I’m not a parent or a teacher, but I care about kids and education, especially when it comes to writing and reading – the pillars of lifelong learning. If you can read and write well – and more important, if you enjoy doing them – I believe you’re set for life.
Even if you don’t have kids of your own, you can still encourage a love of the written word in others. For starters, become an avid reader and writer yourself. When other people see you engrossed in a book, it might make them curious about what you’re reading and why. Even better, that book in your hand can make an interesting conversation starter.
But there are a surprising number of ways you can instill a love of reading and writing in kids – and kids at heart. Below are a few of them.
1. Fill your life with stories. Read to your child every day. If they’re in middle school, for example, choose a title that is slightly above their reading ability or take turns reading pages from a book of their choice. While waiting in the doctor’s office or in the park, tell your child stories. When they hear stories from you, they’ll learn to be storytellers too.
2. Subscribe to kids’ writing magazines. When that magazine arrives in your mailbox every month, it provides numerous stories that kids can look forward to enjoying, whether they read it themselves or you read it to them. It can entice them to become better writers too, says book editor John Fox. Some accept submissions from children. Imagine seeing your kid’s work published in a national magazine. There are numerous publications to choose from depending on the age group. Try Highlights, which I grew up reading. Or Humpty Dumpty, Jack and Jill or Cricket media.
3. Take your children to see plays. When they see a play, they’re seeing storytelling in action. It makes the characters come alive, and the live action can interest your child in creating their own stories and put on plays at home.
4. Bring them to the library or bookstore. When they see you browsing the shelves, you’re setting an example. This is another way to demonstrate your own love of reading. When you shop for yourself, be to shop for them. Browse the children’s section and see what they gravitate toward. The library or bookstore may also have readings from children’s authors too.
5. Set up a designated space for writing. I encourage writers to have their own writing space separate from other areas of the home. People just need that space to create without disruptions from the TV or other family members. If possible, set up a designated space for writing for your child. It could be a corner of their bedroom, a corner of your home office, or the attic. The important thing is that it’s quiet so they can think, dream and play with words.
6. Provide a variety of writing tools when they write. The Measured Mom suggests providing a variety of writing tools that kids can play with to engage their imagination. Try crayons, markers, chalk, colored pencils, ink pens or even charcoal or paint. As they write a story, they can draw pictures or write the words down in different colors. It can make a perceived boring activity like writing seem more fun.
7. Have them start their own journal. Either purchase one or better yet, create their own journal. Get some lined paper, staple one side to create a booklet. Add a blank cover sheet that they can design and color to their heart’s content. Creating their own journal instills a pride of ownership.
8. Use props to inspire writing. Sadie Phillips at Teachwire.net suggests providing props to inspire a child’s writing habit. It could be a shoe, a photograph, or a piece of jewelry you wear. Ask them to write a story about that prop. Where did it come from? Does it have a voice to speak, or ears to hear? It’s one more technique to prompt your child’s creativity.
9. Provide writing prompts. Just as writing prompts can be helpful in jump starting ideas for adult writers, kids can benefit from writing prompts too. Try a fill in the blank, like “Sandy the Clown baked a cake for the school bake sale. What kind of cake did she bake?” Prompts can stir their imagination in different ways.
10, Visit the neighborhood. Phillips suggests taking your child on short trips in the area. It could be the post office, the park, a candy shop, or a pet supply store. When you get home, suggest they write about their trip. What did they see, hear, smell, and touch that they remember. Writing it all down commits the visit to their memory.
11. Engage with authors and storytellers. Phillips suggests connecting with favorite authors and storytellers via social media. Follow their Facebook pages, or those of your child’s favorite authors. Ask them questions about their writing, and share their answers with your child. Create a dialogue so you and your child can learn about the writing process.
12. Praise children’s writing the right way. Editor John Fox suggests giving your kids encouragement when they finish writing a story. When they show you their work, don’t be vague and give general feedback. Don’t just tell them, “I like your story.” That’s not enough to encourage them to keep writing. Instead, you might say, “I like the way you described the red car,” or “What happened to the evil witch at the end?” When you ask questions about the child’s story, they become curious about the story too.
As you glance over these suggestions, you’ll notice that they’re not quite different than those for adult writers. After all, it’s just as important for adult writers to engage with other storytellers, use writing prompts, visit unusual places, set up a designated writing space and write with different writing tools. To truly inspire the children in our lives to be creative writers, we need to share our best creative habits.