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April 12, 2024

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Writing: Kids Can Learn to Love It

Summer Homework: Inspire better writing from your kids! Start with a storybook they love, read them a part of it, then ask them to write a sentence or two.

It's kind of shocking when you discover that your child is not able to write a clear and meaningful sentence with good grammar and punctuation. After all, what ELSE do kids do all day when they're at school? Shouldn't writing a sentence be at the top of the list of academic priorities? Sigh. 
    Three-quarters of both 12th and 8th graders lack proficiency in writing, according to the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress, but you can do a little something about it at home to improve your child's writing ability this summer.
Poor writing is nothing new, and neither is concern about it. While the Tennessee Academic Standards focus on requiring kids to learn essay writing, there hasn't been much improvement in writing overall and educators agree that many educators have little training in how to teach it or are often weak or unconfident writers themselves. And while kids can text all day, their thumbs flying, when they do, they completely ignore the rules of grammar and punctuation (exactly opposite of what is wanted on an essay).
    What to do?

Just Start with a Sentence!

Put a gentle plan in place to help your kids become better writers. Try doing it in the morning before the day takes off. Be upbeat about it and simply say, "We're all going to improve our writing this summer, it'll be easy and no big deal."
    Start by focusing on the ability to write a good, old sentence. Afterall, current thinking is that before writing paragraphs — which often starts in kindergarten — children simply need to practice writing good sentences — and keep at it. Inspiration gets a writer started and eventually grammar and punctuation come in to play — but this aspect of writing often trips kids up and destroys their confidence, so avoid focusing on that at the get-go. And for expanding your child's writing, inspire him with some good books


A study out of West Virginia University found that children who were good writers had four things in common:

  1. The kids had lots of interaction with adults. Being surrounded by conversation at home helped immensely when they began to take on the challenges of written language through reading and writing.
  2. Their first writing attempts were encouraged. Parents treated their first writing attempts as real writing and took it seriously. They tried to decipher what had been written and even had the child read it to them.
  3. They had at least one adult who was instrumental in interacting with them and their writing. Their mom or a certain teacher took time to read aloud to them, talk with them about school issues, and encourage their written expression with statements such as, ‘That’s such a good story you just told me. Why don’t you write it down?’ 
  4. Parents provided time and resources for them to write. One mom gave her son a journal and told him that if he had trouble falling asleep, he could write down his thoughts. Parents of the young writers also provided writing items, such as pens, paper, markers, and computer access.   

When it comes to writing suggestions for your kids, make them creative.  Of course, be prepared for a little  pushback depending on the age of your children. “Oh, Mom! It’s summer!” sort of thing. Hang tough. Remember, writing should be fun, not a chore, so provide each of your kids with a notebook or journal, some pens and pencils and make it a part of each week — even better, make it a set time of day where everybody knows "It's writing time!"

Ideas to Inspire Your Child's Writing

Find inspirational items at home.
Inspire your kids to write by reading a passage to them outloud in a book you've found — poetry for children works well. Or ask them to find something interesting in the house — an odd object of anything of interest to them at all — and to write a sentence about it.

Write to a PenPal
This could be the traditional penpal (someone you don't know) or a relative that lives farther away. Finding a penpal is easy and according the, there are just a few steps to start.

  • Send regular greetings to friends and family.
  • Ask loose acquaintances and people you connect with.
  • Use a penpal finder website.

Journal Writing … On ANYTHING.
Have your child free write about anything happening in his life, such as a swim meet or playing a video game, or about a movie he watched or about watching the dog go after a squirrel in the yard; you get the idea. 

As Karen Benke, author of Rip the Page! Adventures in Creative Writing says, “There’s no one way to write creatively.” Encourage your kid to just write. “Write what you and no one else in the world can,” says Benke. 

A Spot of One’s Own
Encourage writing by helping your kids carve out a space … and it doesn’t matter where. Some kids will love this and be inspired to “decorate” a spot just for the writing purpose. Others may be happy to just keep the journal in the living room and curl up on the sofa. Look at your space with new eyes and ask your children what location “calls” to them.

Here’s the good news: by the time summer’s over, your child (and you) will have a new perspective about writing. By the time the teacher asks for an essay about “what I did last summer,” he just may be able to produce a beautiful sentence.

About the Author

Susan Swindell Day, Editor

Susan Swindell Day is the editor in chief of Nashville Parent and the mom of four amazing kids.