Inside: Discover why it’s so hard to teach our kids to communicate through writing and some simple ways to help them express themselves.
I can tell a story.
Most of my stories are lengthy. I build up to the climax and relish in the punchline. I have told stories that last hours. In fact, my husband often tries to get me to pick up the pace and get to the point quicker. But, I know that’s not how you tell a good story. A good story takes preparation. You have to bring the listener into your world – make them see and feel what you experienced – and get them excited to know the ending. You can’t do that quickly. The story needs to be nurtured.
Writing a story isn’t quite so easy for me. I can easily put my thoughts on paper, but I’m often left wondering if I expressed myself clearly. Was my grammar correct? Did I use proper spacing and enough headings? And, then I lose track of what was most important… did I appeal to my reader? Did I make them see what I saw? Did they feel my emotions? Did they come away from the experience of reading what I wrote better or at least with a slight chuckle?
If I, someone who writes daily, feels this way about writing, then is it any wonder my children can become frustrated with the whole experience?
The Magic to Communicate through Writing
I love this quote by Peter Elbow. Language is magic. But, we don’t often think of it that way when writing. My middle child hates to be told she needs to write, well, pretty much anything. However, she is also the child who will tell you in great detail about the book she is reading or her favorite television show. But, when it comes to writing, she seizes up. She starts considering punctuation, grammar, sentence structure, and form and becomes overwhelmed.
She gets what Julie Bogart of Brave Writer calls “Blank Page, Blank Stare Syndrome”. No matter what I say, she is defiant that she hates writing. And, truthfully, she does. But, when she actually puts pen to paper, she is a brilliant writer. She’s witty, has a great vocabulary and gets her point across effectively. So, why does she believe that she can’t write?
The Fear to Communicate through Writing
Part of learning to communicate through writing is learning what good writing is. My daughter reads voraciously. She knows what good writing looks like. She recognizes it without being told. So when she is asked to write she freezes up. How can she compare to the writing of her favorite author? She can’t, so she won’t. And, there is the real problem.
She fears leaving her feelings and emotions out in the open – bare to whoever reads them. They are now open to criticism and no one wants their thoughts with a red line through them.
It is scary. It is intimidating. Honestly, it sometimes gives me a stomachache. So, I’m not surprised that it can make children refuse to pick up a writing utensil. So, how on earth, do we get them to learn to communicate their thoughts on paper?
Playing the Communication Game
The first step doesn’t involve writing a word.
In chapter two of The Writer’s Jungle, Julie Bogart describes the communication game. The communication game is a simple concept – teach your kids to communicate effectively by describing objects in detail. Within this simple premise is a game that had the kids laughing and begging to play more.
So here’s how we played.
At this month’s poetry teatime, I gathered the kids together to learn the art of communication. Earlier I had asked the moms to draw a simple geometric figure on a whiteboard. It didn’t need to be elaborate, but it did need to have a few details. I never looked at the board, but set it up so that the kids could see it. Then I asked them to describe to me what they saw and how to draw it.
The first comment was to draw a square. Even though I had no clue what the drawing looked like, I guessed that it would be reasonably large, so I drew a tiny square. The kids laughed and began yelling “No, not like that” and describing the size of the square. From there we spent several minutes of them telling me what to draw and me drawing (and quite often erasing) on the board. In the end, our drawings were very similar, but not exact.
Now it was their turn. They split into pairs. I gave “the describer” a print out of a drawing (you can grab a copy of these below). The “artist” of the pair had to take direction and draw the object until it looked nearly exactly like the printed copy. If it wasn’t close enough, they had to keep working. The kids enjoyed this so much that they kept switching roles and grabbing new drawings.
In the end, they had learned that communication is the key to good writing. Even though we may know what we are trying to say, doesn’t always mean we communicated it effectively. Sometimes we don’t get our point across.
Using Keen Observation
Before we start requiring the kids to write on paper, let’s do one more fun exercise. This one is called Keen Observation and you can find it in chapter three of The Writer’s Jungle. This activity teaches observation skills by freeing up all their senses.
We started with an object in a paper bag. The kids were instructed to feel the object and describe all the ways if felt in their hands. The next step was to remove it from the bag and use their eyes, nose, ears, and mouth to discover more about their object.
They described what they saw, the colors, the shape, the size. Then they described how it smelled. Did it remind them of something else? Was the smell pleasant, strong or did it not have much of a smell. They listened to how the object sounded when they tapped on it and when it was pressed against another object. And, lastly, they tasted it. Obviously, not all objects could be tasted so we skipped this when we were observing the pinecone.
Finally, we put pen to paper, but not to write a story or even an essay. We simply wrote down all the descriptions we had used for our objects.
Below is one of my favorite keen observation examples and I plan to use it in an upcoming poetry teatime.
Time to let our senses rise to the forefront of our awareness. Time to slow down and watch. The Writer’s Jungle has a number of excellent activities designed to activate the part of your mind that notices and the part that delights in a well-turned descriptive phrase.
Learning to Communicate through Writing
These are just a couple of the ways to get your reluctant writers to start the writing process without actually writing a single sentence. It might seem like these aren’t real writing exercises because we didn’t actually write a paragraph or a poem. But, don’t be deceived. These are the frontrunners to good writing. We know it when we see it, but do we know it when we write it?
Learning to communicate what you see, hear, and feel are the most important parts of writing. The rest is just words on paper – magical words.
Grab your download of our Communication Game drawings to get you started:
Check out these other fantastic resources about teaching your child to write:
- Incorporating the Communication Game into Your Child’s Language Arts by Erin at Nourishing My Scholar
- Why Interesting Writing is More Than a Mountain of Words by Bethany at Homeschool Mindset with Bethany Ishee
- Why Brave Writer Is Such A Big Deal by Shawna at Not The Former Things
- Writing and Observing with all of Our Senses by Erin at Nourishing My Scholar