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As homeschooling parents, we want to know how to teach our children everything, including how to teach little kids to write a story. But, telling stories and writing stories require very different skills. Some of these skills are developmentally based. All children under age 10 tell stories. However, their writing efforts usually don’t match the richness of their narrations.
For example, every child talks. They talk about their favorite things, they talk about what they did at grandma’s house, they tell stories about their stuffed animals and Lego creations. Unfortunately, we tend to assume that a child of age 6 or 7 can “talk” on paper, especially if he is a precocious reader. But, writing well requires many skills that have nothing to do with talking. Encourage oral storytelling, but don’t make young children write them down, not even with templates. That is not how to teach little kids to write a story. Instead, they may learn to hate creative writing.
How to teach little kids to write a story–you don’t
Young children–those under age 10–tend to be focused on forming letters correctly, remembering proper spelling, and checking capitals and periods. They think that all those things are super important because we make them do it over if they don’t remember. Those things are important, but not for a young child full of imaginative stories to tell. A young child can go on and on without taking a breath if you let her. Why, then, does she struggle to write just one interesting sentence? We get upset and say things like, “Come on! I know you can write more. Just write one more sentence.” They huff and scribble out one more sentence that makes you cringe–I ate. Again, this is not how to teach little kids to write a story.
Reasons not to teach them.
Underdeveloped fine motor skills.
Writing by hand requires fine motor skills that take a while to develop. Kids not only have to learn how to hold the pencil (usually before age 5), but they have to learn proper pressure so their hands don’t hurt. Their hands get tired easily. Studies show that boys’ and girls’ fine motor skills often develop at different rates, with girls usually ahead. A little boy’s fine motor skills may not be fully developed until he is closer to age 10. Typing is not much better. They have to learn to type and type quick enough. If the child can’t spell well, the keyboard may end up being slower than hand writing.
And, underdeveloped fine motor skills is becoming more and more of a problem. This may sound dumb, but many children aged 5-6 years can’t cut with scissors, hold a pencil properly, tie shoes, or button their shirts, let alone hold a pencil properly. How, then, can we ask them to write?
Reading skills are still developing.
A child can’t write well unless he’s read a LOT of books. And, writing ability rarely supersedes reading level. In other words, if a child age 7 is at the easy reader level, it will be difficult for him to write at the level of his thoughts. This is extremely frustrating for a child. Spelling ability and vocabulary often go hand in hand with reading ability.
Vocabulary, spelling, and sentence mechanics are not automatic.
If a child has to think too much about how to spell a word, whether or not to use a comma, and the rules of sentence structure such as what constitutes a complete thought, the writing itself suffers. Her attitude about writing suffers, too. I can tell you that I always wanted to be a writer, but when I was age 9, I purposely wrote as short a story as I could get away with. I hated the arduous task of hand writing it. Red marks for forgetting a period or a comma discouraged me. The writing topics were boring. I wished I could will the stories in my head on to the paper.
What to do instead of concentrating on how to teach little kids to write a story
Engage in hands-on play.
As I mentioned above, help them develop their fine motor skills through playing with clay or putty. Learn finger weaving, crochet, or knitting. Try small hand-sewn projects or felting. Play Operation or Pick Up Sticks type games that require a steady hand. The point is to allow them to have fun learning new skills while also strengthening their fingers for typing or handwriting.
Read. Read. Read.
This is kind of a no-brainer. Even when they can read books on their own, have a special read-aloud time. If you are struggling with this, get audiobooks (Jim Weiss is a great storyteller), kids’ podcasts, or check out Read Aloud Revival. The more exposure to good books, the better.
I do not advocate summer reading programs because many of them are set up on a faulty system. They encourage a certain number of books instead of time. Kids often choose books well below their reading level just so they can rack up points. Umm. No. I also feel that books are a joy unto themselves and do not need external rewards. A book is a world you get to visit over and over again.
If you choose to participate in a Pizza Hut or Six Flags reading program, I recommend keeping your registration secret from your kids. You keep track of reading time and spring the surprise on them just because you wanted to treat them, not because they read a certain number of pages.
Play word games.
Magnetic poetry tiles, Scrabble, word finds, Bananagrams, Silly Sentences, hangman, Mad Libs and other games allow children to have fun with language in a non-threatening way. Remember, if kids are having fun, they will associate fun and happiness with the language arts. They may even come up with silly games themselves. Encourage their efforts at storytelling and reserve the red pen for when they are age 12 or older.
So, don’t worry about how to teach little kids to write a story. Play with them and read to them. A lot. They will be enthusiastic storytellers when they are older.