kids don’t need us to teach them how to write
They already know.
What they need is a blank piece of paper, a pencil or pen that doesn’t slow them down, and a regular and sustained space of time.
Shackling young writers with grammatical rules is like putting kids in handcuffs, giving them a pen, and telling them to write.
I spent fifteen hours last week with young writers ages 9-11 at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. I was bowled over, amazed, charmed, inspired, affirmed, and in awe of these kids for whom writing bursts forth like a mountain spring–joyfully and ceaselessly. They are the lucky ones, the ones that know they want to be writers, whose parents send them to “writing camps,” lifting them into the literary world at young ages.
But the others. The ones in public school classrooms across the country who do not have the financial and/or other resources. These are the ones we must lift. How? Let them start with their own story, so rich, so vast, and within each and every child.
No need for expensive ipads. Give them notebooks, gads of them. Give them pencils and pens they love. Block off 20 minutes of each day, and let them enter their lives twice–once in the living, and twice in the reflection of that living.
Give them time to write about what they love and what they fear, what they want and what they believe. Let them write freely, from their lives, their thoughts, their ruminations, their stories.
Because writing is empowering. It is social/emotional character development with an added bonus of fluency and eloquence. Boom-shaka-laka. Move aside and let the brilliance burst forth.
There will be plenty of time and material for grammatical rules and expectations of perfect spelling down the road. Yes, students will eventually need to learn how to write formally and for different purposes. For now, just let them wander around, like the children the are, in their notebooks. Let them play with words, stories, language. Let them learn about themselves, so that they care about what they are learning. Give them a tool to dream into the future, set goals, and stoke the fire of those dreams and goals in their writing.
Let them write.