Sharing Some Thoughts on Children and Writing

Will my child write? This seems to be a fairly common worry for parents. Some children want to write and some are more reluctant.

All my children are writers and always have been. Is this because I am a writer and they are following my example which they have grown up with, or do they have writing genes? I often muse this over, trying to work it out.

I recently wrote this post:

Despite my musings, I haven’t come to any firm conclusions. Maybe a bit of both?

We aren’t all the same with the same strengths and talents, so I think it is safe to assume that some children won’t have the same interest in writing as others. Their talents will lie in other directions. And this is okay. The ability to write creatively isn’t a superior talent.

But there is no doubt we can’t get through life without writing, so children need some level of writing skills. Do we need to push them along and insist they write? Or will they eventually learn when they realise they have a need of writing?

I wonder if we can actively encourage our children to take an interest in writing, creating an atmosphere where they might feel excited by the possibility of writing? Could the following points encourage a child to give writing a go?

  • Be a writer ourselves. Model the skill. Share our writings.
    Talk about the process.
  • Read a lot to children so they can hear good examples of writing. Read picture books, novels, poetry, non-fiction, magazines, comics… They may be inspired to copy their favourite authors, or want to write stories like those they love. At the moment, Gemma-Rose is writing about princesses and mermaids. At her age, I did the same.
  • Have lively discussions, encouraging children to join in and share their ideas and interests. Talking may turn into writing. We all need something to write about. Quite often I come away from the dinner table, where we’ve been chatting together, and head straight to my computer with an idea for a story. The same thing happens with my children.
  • Pressuring children to write is probably counter-productive. It leads to frustration on both sides.
  • Worrying about spelling, turns writing into a chore. It slows down writing and dampens the creative urge. I have found that spelling improves the more a child writes, without any interference. If it doesn’t, it’s no big deal. Good spelling isn’t an indicator of intelligence. There’s always spell-check!
  • Don’t worry about backward letters or poor handwriting. These also improve with time.
  • Let children use a computer if they don’t want to write by hand. Duncan used to use an old typewriter when he was about 6.
  • Let them dictate if they can’t write well enough. It’s more important to nurture creativity than worry about the mechanics.
  • Children’s writings can take many forms: letters, stories, emails, poems, comic strips, magazines, shopping lists, journal entries… All forms of writing are valuable
  • Look out for real writing opportunities: letters, blog posts, shopping lists… These are better than set writing exercises.
  • Writing is serious business. It should be valued. It’s real work. Children are writers, even if they are still learning. We’re all still learning! So..
  • Take the time to read children’s writings if they are offered for sharing, or get them to read them out aloud. (This helps when the spelling is a bit mysterious!) Take the writings seriously. Comment positively and don’t criticise. I’d hate my writings to be pulled apart and criticised. Why should children feel any different?
  • Save a child’s writings. Place them in a folder and treat them as special. They are! I have a few folders of Felicity’s and Duncan’s
    earliest stories and poems. They are a real treasure.
I have written this as a list of Dos and Don’ts, but of course, these are only points for consideration, not Sue Elvis’ Writing Rules!

Once children are writing, do we need to worry about the mechanics of writing? Do we need to teach spelling, handwriting, grammar, punctuation and comprehension?

I have tried spelling programs, both online and workbooks with a few of my children. I didn’t find they were very helpful for my particular children. At first they were a novelty. They later became a chore. I don’t even think they were very effective. A child would learn a list of words but if they weren’t using those words in their writings, they soon forgot how to spell them. My children had more success gradually learning to spell the words they were actually using.

I wrote this post about Gemma-Rose and spelling:

There’s a little more about spelling in this post:

I tried teaching my first two children grammar using workbooks. That wasn’t a success. This story is in my post:

Some of my children learnt a lot of grammar when they were learning Latin. The parts of speech etc were needed here, so they saw a use for grammar and picked it up easily.

The other day we were talking and laughing about my attempts to teach some of my children punctuation using workbooks. They only completed a few pages before the books were tossed aside. Now I answer questions about punctuation, as my children write. The other day Sophie wanted to know more about where to insert commas into her sentences, so I showed her. Gemma-Rose noticed a full stop after Mr. while she was reading, and asked me what it was there for. I explained about abbreviations.

Here’s a post I wrote about how I improved my own punctuation:

My children don’t even realise there are such things as comprehension tests. They read. They write. We talk. It is easy to see whether they comprehend or not. I don’t see a use for such tests.

I have been very relaxed about handwriting too. Perfect handwriting isn’t a sign a child can write. I wrote this post:

I could have a few people arguing with me about the value of excellent handwriting. When I first posted this story on my blog a few did!

Summing up:

  • Children will write when they see a need
  • We could try and actively encourage our children to write by providing the right environment and atmosphere
  • But pressuring a child, by insisting they write, could be counter-productive
  • Maybe children need to see others writing
  • They need something to write about
  • They need to be able to write without worrying about the mechanics
  • The mechanics of writing improve the more a child writes.
  • Some children’s talents will lie in directions other than writing

I know a lot of people believe we can do nothing better for our children than ensure they have a firm grip of the basics of writing. They feel drilling, and practising the mechanical skills, are worth the effort, even if a child doesn’t want to do them. I respect that view but it isn’t the path I am taking with my own children. Are they suffering because I don’t insist they learn their spelling or practise their handwriting or do their punctuation exercises? I don’t believe so. They are all excellent writers. Actually, I think they are above-average writers. Their skills are certainly far above their school-age peers. I know this because Andy is a school teacher!

My children write all the time. The last couple of nights when I’ve gone to say good night to the younger girls, I have found Gemma-Rose tucked up in bed with her computer, working on her latest novel. (See the above ghostly photos.) Imogen takes her laptop with her on every car trip so she can continue writing her novel. The other girls do similar things. Even Duncan is working on a novel between university assignments.
Of course, I am always writing too! (I‘m writing this on my laptop in the car, while waiting for Imogen to finish her singing lesson.)

Here’s some posts about the girls’ writing:

If you read the posts you will find out that my girls are passionate about novel writing. All four girls have participated in National Novel Writing Month a number of times. That’s a wonderful way of encouraging children to write. It’s a challenge; it’s real but fun work; it’s an opportunity to interact with other writers; it’s satisfying; it’s a great learning experience. How do I know? I have participated too!

These are just some of my random thoughts on writing, based on my experiences with my own children.

I seem to have written a ‘Sharing Some Thoughts…’ series.

Just one more question to go… Unschooling and teaching the Faith… coming soon.

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  1. Reply

    This is another great post, Sue! Yes, ours have learnt best by actually doing, too.

    I've been thinking more about why our boys aren't such big writers as the girls and I think it's partly because they're self-conscious about writing. It's not just story writing, either. I can be self-conscious about writing in a diary. I've wanted to, for ages, but I can't find my diary voice. I keep throwing out what I've written.

    The boys have writing skills so could it be a matter of finding what they're comfortable writing about?

    Thanks for another thought-provoking post!

    God bless, Sue:-)

    1. Reply


      Thank you for ploughing through such a long post. It kind of grew and grew…

      I had to smile about you throwing out your diary pages! You're throwing away your memories. It doesn't matter if you think you sound silly or not like you, or whatever you do think you sound like. Nobody is going to read what you've written. You don't even have to reread your own entries. Just make sure your diary is hidden out of sight when you're not around. I bet if you keep writing, day after day, your diary voice will develop. Your blogging voice did.

      Ah! But what if you become famous. After your death your diary might be published for all to read. No, don't think about that. Keep writing!

      You could be write, I mean right, about having to find the right subject to write about, or maybe the right vehicle. My writing increased when I discovered blogging. When we are passionate about something we are eager to share and might consider writing about it. I wonder what your boys interests are.

      Thank you for your encouraging words!

    • Anonymous
    • March 16, 2013

    I need to print out this blog post 🙂 Being more laid back I think has helped in our homeschool with regards to writing. My kids are writing phobic it seems. However, I have been just trying to notice those times when they write an email or sign their name on a check or when my ten year old does decide to add more info to his marine biology notebook he is typing on the computer. I have four boys and one baby girl. Wouldn't you know – the baby is 13 months old and holds a pencil between her thumb and one finger and tries to write on paper!
    Maybe she will end up loving to write!


    1. Reply


      I love your story about your baby! She is definitely going to be a writer!

      Maybe kids do write more than we realise. I like your idea of trying to take notice. Every attempt at writing helps.

      Thank you for reading!

  2. Reply

    Yet another article for me to PIN (I am a Pinterest addict Sue) to refer back to. Well done you and thank you for the ideas and links!

    1. Reply


      I don't dare sign up for Pinterest. I am sure I'd become addicted too!

      Thank you for pinning me on your board! That makes me smile.

      God bless!

  3. Thank you for this "Sharing Some Thoughts" series, Sue, it's been very useful. I'll enjoy reading back on the posts you've linked while you're taking your break and enjoying doing Other Things!

    I don't wish to add to your list of "to do"s, but if you ever feel inspired to share a story about it, I'd love to know your thoughts about having "something to show" for the learning your children do (something tangible, I mean). As we gradually move closer to unschooling, I notice that there's less and less paper! (Perhaps *I* should write about this, as a way of clarifying my thoughts on the subject!)

    I take lots of photos so we have those to look back on but I wonder about the process of making "representations" (as Project-Based Homeschooling author Lori Pickert would describe it) to help with the learning process.

    Yes, I've definitely got a blog post in me about this one… perhaps I should leave you in peace and go write it! In the meantime, enjoy Bleak House, and I'll look forward to more unschooling stories when the time is right!

    1. Reply


      Thank you for reading my series!

      It is funny you mentioning 'something to show'. I scribbled a note about that topic the other day. I've been musing on it too. Perhaps I will try and write something. You write a post too and then we can compare notes! I'd love to hear your own thoughts.

      I enjoyed looking at your holiday photos on your blog. Thank you for sharing them. I feel like a holiday too. It won't be to the snow though. We don't have any! In the winter we could travel south to the 'snow fields', but they are nothing like the one you visited in France. Sometimes, if the season is warm, the resorts have to rely on man-made snow. It's more likely we will have a few days at the beach!

    • Weiyun Lee
    • March 21, 2013

    Thanks Sue for this post. I supposed at the end of it all, it's about creating the right environment and they will blossom. It's like a plant, given the right soil, sunlight, water and fertilizer, it will definitely grow into a beautiful, healthy plant. The challenge is – to have Faith and Patience and Perseverance to see the fruits, which will take time to grow. It's back to trusting God and trusting children and trusting our own instincts 🙂 What a journey ahead….. 🙂

    1. Reply

      Weiyun Lee,

      I think you are so right! "It's like a plant, given the right soil, sunlight, water and fertilizer, it will definitely grow into a beautiful, healthy plant." What a great description. I like that!

      Trust… Yes, it all comes down to that, doesn't it?

      The journey ahead? It is a wonderful journey. I just love spending time with my children, learning and growing together. We are very blessed!

      Thank you so much for your comment.

      God bless!

    • Gina
    • January 9, 2014

    I do not know if you will get a notification about th is co moment since your post is from last year, but I want to try anyways 🙂 Do you think this post also applies to teens? Or do they require a more formal approach? Thanks for your thoughts!

    1. Reply


      I did see your comment!

      I definitely think a relaxed approach to writing is appropriate for teenagers. My children have never had any formal writing lessons. Imogen didn't write a single essay before she started her university degree. Now she is studying a Bachelor of Arts: Professional Writing and Publishing. She is about halfway through the course and has achieved High Distinctions or Distinctions for every single unit. Imogen says she learnt how to write by writing. So she wrote because she loved it and learnt the mechanics along the way.

      Charlotte is 16 and she is always writing, but only things she enjoys. She and Imogen are working on a joint novel at the moment. I have a post idea about that for when I finish my mental illness series. I hope you'll read it and add your thoughts!

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