While April 10th is officially National Encourage a Young Writer Day it is important to ensure that high school students are encouraged to write more, and by extension, read more, every day. There is a huge distinction between the amount of writing and reading they do in high school compared to what is expected in college or university. It doesn’t matter if they are going for an English degree or a Tech Studies diploma; they are going to have to write papers and read textbooks, online and off.
Today, kids are even more predisposed to write less, using abbreviated texts, 140-character tweets, or even hieroglyphics (emojis) and “Snaps” (i.e. messages via Snapchat) to communicate with each other. Gone even, are the notes that were handwritten and passed around class.
Here are some ways parents can encourage their young writers at home to improve their writing skills, whether it’s for an essay at school, or if they are interested in writing for themselves as a creative outlet.
- If they are working on a school assignment, and getting discouraged about their writing skills, remind them that it doesn’t have to be perfect the first time. There are good reasons professional writers go through many drafts and edits. Get the ideas down first. One point per sentence.
- Set a timer. Sitting down to write a whole essay at once can be overwhelming, and focusing on one task at a time can be particularly challenging for today’s distracted teens. Start with 15 minutes and then a break of no longer than the same amount of writing time. Here’s an extra hint: buy a real timer or use a stopwatch, not the alarm on their phone which will be a huge temptation for them to pick it up and look at the texts and messages which are still buzzing in.
- Have them read their work aloud, verbally. If they are hesitant to do this in front of you, have them read it out loud to themselves. They will hear grammar and syntax mistakes more clearly when their writing read out loud.
- Track the words written, if they are more Type A and need a goal to work to. Calculate the word count that has to be achieved each day to complete their essay, and add in at least a day for edits. Consider setting up a “writing schedule”, designed to pick their most creative and productive time of the day. For some it’s early morning, but for others after school or late at night. We all have our time.
- Journaling is a great way to get kids writing on a regular basis outside of school assignments, which will make the writing they have to do for school projects easier. Writing is a muscle.
- Encourage them to enter writing competitions if they want to make writing a part of their future career. They will have a deadline to work to, as well as potentially get critical feedback, and maybe even win some accolades along the way.
- “But what can I write about?” is a common question from new writers. Provide them with some potential titles, or have them talk about their interests to try to draw the story angle out of them.
- If they’re having trouble getting back into the essay or story the next day, get them to finish a day’s writing right in the middle of a sentence, even when/if they know how it will end. This will make it far easier to get down those first few words the next day.
Lastly, in the words of author Stephen King, “If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write.” All prolific writers read. Readers absorb correct spelling, syntax, sentence structure, grammar, and story arcs, without realizing it.
Consider getting your kids a library card, a bookstore membership and/or an e-reader, like a Kobo, which will give them unlimited access to books (library books are available on your e-reader through services such as Overdrive.)
E-readers are also a great reading option because they can fit an entire library into their backpack, and kids live in that digital mobile space. Additionally, if your child is reading a book that they think others might make fun of (topic or reading level), they have privacy as no one can read the book cover on an e-reader.
Let the kids catch you reading as well, instead of binge watching a program. Make reading, and by extension, better writing, a part of your family’s lifestyle.
Kathy Buckworth is the award-winning author of six parenting advice books, including her latest, “I Am So The Boss Of You” and is currently at work on her first novel.