Writing is cathartic, even for kids. There are lifelong benefits that come from the process. In 1976, I wrote Turnpike 2000, a book that explored the New Jersey Turnpike of the future—one in which cars traveled by conveyor belt to their intended exits without traffic jams, tolls were paid automatically, and preordered snacks were delivered en route. It was an epic piece of science fiction for a second-grader, well over 20 pages, complete with illustrations. And while my teacher loved it, Turnpike 2000 never made any best-seller lists.
As a child, I spent countless hours writing stories. Now as a mom, I find my daughter doing the same. Her latest work is “The Best Day Ever 3,” the much-anticipated sequel to “The Best Day Ever 2.” This installment is a bit darker; someone has been left out of a game on the playground.
More wasted paper? Hardly. My daughter’s stories offer insight into who she is, how she’s developing friendships, and how she’s figuring out the world. (I found out later that she wasn’t included in cops and robbers during recess.)
Thoughts on Paper
Novelists will tell you the process of writing is cathartic, even for kids. But there’s more to it than that. Julianna Baggott, author of Which Brings Me To You and kids’ books like The Prince of Fenway Park, as well as The Anybodies, and The Nobodies (written as N.E. Bode), says children benefit long-term when they put pen to paper or hand to keyboard.
“When learning characterization, students practice empathy. When learning plot, they practice strategic thought. When learning sensory writing, they practice close observation. When learning grammar, they practice exact language. When learning how to invent worlds, they practice imagination. These skills will be needed for every worthwhile endeavor they undertake in their lives,” says Baggott, “whether they go into teaching or science, the arts, or the art of politics.”
Linda Best heads the Kean University Writing Project, part of a national initiative to improve student achievement by improving the teaching of writing. She says writing encourages children to explore the unknown with confidence.
“Writing involves taking risks. They can try different ideas in writing; they will develop a repertoire of approaches. Those are good values that support learning,” she says.
But she warns that parents need to be supportive, even when a child makes mistakes.
“Nothing is worse than creating a fear or dislike of writing; be encouraging and accepting,” says Best. “The development of writing has natural grammatical errors built into it; children will sort through those rules.”
Furthermore, Best says to let children write about what they want, even if it’s a three-headed monster that eats boogers for dinner and terrorizes the locker room.
Your child may not be the next Stephen King, but writing will prepare him for real-world challenges. Research shows that writing is a tool that helps children organize their thinking and can aid their success academically in a wide range of subjects from English to Biology 101, and later on in the workplace.
In fact, Americans are writing more now than ever, thanks to the proliferation of email, blogs, and even texting. The bottom line is this: writing builds character. Says Best, “The child who writes early and feels good about it gets a sense of satisfaction.”
Once Upon a Time
Not sure where to begin? Here’s some advice on how to get your children writing at home.
- Start them young. Pictures tell stories (think cave drawings). Ask your preschooler what’s happening in a picture he drew and write it down. Or download Our Book by Us! at nwp.org. This activity book supports early literacy development through writing and drawing projects you can do together.
- Be a muse. Encourage your children to write by asking questions that lead to concrete images. Who’s your favorite stuffed animal? What was your favorite part of summer vacation? Pull out the family photo album and have your child write captions for the pictures. Ask older children to create a script or screenplay for a movie.
- Don’t be an editor or a critic. When your child can write independently, let her—spelling mistakes and all. Welcome and encourage wacky plots and any oddball characters. “We want to boost the creative voice,” says Baggott. “If the critical voice gets too strong and noisy, it drowns out the creative voice. This is a lifelong struggle.”
- Get it published. Pick a special story your child has written and have it professionally bound. Websites like lulu.com walk you through the process, complete with paperback and hardcover options.
Christine Esposito is a freelance writer from New Jersey and mom to two children.