It was a New Mexican Spring day with the wind bringing dust off the Mesa to swirl around us as our Indian ponies plodded along the ditch bank. The irrigation water had just been released into the ditches and the mud red water gurgled by us as we rode.

Tammy,on her horse Comanche, was older than I by several years.  I rode my beloved pony Apache and listened as she told me about the authors she had met when she lived in Massachusetts.  The chuckle of the irrigation water and the spring sunshine made me drowsy until something Tammy said stiffened my backbone abruptly causing Apache to jump sideways.

Tammy had met the author Tasha Tudor.  I loved my Tasha Tudor books …but that wasn’t what caused my horse to almost unseat me. Somehow, I had never realized that behind every book there is an author!

I was probably about ten years old at the time of this revelation (certainly old enough to know that books are written by somebody). My mother had helped start the local library and had often talked about authors but until

that warm spring day  I (somehow) had never realized that a regular person had something to do with the delicious books I held in my hands.

Yet, here was Tammy talking about standing in line to finally get to meet Tasha Tudor and finding this particular author to be a bit crabby and impatient! She sounded very much like a regular person to me.

Riding along the ditch bank that day I realized for the first time that I could be a writer too!

As you teach your children to write, begin and end with books.  Read to your children, meet authors with your children and talk about writing with your children.

Then, as soon as your child can hold a pencil, encourage him to copy passages of  literature including the Bible. This does several things; it helps him practice writing, it helps him get used to filling a blank page (which is intimidating for the best of us) and it helps him develop the discipline of  actually writing.

Copy work is hard work since it involves eye/hand coordination and concentration. It is a great exercise for all ages of students but especially for elementary aged children because we want them to develop the kind of perseverance it takes to be a writer. Writing is work but it can be very satisfying work for those who learn to do it.

Encourage your child to write as a day to day tool. For example, as soon as your child can write words ask him to be your “secretary” and write down the grocery list for you or keep track of the library books by making a list or…?

Get him accustomed to seeing his writing on the refrigerator or in your hand at the grocery store. Writing becomes associated with life in this way.

As soon as my children can write a few descriptive sentences (some as simple as “The red cat went to the blue house”) I have them write almost every day.

I do not correct their spelling on their every day writing. I may tell them ahead of time that one story a week will be corrected and rewritten but every single day is too much.

I want my children to enjoy the process of thinking, describing, creating and laboriously writing without worrying about spelling every time they write. I have had several atrocious spellers who became almost frozen in their ability to write and dumbed down their story to their spelling level in an effort to avoid corrections. Not fun.

As soon as a child has “finished” a story (be it four sentences or four pages) and has recopied it neatly with most words spelled correctly (some children will never get a ‘perfect” final draft), I ask them to illustrate it with a picture or two and create a “book cover” for it. Then I have it spiral bound at a copy store like Kinkos. This usually costs about two dollars or less.

It is very satisfying for a child to be able to carry around his own piece of writing; his own book! He has something to show for his effort.

In summary, here is my basic recipe for creating a writer:

1) Read aloud, read aloud, read aloud from birth until ? Enjoy good books together.

2) Exclaim over interesting word usage you hear as your child talks to you. Ask him to describe experiences to you. Listen to him! Encourage an awareness of description and words.

3) As soon as he can control a pencil, have him copy passages of literature or the Bible. Praise his efforts. It is hard work!

4) As soon as he can write words, ask him to jot down what you need from the store or keep track of library books. In other words, encourage him to write daily as a tool for remembering details.

5) Ask him to write a sentence or two and illustrate it with his own picture. As he learns more words ask him to write more sentences daily.

6) Do not correct his spelling every day; perhaps correct it once a week.

7) As soon as your child has written a final draft of a fairly well-spelled paper and illustrated it, have it spiral bound at a copy shop and keep it on display as a “book” he has written!

8) Continue to feed his mind with good books, notice interesting language usage, requiring him to write daily and then….

9) Give him lots of TIME to develop as a writer. Even a child with natural talent will not usually mature into a good writer until many years have passed and a child who appears to have no natural ability as a writer will often surprise people by developing into a good one after years and years of practicing.

Anyone can write. It’s not quite as straight forward as learning the backstroke but just like in swimming, practice makes perfect.

You can’t learn to swim unless you get in the water and you can’t learn to write unless you WRITE!

This ends my series on learning to write.

*Updated January 28th 2012* Everything you need to know about reading and spelling can be found here
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