

  • Set the scene. Pull out a photo, drawing, or short news article and ask your kids to adopt the point of view of one of the people involved.

  • Start by drawing. This works well with younger kids. Let them illustrate the story they want to tell, and then write or dictate the words to you. You can buy or make your own paper for this purpose, with blank space at the top for drawing and lines below for writing.

You can also find lists of story prompts at teaching websites and in books for aspiring authors.

Many tweens and teens also like to try their hand at writing novels. NaNoWriMo -- the annual National Novel Writing Month event -- has a Young Writers Program they can to join for help and support.

A funny and informative book for older kids is How Not to Write a Novel: 200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them--A Misstep-by-Misstep Guide by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman. (Compare Prices)

"Publishing" Kids' Work Makes it Count

For some kids, seeing their work in print is a great motivator. The easiest way to is let kids make their own books. Take handwritten and/or drawn originals or copies, and bind them together with staplers, brads, or thread. Let children create their own fancy cover.

If you or your kids are handy with laying out text on a computer, you can also create a book using a word processing or desktop publishing program and print it out. Let them make their own bindings as with a hand-written book, take it to a copy place or upload to an online publishing service like Lulu.com to get it bound professionally.

Kids can also submit their work to writing contests or online and print magazines that publish students' writing and art. They include:

  • Stone Soup, a print magazine written and illustrated by young writers and artists ages 8 to 13. The stories also appear on their website.

  • Teen Ink, a national teen magazine, book series, and website devoted entirely to teenage writing, art, photos and forums. Students must be age 13-19 to participate.

  • PBS Kids Go!, a writing contest held every winter by many local PBS member stations for kids in grades K-3 who want to write and illustrate their own stories.

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