How to homeschool a kid who hates to write

The following is a guest post written by Anne Bogel of Modern Mrs. Darcy

simple-homeschool-writingpicmo

For whatever reason, some kids hate to write.

I don’t mean they dislike it, or they’d rather not today, thank you. No, I’m talking about those kids for whom writing “The cat sat on the mat,” requires the physical effort and mental stamina of climbing Pike’s Peak (but probably with a lot more fussing, whining, crying and arguing).

These kids aren’t faking: writing is genuinely difficult for them. (Especially when they’re young, and especially for boys.)

Your challenge as a teacher, a parent, and an academic coach is to keep their disdain for handwriting from turning into a hatred of school, which happens all too often because the thing they hate most (handwriting) permeates every subject.

Thankfully, most writing haters get over it–without intervention–by 4th or 5th grade.

But until then, these tips will help you — and your child — cope.

9 tips for doing school with a kid who hates to write

1. As far as you can, eliminate the writing in every subject but writing. 

The goal is simply to master the material.

2. Do the work out loud.

Instead of written worksheets, try oral drills for math facts, phonics, translations, fill-in-the-blanks, paragraph summaries, etc. Or, do the worksheet but do it out loud.

3. Use stickers.

If your child is completing a worksheet, try writing the answers on small stickers in advance. Your student can then place the correct sticker in the appropriate spot for his answer. (This has the advantage of feeling like a game.)

matching-game

4. Make it a matching game.

With a little advance work on your part, your child can match up Spanish nouns with their meanings, coins with their names, states with their capitals, dates with historical facts, and anything else you can think of.

5. Play “secretary” for your student.

They dictate, you record. This lets your creative child get their stories, summaries, or science observations out of their head and onto paper.

6. Get creative with spelling word practice.

To practice “writing” spelling words, let your child “spell” the words with his finger in a shallow container of rice, sand, beans, or water. No paper or pencil required.

7. Consider starting typing early.

We started our pencil-hating kids on Ten Thumbs at age 7 (at their request), but kids as young as 5 can begin typing lessons. Dance Mat Typing from the BBC is another good program — and it’s free.

8. When your kid must write, equip them with coping strategies to help them handle it better, or let them find their own.

My writing-haters self-soothed by swinging, spinning and sprinting down the driveway, preferably before and after handwriting time.

9. Make the writing easier:

  • Switch to markers or smoothly gliding pens.
  • Ditch the paper for a dry erase board. This giant white board has been a game-changer for our school. (I’m not sure we could have handled long division without it.) Individual boards are portable and take up much less space.

These tips and tricks require a little extra work on your part to implement. But if your writing hater still loves school (well, except for handwriting class) I hope you’ll agree with me: it’s worth it.

Do you have (or have you had) a student who hates to write? We need your tips, tricks and coping strategies!

About Anne Bogel

Anne is a certified bookworm and homeschooling mom to 4 crazy kids. She loves Jane Austen, strong coffee, the social graces and social media. You can find her blogging at Modern Mrs Darcy.

Comments

  1. Fortunately my kids like writing ok so far. You mention typing and we will do this by the kids texting their dad during the day. We like white boards, too. I just wrote a post on the importance of making writing meaningful, which works way better than boring worksheets, in my opinion. http://ourunschoolhouse.com/2014/03/29/meaningful-writing-opportunities-for-emergent-writers/
    Thanks for a great post!

  2. Krysten says:

    I found it physically painful to write as a child. Once I mastered typing school became much easier. Thank you for the free typing program suggestion.

  3. Jennifer says:

    My dyslexic and dysgraphic 7th grader is in public school. We have been transitioning him to speech-to-text software apps. We are considering homeschooling him next year because he spends so much time being frustrated with trying to write things down.

  4. Oh, man! Been there, done that! We had to drop writing anything for years with my oldest. She’s 14 now, and can write, but it is clearly still painful for her, and her handwriting and spelling are way below average (as compared to her younger sisters). It helped that we had her tested as a 4 year old (long story–I’m not a fan of testing, but it was necessary in her case) and were told by the tester that her fine motor skills were really delayed. It helped because we knew her inability to hold a pencil was organic instead of character based, and we were so new into our homeschool (and parenting) journey that we needed to be told that by an outside source. All we did for her entire K-6 years was read aloud, talk, and do science activities. We’d try writing here and there to see how she was doing, and along the way she learned to hold a pencil and type. This coming year (her 9th grade year) she’s going to work through a 3rd grade handwriting course (her choice). It will be interesting to see how it goes. :)
    Anne’s latest post: My Favorite Part of General Conference . . .

  5. My daughter loved writing practice as a preschooler. I started making sure she was practicing writing much more frequently in our homeschool through Kindergarten and 1st grade, and by then she hated writing. My schooling methods had made her hate writing!! (I wrote more about this here: http://nourishedandnurtured.blogspot.com/2014/04/why-i-stopped-pushing-in-our-homeschool.html)

    Once I embraced the TJEd philosophy, I stopped forcing my daughter to write, and she literally would not even write a word for several months afterwards. Now it has been a year since I stopped forcing her to write, and she no longer hates writing. It still isn’t her favorite thing to do, but she will write now without any complaints.

    The key to getting her back into writing has been to NEVER force her to write anything. Instead, I look for opportunities when writing would naturally compliment what she is doing. For instance, my daughter loves to create and make her own recipes. We don’t do this very often because it is rather time-intensive. But when I can carve out several hours, my daughter will make her own recipe (with just some pointers from me). I’ve encouraged her to write the recipes down so she would be able to duplicate the end result. I will write down a list of all the ingredients she has chosen to use and leave blank space for her to fill-in the amounts. (She would just give up on it if she had to write it all down herself.)

    Some other ways I encourage her to write are:

    -We play a game where we pretend that we can’t hear, and our only form of communication is to write to each other. She still needs lots of help with spelling, so I have printed a list of common words for her that she can reference if she wants to.

    -We each have our own nature notebook where we can journal and draw what we’ve seen outside, animals at the zoo, things from the garden, etc. If I make sure to regularly write in my journal, my daughter will want to naturally write in her’s too. Sometimes she wants to write something long, but doesn’t want to write it all, so I will help by writing it for her. But sometimes I am still working on my own journal entry so she will get started with it on her own. :)

    -When my daughter wants to have something written down but doesn’t want to write it herself, I will offer to write it so she can trace over my letters. She does this fairly frequently, and it helps her not worry so much about not quite remembering how to make some of the letters.

    -I encourage my daughter to make cards or pictures for people. She will naturally want to write on many of these creations.

    -We play Hang-Man. My daughter has so much fun with this game. We take turns creating the puzzle to solve. When she makes a puzzle to solve, she usually makes it an arithmetic problem for me to solve (such as 1+100=101 or something involving a not-equal sign which is much more challenging for me to solve).

    With all of these games/activities, I’ve never told my daughter they were for school. I just introduced them at some random time and she has enjoyed them, so they have never had the connotation of being a forced activity.

    If you decide to stop forcing your child to write, don’t worry if they don’t do any writing on their own for a time. So long as you make sure to keep writing things yourself in their presence, they will eventually want to write some things down too. Now my daughter’s handwriting is not quite as nice as it was a year ago when I was forcing her to do writing practice, but she actually wants to write now and I think that is much more important.
    Sarah Smith’s latest post: Why I Stopped Pushing in Our Homeschool

  6. Kristen says:

    Did you have to purchase Ten Thumbs for each individual child? We’re looking for a fun typing program for the summer but I have 3 kiddos who would want to use it.

  7. I have one of these writing-haters! And you’re right–he’s actually brilliant and can work wonders in his mind, his 7-y-old fingers just can’t seem to make the letters clearly and it makes him (and me!) crazy. Thank you so much for these thoughts, Anne. This is really helpful.
    Kari Patterson’s latest post: When everything’s unraveling and you desperately need hope…

  8. I’m so glad they’re helpful–and that we’re in good company. :)
    Anne @ Modern Mrs Darcy’s latest post: How to homeschool a kid who hates to write

  9. One of my children was very resistant to putting pencil to paper and I tried to separate writing (as in composition/composing words) and writing (as in handwriting). Dictation worked very well for him. He would narrate a story or a summary and I would be the scribe – exactly like your secretary suggestion!
    I think this is a great post because I think everyone thinks it is only their kid who hates to write. Thanks Anne.
    sheila’s latest post: Favorite Books: Literary Fiction

  10. I started to read your post with interest and then got to the part where you said it should be over by 4th or 5th grade……and I said “Oh no!!” I have an 11 yr.old son who really hates to even pick up a pencil to write. He loves to draw pictures however:). He has a great imagination but cannot pick up the pencil to write it down! He loves to read and does tons of it, but his spelling is really bad. I do as much as I think is appropriate verbally, but by age 11 he really should be writing himself. I took him out of school and have been homeschooling for 3.5 months. We started at the beginning of All About Spelling, (he still spells great “graet”), and we are trying the Getty Dubay Italic handwriting course. He does well academically in everything else except for creative writing and while he does write out answers to science and history, it’s hardly legible. I encourage him to dictate to me for creative writing and he still really balks at it. I would appreciate any suggestions or recommendations. What are the possibilities of him having dysgraphia? I can’t do all his writing for him (as I’ve seen suggested) because I am homeschooling 3 more children and I’m brand new to this. Thanks for any help!

    • How about, “around fourth or fifth grade it starts to fade”? That’s 9-11 years old.

      I’m just tossing this out there: when we were concerned about one of our kids last year (were we dealing with a quirk, or a bona fide organic problem that would require professional intervention?) we saw a specialist about it. I quit worrying about my kid once we got a professional opinion. (The specialist said our kid was fine, gave us some coping strategies, but even if we had discovered an issue that needed intensive treatment, I would have been glad to have known what exactly we were dealing with.)
      Anne @ Modern Mrs Darcy’s latest post: 27 books you can borrow for free from the Kindle lending library (with Amazon Prime)

  11. And I just want to add that he took typing at his school and was really bad at it and has no interest in doing it here at home, so until he changes his attitude towards that, it doesn’t seem to be an option. I’ve tried “fun” typing programs but they don’t work for him. I seen the cover only of a book called “dysgraphia, and the sure way to get over it” or something like that. Is it that really that easy?

  12. I’ve been struggling with how to get my 8 year old son to write more. Anytime I ask him to write something it turns into a chore for both of us. I know he would be forced to write way more if he were in school (not sure if that would be a good thing though). The funny thing is, like Sarah said above, he loves to draw. I’ll be trying some of these tips today!

  13. Thank you so much for sharing!!! My 7 y/o boy HATES to write and we’ve been using some alternative ways to give the class. Now we can use some of your ideas too. :-)
    Diana Miranda’s latest post: Excursión: Refugio de Especies @ Bosque Cambalache, Arecibo (Ciencia)

  14. Thank you for this post. It’s encouraging to know we aren’t the only ones who are working through this challenge. Your suggestions are great.
    A recent visit to the optometrist has led us to a possible solution – vision therapy. Though my daughter has 20/20 vision, she was diagnosed with eye tracking and teaming issues that make handwriting (and reading/spelling) very fatiguing for her. The optometrist is totally confident that we see vast improvement after she completes the prescribed therapy.
    Just thought I would mention it in case it might be helpful to anyone.

  15. In some situations, the act of holding a pencil properly and writing with it can actually be painful because the child hasn’t yet exercised those fine motor skills. I’ve heard things like crocheting and finger knitting recommended to develop the muscles necessary for writing in a fun way.

  16. I’ve studied a few alternative education styles and their way into writing is through through art and tracing and play that leads to beautiful forms and shapes which then lead to cursive (eventually). My daughter hates writing, but has a million ideas in her head. What she does love is art and making beautiful things. It’s been a process, but now that we’ve done a few years of line drawing for fun, she enjoys making borders on things, signing her name in cursive with a flourish, and can (as a bonus) read some of the weirder fonts out there. The link I put here:
    http://www.hsclassroom.net/form-drawing-for-better-handwriting/ is about the overall process and some fun ideas, the next goes into more academic description of how this (and montessori shape tracing) go into writing,
    http://teachingfromatacklebox.blogspot.com/2012/06/preparation-for-handwriting-form.html and at the bottom is a link of resources about form drawing. Hope this is helpful to you!

    http://waldorfcurriculum.com/Articles/FD.html

  17. Stephanie says:

    My son also just hated to write. Every time he had homework, needed to send a thank-you note, or whatever, there was whining, complaining, and even crying involved. He often begged me to be his scribe! It was a major source of stress in our relationship.

    Finally, at his 9 yr checkup with our pediatrician, I asked for an OT referral. The OT tested him and found that he had retained a reflex called the Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex. We did some exercises (which looked like physical therapy: no pencils involved) for about 20 minutes a day, and 7-8 weeks later the reflex was gone. You could see in his daily planner from school that toward the end of his therapy, his writing suddenly got 50% smaller, and best of all, he has NOT ONCE complained about writing since. (!!) He also mentioned that he can see the paper differently when he writes. It feels like a miracle!

    So this route might be something you might consider investigating. (There are also online resources, if you want to read up on it.) It was truly worthwhile for us!

  18. Thanks for this article. My first grader detest writing. And it truly does make her hate school. She goes on huge rants about how boring I make school. I have felt that it would be failure to not do writing in every subject, as if I was letting her win. This article has helped take some guilt away.

  19. I LOVE Jennifer Hallissy’s book The Write Start. http://www.amazon.com/The-Write-Start-Nurturing-Scribbling/dp/1590308379
    It has helped us a lot because it makes all the younger-year writing practical. It’s the only writing we’ve done for awhile. If my kid wants a specific thing at the grocery store (or many!) he has to write up a list for me. When he gets a gift, he has to write a thank you. These are obvious ones but her book has sooo many great and practical writing lessons (and tips to know when they’re ready) for all ages from Scribblers” to “Scholars”. I don’t buy many books but I’m glad I invested in this one. I go back to it a lot.
    Sarah M
    Sarah M’s latest post: Spring Beauty for Spring Break

  20. Hi, thanks so much for this article. I have an 8 year old son who HATES to write anything. I have been limiting what he writes, but I am concerned that by doing that it keeps him from learning how to write. I feel like he is getting further and further behind in his writing. You are saying he will grow out of it? Will he eventually be willing. He is such a perfectionist that part of the reason he hates it is that he can’t do it perfectly. Wouldn’t more practice help that? I don’t mind at all using the suggestions, in fact we do many of them. I am just concerned by limiting the writing is doing him a disservice.

  21. On, Anne, thank you so much for writing this!! I have a child for whom writing is very painful and difficult. I realized this when I switched up his spelling lessons and stopped requiring that he write the words. For the longest time I thought he was struggling with spelling, but it was actually just the writing. Now he uses letter tiles (kind of like scrabble tiles) to practice spelling his words, and it turns out he’s pretty good at it!! He has been struggling with his Math workbook lately, and it hadn’t occurred to me to reduce the writing component in math or any other subject. THANK YOU for the ideas you offered here. I can’t wait to try them to see if he can be encouraged in areas other than spelling! I love your ideas so much, I hope I get to link to them at some point in a future post! Thanks again! -Theresa
    Theresa @ OrdinaryLovely’s latest post: 1 Year of Type 1 Diabetes :: Part 2 :: Looking Back at the Weeks Before the Diagnosis

  22. Altamira says:

    After a Playful Learning course about writing…My daughters loved to write!!! I learn a lot too!!! I highly recommend this course!!!

  23. T Harlow says:

    My 7 year old boy just can’t stand writing. He says all of it is too hard. We do online schooling and his teacher is pushing the writing hard. She may even have him repeat first grade because he has not mastered writing. I’m frustrated because this is the only thing lacking in his first grade mastery. Thank you for the tips. I’m sure they will make our school day go much smoother!

  24. I’m not sure what it is about whiteboards, but they seem to take a lot of panic out of the panic subjects:) I have used them often for math and writing. We even have a few $2 personal whiteboards from Walmart, which is so easy to take into different rooms or outside if a change of scenery is needed. This article has good advice, and I have found many of those suggestions have worked for us.
    Sarah @ teachafish’s latest post: National Homeschool Debacle Month

  25. Tracy S. says:

    My oldest child has poor fine motor skills due to a disability. Prior to Kindergarten, I picked the brains of every homeschooler I knew for recommendations on how to teach reading without teaching writing at the same time. One book kept coming up: Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. I taught her how to read first, and then writing came later. We also had a deal that any math that she could do in her head, she could tell me the answer and would not have to write it down. She was amazingly good at mental math! She did eventually learn to write legibly, although she prefers her computer.

  26. Great ideas! I especially love #3!! I plan on trying that next week for my struggling writer (who ironically has the best handwriting of all my kiddos)! My oldest son also would “resist” when asked to write when he was younger. I remember how freeing it was for both of us when one day I finally broke down and just told him that we would talk through the math worksheet together. He flew through the problems in a tenth of the time, and we realized that fighting about writing was not worth it. He is 10 now, and it is not as much of an issue anymore. At least now my 7 year old has a more understanding mother! Thanks for the post.

  27. Ugh. My 14ds(Adhd) cannot write. It’s like there’s a disconnect between his brain and his fingers. And the thought of having to write something leaves him so overwhelmed he can’t even get the words in his head to begin with. When he’s not stressed about knowing he has to write it down (or even that he has to tell me abd I’ll write it down) he’s fine. Top scores on national tests. Straight As And in 8th grade is taking high school algebra, science, and sadly ELA… Which I wish we were just taking regular 8th grade English language arts. He’s struggling so bad right now. (We use K12 through an online public charter school. We were doing traditional homeschool but he wanted to go back to public school at some point for HS; I needed him prepared to be successful by understanding definitive due dates, teachers who don’t think their footie pajamas are acceptable, etc lol)
    But I’m at a loss. I don’t know how to help him. I have no problem writing. Words fall from my fingers like water. I’ve never struggled. I have no idea what it’s like for him to not be able to catch those swirling dervish words in his mind, so fast he can’t comprehend them as they pass again and again…
    And without that understanding…. How can I help?
    I have gone to our K12 teachers and ended up being sent to the remedial special ed reading teacher. :-/
    He reads on a college level. He literally taught himself to read by reading my college anatomy and chemistry books… he doesn’t need title whatever.
    He needs someone to help him pull the words and thoughts out of the jumble of his head.

    • I don’t know why your obviously intelligent child can’t write, but have you seen a specialist? They may be able to identify the “why,” which in turn could help your child move forward. Several of the above comments also include stories of parents who discovered an unexpected underlying reason for their child’s hatred of writing or inability to do it, and with that understanding were able to do something about it.

      Wishing you and your family well. Your child sounds like an amazing student!
      Anne @ Modern Mrs Darcy’s latest post: 27 books you can borrow for free from the Kindle lending library (with Amazon Prime)

  28. Christina W says:

    Something we have been doing for math: I bought a set of number stamps and a stamp pad so that my young son can focus on solving the problems rather than number formation.
    Thanks for all of the great tips for limiting handwriting as we continue forward.

  29. Dorothy K. says:

    My 2 sons were homeschooled from kindergarten through graduation. My second son enjoyed putting his thoughts and ideas on paper through drawing and some writing, but when it came to writing for school, he struggled with putting answers on paper. We discovered that he had some learning challenges through a series of tests. Traditional education offers few strategies beyond coping mechanisms for students who are quite bright, but have these types of struggles. However, I would like to recommend the website nild.net to parents who are unsure if their child/student truly has a challenge or is defiant. The national institute for learning disabilities has some truly wonderful therapists who have the tools to help students reach their potential while relieving some learning angst. Their programs made an enormous difference for my son and gave him applicable skills which he still uses as a college student. I can’t recommend this resource enough and I hope it will be helpful to someone else reading this post!

  30. These are all great! My only suggestion is that when you have to creative write, try a quick write of 10 min. Do it with your child…don’t worry about spelling or handwriting or anything, but getting words on a page. 10 min of whatever you brain comes up with…might start it with “The door opened and then…..”
    My oldest has a hard time with letter sounds, my youngest has a pyhsical problem with his hands, I hate writing…we all manage with all the same suggestions you have given and the quick write.

  31. Shamus oToole says:

    Thanks for the article. Would love to get your thoughts on this: my son is in his second year of high school and still hates writing. His English teacher says in class he is attentive and can verbally articulate well thought out ideas however, when it comes to putting it in writing it doesn’t reflect his ability. She has suggested, as the article does, that typing could be of benefit to him, but she does caution that when he has to do exams and MUST handwrite his responses it could put him at a disadvantage.

  32. This is all 4 if my kids!!! Unfortunately schools really stress writing from an early age now–not just handwriting but sentences, paragraphs, essays, reports, all too early. Schools have drilled the love of learning out of my kids, and now as a homeschooler I’m trying to reteach them to love it again. Just like reading, I feel a child will mature and grow to like it ‘when they are ready.’ I’ve taken most writing out of school (except a little handwriting-which is solely copying/tracing) and am very slowly reintroducing it. I use some occupational therapy tricks too to strengthen their hand muscles and dexterity. Mechanical pencils force a child to not push so hard, a little plastic grip to promote better hand-hold, homemade putty to play with for flexibility and strength… Dictation and typing have been a HUGE lifesaver! Often the hate of writing is a result of another issue like dysgraphia or dyslexia, motor or sensory issues, etc… Thanks for sharing this!!

  33. I got my son to write things down for me on my grocery list as I go through the kitchen and see what we need. He inserts little extras, and if I can read them, he gets them. He feels like he is helping me, and his handwriting has improved tremendously. He still does not like writing for schoolwork, but realizes it is something he will need to know how to do and he is much less resistant now than when I first began homeschooling him.

  34. Robin Fowler says:

    There are some great tips in this article. I would encourage any parent who has a child who is still struggling with writing past 2nd grade and who isn’t just a reluctant writer to consider the need for an evaluation for dysgraphia. By the end of 2nd grade and into 3rd grade if you are still seeing problems with the mechanics of writing (letter reversals and pencil grips) then there maybe a bigger issue than just reluctance that will resolve with maturity.

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