Pam Allyn: Key Strategies for Raising a Lifelong Writer
Pam Allyn, founder of LitWorld and LitLife, advises parents to foster their children’s curiosity, tell stories and give their kids many opportunities to write.
Children are extremely observant about the world around them; they have vivid imaginations and they love to tell stories. Encouraging a child to embody his or her inner writing self may be a challenge, however, because many children (and adults) have been turned off to writing. Often this resistance comes from fear caused by a lack of validation or support. Maybe the scope of their writing has been limited to specific, academically valued topics. Given time, a comfortable writing environment and some inspiration, a child can become a thoughtful and passionate writer.
It is important to have readily available books of an appropriate reading level for the child. For budding writers, reading books about their interests and also being exposed to new topics are great sources of inspiration. When reading aloud, don’t be afraid to pause and ask a question such as, “What do you think is going to happen next?” or “What would you do in this character’s situation?” Discussions allow children to share their thoughts and opinions and provide an opportunity for their voice to be recognized. Affirmations of their ideas, such as “I would love to read a story like that!” make children excited to write their own stories.
For inspiration, I often use four foundational prompts, detailed in my new book Your Child’s Writing Life, which will help draw the stories out from within the child. It is helpful to ask a child to respond to:
– What he or she remembers (using photos, objects or recounting stories will get him going)
– What he or she observes (the space that surrounds him, one specific object, a changing environment)
– What he or she wonders about
– What he or she imagines (could be about the past or future, a fantasy world or a made up story)
Just as children have different topics that they want to write about, they also vary in how they like to do their writing. Listening to a child’s preferences and tailoring the writing environment to his or her specifications is a tremendous support. Many children respond well to technology as a space for writing. Designating a file for their work on the computer or teaching them to write an e-mail to a relative can incorporate writing into their screen time.
Telling stories helps foster a child’s emotional growth. Writing can be a great way to work through the more difficult parts of his or her life, such as social issues with peers or difficulties within his or her family. Becoming a lifelong writer requires practice and dedication, and the willingness to work hard at something because we are passionate about it. If a child writes from an early age, he or she will have the confidence to develop his or her own ideas and insights. Teaching children to love writing—to cherish words and harness their power—is to help transform them. A writer must be confident and curious, and willing to take risks.
If given many opportunities to write, children will experiment with various styles and perspectives until they find a voice that feels comfortable and authentic. Incorporating regular writing into a child’s daily routine will help him or her improve his or her skills. We need to believe that a child has something important to say and ideas of his or her own to share. Through writing, these ideas are inscribed with words, shared with a unique voice, and have the power to influence our view of the world.
Pam Allyn is the Executive Director and founder of LitWorld, a global organization advocating for children’s rights as readers, writers and learners. She is also the Executive Director and founder of LitLife, a national organization dedicated to school improvement. She is the author of the acclaimed and award-winning What To Read When: The Books and Stories To Read With Your Child–And All The Best Times To Read Them (Penguin Avery). Her most recent books are Pam Allyn’s Best Books for Boys: How To Engage Boys in Reading in Ways That Will Change Their Lives (Scholastic) and Your Child’s Writing Life (Penguin Avery).
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