Help! My Kid Can’t Write!


One of the questions I get a lot is in relation to kids writing – or not writing. This is particularly common with regard to boys. Here are a couple of questions I’ve received via Facebook (Friend me!) lately.

My 12yo writes sentences like he is still in 1st grade. For example: “The dog went outside.” When I try to show him how to make it more interesting by adding other words, it is like pulling teeth (an example of the same sentence above: “The black dog … galloped down the stairs to go outside”). I have even tried using what he loves…animals, to no avail. He sees nothing wrong with the sentences he gives me. Even on stuff where he has to write an answer to a question, I get one word answers. He has an amazing verbal vocabulary, but it doesn’t transfer to writing. HELP!!!!

And another

My son has trouble writing as well, and he speaks in phrases. hard to get his thoughts all organized. He is a freshman. I am not feeling very good as a teacher. 🙁

Every person on the planet has “gaps” in their education. The real goal is not to get the child to write, but to get him to see his need for writing. When educating our children we want them to find the holes in their education that they can fill. It would be impossible for us to fill their buckets with all the knowledge in the world.

I believe this is one of the weaknesses of the current public school system. They have decided what a “comprehensive” education looks like, so they push it at the kids, leaving many of them without a love for learning.

I recently overheard a high school public school student say, “I do enough to not be noticed.” The whole goal for her schooling was to not be noticed. How sad is that? Don’t stand out! Don’t be too smart.

The reason I’ve prefaced this post with these comments is because more than anything it’s not about doing the work that we require of them, it’s about teaching them how to learn and how to love learning. If we end up producing kids who are balanced across the board but don’t love to learn, will they continue to grow as adults?

With that in mind, that is my goal even with the ideas I share. Not every child will “learn” from every idea I give you. Try them, see what works.

Feel free to jump in with some comments of ways you’ve gotten your kids to write —- and to enjoy it!

My daughter Erica joined a website called Fan Fiction. She began reading some of the stories people wrote about some of her favorite characters in her books. Up to that point, she hadn’t really done much writing. (She was 13 when she joined) As of this writing, she has written over 110,000 words in 9 months on the site. She loves writing about the characters that she has already come to know and love. One of the other neat aspects of the site is that people can review your stories. You can search for stories related to their favorite books, Chronicles of Narnia, Lord of the Rings, and even Pride and Prejudice.

Along similar lines, have your child copy a great story, stopping at a crucial point, then have him continue with the story on his own, trying to keep with the writer’s flow. As they copy the work of the masters it will become embedded into their brains as they write the words, causing their minds to “rethink” like the author.

Put away the red pen! If you are in the habit of correcting everything they do, and there are a lot of red pen marks, what you are often succeeding in doing is giving your child yet another reason to not put his thoughts on the paper. If you really want to correct his work, make a copy of it and correct it yourself – for your benefit. Then as you analyze the mistakes you can use those mistakes as future learning opportunities. For example if you notice consistently that your son uses the wrong “there” in his paper, simply help him in conversation about how to know which “there” to use.

Get some fun books like, “Woe is I” or “Eats, Shoots, and Leaves.” They are fun books about writing. Don’t just give your kid the book, he’ll never open it. Read the book yourself then share some of the fun things you’re reading.

Now, let’s say your child wrote a story that sounds like a little kid wrote it. Have him read it outloud to you. Ask him questions about how it sounds, if it made him want to read more, or if it made him think he should draw pictures after every other sentence? Often when the child only reads his paper with his eyes, he doesn’t see any thing wrong with it, but when he reads the paper aloud he is able to grasp that the story is really not what he wants to produce.

For some kids a great way to “write a story” is by telling the story. It may seem like a little kid thing to do, but have your child tell a story into a recording device then translate the story onto paper.

People tell stories all the time. Have you ever heard him excitedly tell you about a movie he saw or a game he watched or something that happened with his friends? If so, help him to turn it into a written story.

There is “story” all around us. Help them to find the stories in their lives and use those for great writing assignments.

If they are really having trouble with writing, please don’t give them 3000 word assignments. Give them a paragraph assignment! Start small and build.

One of my kids found an e-mail pen pal. They began writing back and forth and it was a tremendous way to encourage writing (and spelling!) The only thing I told her was that I did not want her to use e-mail shorthand.

What are some ways that you have gotten reluctant writers to write?

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  1. Kelly Byrne says:

    It was a slow process with my son. I started him out just coloring one object a day. Then two, then three until it was coloring a whole page. It really hurt his hand and he did NOT like to hold a pencil or crayon. We also used the triangular crayons, those helped a lot, then moved him to fat crayons and pencils then to regular sized. We do dry erase boards and chalk, he loves using those so its not like he’s REALLY writing
    😀 Then we moved up to Handwriting without tears. I didn’t worry about how much he did a day as long as he did some. And now he is writing more on his own, lil notes here and there to me. He tries to draw hearts for me. I also got him a comp book for his age, its called my first drawing journal. He draws a picture for me and I write something about the picture for him. Its not writing letters but its building the muscles and coordination in his hand. He has improved so much and even his drawings are getting really good 😀 He finished the HWT book and I rebought it but he was so upset about repeating the book that I stopped using it and went to pushing him to write in other ways, since he writes a lot with his school work I dont force him to do a handwriting course since he finished the book. then next year I will move up to the next book. Anyway thats what we’ve been doing 😀

    My daughter is in 3rd Grade. She has Aspergers Syndrome. Shes extremely bright but has a hard time processing her thoughts and getting them down on paper. I got her this book called Daily Journal Prompts by The Mailbox for grades 1-3. Everyday there are two writing ideas she can choose from. She has her own pretty pink journal. Everyday she writs a sentence in her book. Thats all thats required of her. She is enjoying writing more now and has even started to write more than one sentence on her own without my insistence. Also I notice tonight that she is using correct grammar, punctuation, and capitalization. Things shes picking up on her own by writing.

    The biggest thing I have done is to NOT make a big deal out of these issues. I know that they will learn and they wont go to College unable to write. I dont want them stressed about learning or doing something as simple as writing. Breathe and know they will get it!! 😀

  2. Great ideas Terri! I had forgotten about copywork, definitely going to use that one. Thanks so much for the perspective, and the tips and tricks! It is much appreciated 🙂

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