The other day – or rather night – at 10 PM, Pari and I were passionately discussing our favourite characters from the movie Madagascar 3. That morning we’d watched it in the theatre and the whole day we were reeling under its effect.
Well, some might say it’s not the best of times to start an engaging discussion. For the mind needs to calm down to gradually drift into a sleep mode. I agree too, to an extent. But then, we don’t have many rules in the house. We do have mutual understanding on some aspects but no hard and fast rules so to say.
Okay, so the discussion started that night with a question I’d posted on my facebook page. It was more of a prompt than a question. I wrote – “The best part about my weekend so far was _____ “. The responses came straight from hearts.
I posed the same prompt for Pari that evening and a passionate conversation ensued, which led to some spontaneous writing. At 10:30 PM
One aspect of the “best part” of her weekend – as she said – was the movie. I asked – “so which character in the movie did you like best?” Pat came the reply – “Alex, the Lion”. I said, “yes, he’s my favourite charcter, too”. “But, I also liked the antics of the lady from the animal control squad. I think she gave Alex a good chase”.
She quipped – “I liked the style of Alex. His English was so stylish!”.
“Oh and, Sonya the Leoprard – she had such a melodious voice”. “And, how she spoke with soft sound…”, she added.
I said – “okay, you mean her accent? Yes, she spoke with Italian accent. I liked that, too!”
And we went on and on – back and forth – about Vitali the Siberian Tiger. About the friendship between the Hippo and the Giraffe and a dozen other things about the movie.
She also mentioned another best part about her weekend – that she got a new doll to play with. And that, she got to eat nachos while watching the movie. There was a twinkle in her eyes when she said that. I knew her happiness. Getting to eat Nachos when watching movie is pure joy for her.
This discussion could have gone on for hours.
But, in the middle of it, it struck to her that she could write it down in her newly-bought pink journal.
Started off with a title - “My Reflections”. She probably has seen me writing something like that or heard me talking about it. And, went on to write about the best part of HER week - the doll, the movie, the characters, why she liked a specific character.
It sounded to me like a mini movie review! I told her that and she thought she could have her friends read it and then decide if they want to see the movie, too.
Her deciding to write on a whim that night – following a conversation – is a valuable lesson for me and probably for all parents who want to know how to ‘inspire’ their kids to write.
Inspire? As if I did that! All I did was trigger that inherent desire to communicate by having a genuine, fun chat where two persons are on equal footing. I was talking with her (and not ‘to’) - as I would with a friend. We were both exchanging views like two adults. At that moment, she was my friend rather than a ‘child’.
1. There was no hidden agenda to inspire her to write.
Just a genuine, fun, engaging chat that made both of us go over our movie watching experience. I think the writing took place in the chat itself. I mean – she articulated her thoughts, shared her views with me – THAT is akin to writing. The penning down was a mere extension of the actual expression.
2. Audience is the Key
Writing comes from an intrinsic human need to express what we think and then to connect and be heard. So, having an audience to express to – is the key. When Pari and I were engaged in that conversation, in me she had found an audience that was interested in what she had to say. And that made her talk with passion. It also made her think vividly and clearly. She was expressing herself spontaneously and without being judged. She was thinking clearly.
3. Resisting the Urge to Pass on ‘Knowledge’ in the Guise of Conversation
I’ll be honest. I do this sometimes. We all do. We won’t let go of an opportunity to pass on some information or knowledgeable nuggets to our kids. hmmm…! But, I’d say, refrain from doing this. Let a conversation be just that – an engaging chat, an exchange of thoughts -with an openness to ‘listen’ rather than just talk from a position of knowing.
Kids are intelligent and intuitive enough to catch the vibes. And then, they will no more seek your audience. They will much rather confide in or share with their friends.
4. Writing at School – in Text Books – is not REAL Writing
That kind of writing is fake or at best ‘practice writing’. The child is given a generic topic to write about. Say – ‘My Country’. Now whether the child wants to write about this topic at that point in time or not, it does not matter. He/she HAS TO write, no matter what. Worse, there are no conversations, no exchange of views and ideas. The topic is there. Go ahead, pen down your thoughts/facts.
The worst part of this writing is that there’s no audience for whom they are writing.
I mean no REAL audience. The teacher is not the audience in the real sense. She would not even read it then and there. It’s not possible, is it, to read the writings of 30 kids in the short time span? She would do the ‘corrections’ later, suggest changes and hand it back. At home, the parent might want to go over the child’s writings; some more feedback, some more suggestions. “Ah, spare me!” – this is what the child will think, what else?
This type of writing is a torture. It’s not fun. And, believe me – you’ll not want to write if it’s not fun for you.
5. Writing Should be a Joyful Experience
Writing becomes a meaningful experience for a child (in fact for anyone) when he/she writes about something that he/she has to say and not about something the teacher wants the child to write about. Writing is a joy when there’s someone out there who wants to listen/read. for instance – when Pari writes letters to her family, or sends e-mails to me.
Knowing that what I have to say might help someone; or it might interest someone is a boost to writing. A young writer needs response for his writing and not ‘corrections’. (okay, give feedback on his/her writing, if he/she seeks. Or else, you’ll only demotivate the child. Believe me).
Having an audience who might say they enjoyed reading it or they might ask a question if they needed any clarification is writing for REAL audience.
6. Conversing is Writing
Again and again, I’ve seen that having real conversations with children help them express and articulate; helps them form an independent view or an opinion and supports logical, clear thinking – the most crucial pre-requisites for writing.
Though she may not be able to write as lucidly as she can talk, the foundation has been laid.
What is writing after-all? It’s your thoughts that are penned instead of spoken. Which means, the thoughts need to flow clearly and logically to be able to speak or for that matter – write.
But, for our children to have clear and logical thoughts, we need to engage them in real-life conversations. Conversations around the dinner table, conversations in the kitchen, conversations during travel.
7. Grammar Can Hinder
At schools, they start stressing too early on the grammar, the spellings, the punctuations. By focusing on this aspect of writing, they’re setting the child up for frustration. They’re taking their attention away from expression of thoughts and instead getting them trapped in the how-to of writing.
Worse, the constant nagging about writing in lines, writing close to margin – all the while managing handwriting – the essence of writing is completely lost in this rigmarole. The spellings, the punctuations - these will fall into place as long as the child is thinking and expressing her-self. This article at Wonder Farm strongly advocates taking dictation for the kids who may have a lot to say but may not be able to write as well.
8. Children Can Have a ‘Writing Voice’
Un-hindered, spontaneous self-expression or conversations lead to that all-important writing ‘voice’, which is what matters. It’s untrue that for children it’s too early to develop a writing voice. That, it is something that can be acquired after years of writing. I agree and disagree. I’ve seen some writing for years and yet a distinct, writing voice does not shine through from within those words. And yet, a child can have his/her own writing voice – if he/she gets ample opportunities to have real conversations.
So, from my current experience with Pari, and past experience with myself as a young writer, I’d say go ahead, grab any and every opportunity to strike up a conversation with your child. Let him/her express.
Be his/her audience. Ask questions, be genuinely interested in what he/she has to say, share your view. Get her/him involved in making decisions – be it choosing a dress, choosing the colour for the curtains, or deciding on a place for vacation. These are opportunities for the child to express an opinion, reason it out and in the bargain – know his/her own mind.
9. Knowing your mind – that’s the key to writing
Also, the depth of your knowledge helps you write with confidence and clarity. So, here comes the value of reading.
Reading and then discussing. Brings me back to conversations. Ha!
And you know what - conversations are what make a family stick together, bond and understand. It’s easy to understand why, isn’t it?
I don’t think I’ll exaggerate if I go on to say that in conversations lie the key to learning. Let’s unlock this opportunity for our children.
Do you love writing? What other suggestions you’d want to pass along for encouraging children to write?
Or, does writing sound like a burden to you? Why? What has been your personal challenge in writing?