Thursday, October 24, 2013

Getting Children to Write

Getting Children to Write 

    Parents have asked me, “How do I get my child to write?”

     “With narration,” I reply. Then I briefly explain the method. Read aloud to your student, and then request that he tell, in his own words, what was just read to him. It’s that simple. “At the heart of good writing is the ability to narrate,” I share with them.

Whose Baby?

Narration From Books

“If we would believe it, composition is a natural as jumping and running to children who have been allowed due use of books.” – Miss Charlotte Mason

     Books of quality will be the main source of a young child’s composition. A good book (of fact or fiction) is one that feeds a child’s developing imagination. By putting what he has read (or what has been read to him) in his own words, a child, without even being conscious of it, is learning how to use words. For instance, in his retelling the child will naturally borrow an interesting “turn of phrase” from an author. The method of narration is a neat package. The student is developing his imagination and writing skills naturally with a talent for using words.

Creative Writing

     With all this reading and retelling going on, it isn’t difficult to switch gears, to make room for the occasional creative telling rather than retelling. While a child’s imagination develops by narrating his books, these and other intellectual powers (such as critical thinking) develop further as they are used in a more playful way with creative narration (creative writing).

What Happens Next?

     The best way to prompt a child to tell creatively is by giving him a story starter. Instead of expecting him to compose “from scratch” by supplying him with only a topic - a task even the average adult finds daunting - we can kindle in him a keenness to write by using a story starter. An unfinished story sets the stage. It will draw him into a colorful situation. He is plunged into a predicament that holds him in suspense. Upon the invitation, “What happens next?” the child then springs forth to enhance and embellish the story as much as he wants.

A New Level of Vibrancy   

     After reading a 1960’s article about how teacher Raymond Ward used exciting and suspenseful story starters in his classroom, I couldn’t resist experimenting with my own children. His claims seemed incredible. But I gave it a try. The first story starter I used was a bit scary. It was a description of a wild and angry dog. The dog was sick and hungry. It was loose, roaming the neighborhood and needed capturing. We spotted the dog out a window at dusk while supper was simmering on the stove. It sniffed the air, ran up to the sliding glass door and started pawing at it to come inside. No pencil biting, no head scratching, no wiggling in their seats. My children focused on finishing the story while the wheels of their imaginations turned. They wrote with descriptive phrases and vocabulary unlike anything that they had written before. My experiment worked and I was quite pleased.

Writing with Feeling

     The advantage of an exciting story starter is that it emboldens children to write with feeling. Let the first draft be as rough as necessary as the children express their ideas and impressions. Once their interest is sparked they will write with zest. They will write boldly and with far less restraint than they may be used to.

A Truly Rough, Rough Draft

     All writers go over their writing again. To make it better they write a second or third draft, rewrite and polish. Not only did I encourage my student’s first draft to be rough, I insisted upon it. I told them to pay little attention to spelling, grammar, punctuation, or even forming complete sentences. They could take care of these later. At this stage the student needs to make the splash of spontaneity. Therefore, let the storms in the story blow, the waters rush, the bears growl, the rhinoceroses charge, the horses gallop, the kittens purr, the ships sail, the rowers row, the babies coo, the crows caw to their hearts’ content. The story is the thing. And with a story starter your student is raring to go.

Why Fiction?

A person’s worldview almost always shows through in his creative output.” Francis Schaeffer

     Facts in home school are important. Fiction teaches, too. Good fiction shows us what virtue looks like. It is a mix of kind gestures and heroic deeds. It may be a small act of bravery such as visiting someone in the hospital or a larger act in serving the war effort. Characters in the story act out: friendship, forgiveness, patience, gratitude, resourcefulness and responsibility, admiration and respect, love. Fiction enlightens us by helping us develop a moral imagination.

A Positive Experience - A Positive Attitude

     Using story starters can foster a positive attitude toward writing in general. As a student’s newfound confidence grows it will carry over to other writing aspects of schoolwork – the more factual kind.

     I believe your student can write boldly. I created a variety of curious characters and involved situations in my big book, Story Starters. Each is illustrated from my personal collection of antique pictures. My desire was to give students, age 8 to adult, an opportunity to rescue those in danger, comfort the sick, cheer the lonely, laugh with the ridiculous, tame the wild, and do battle for good.

     Coming soon:  a message written by Dean Andreola, the Man-of-the-House.

Thanks for visiting,
Karen Andreola 


  1. Karen, I have found this to be true in my years of home education. We've done no formal writing programs, nor have we done a lot of formal narration. What we have done is copy work, memory work both Bible and poetry, lots of reading aloud, especially when young, and my children read everyday.

    What I have found is that even my non natural writers are capable of writing a decent story!

    Thanks for the reminder about re-rewrites, and the importance of just letting them write at first!

    Praying still for Nigel!


  2. We struggled with formal writing in our homeschool. Knowing that neither of our children were interested in professional creative writing careers, we opted to give them comfort with that old rather boring stand-by, the five paragraph essay. Even a research paper is just an expansion of this type of writing.

    I was so grateful to find Miss Mason's encouragement about the reading of good books producing the ability to communicate effectively. She helped me to stop fretting and just persevere.

    Interestingly, one of our children will occasionally produce a quite funny story. I keep hinting that there may be an author lurking inside him after all!


  3. Writing is work, for sure. Learning to write an essay gives the older student an excellent way to express himself - an important standby for college. My two youngest got help from the book, "The Write Stuff" for essay writing and also "reporting." The author was a professional journalist.

    We need more light and funny stories. My, what "dark" and creepy novels people are reading today.

    Thank you Ladies, for sharing.
    Karen A.

  4. This is excellent! I wish I'd done this more with my children. I try not to regret what we lost when we had to go to work with my husband, but I do get wistful sometimes.

    Hugs to you,