Practice, explore, play! Helping kids enjoy the writing process


Written by children’s author Caroline Starr Rose

As a former teacher, I’m well aware that writing isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.

Can I let you in on a little secret? It’s not always my thing, either.

This is a strange confession coming from a children’s author, but an important one, I think.

If writing is sometimes “unfun” for a person who does it for a living, how much more challenging is it for the kid who doesn’t enjoy it in the first place?

Here are some things I’ve learned about the writing life — both as a teacher and as a student of the discipline — that I hope might encourage you and your young writers:

1. Everyone is creative.

While writing might not be every child’s strong suit, every person has a creative side. (For grown ups, it might take a bit of digging to find, but I promise, it’s there.)

When it comes to writing, it’s easy to focus on mechanics or fluency as ultimate measurements of ability or skill, leaving some kids at a disadvantage before they’ve even begun. We need to help children understand they already have what it takes to write because they were born creative.

2. Choice and freedom are key.

There will be times when young writers need to tackle particular assignments like research papers or responsive essays, but I believe it’s even more important that kids are given the freedom to choose their own topics as often as possible.

They should be given the freedom to write without some higher purpose (including concerns about grammar and spelling) and have opportunities to create for their own pleasure and benefit alone.

3. Listen to the world.

Creative people listen to and observe the world around them. In listening, we catch details we might otherwise miss, bits and pieces that enrich our thoughts and lives. If we invite children to look and listen, they will come to their writing with artistic pumps already primed.

One simple way to do this is to regularly model the things that make us stop and wonder. Another is to ask kids to keep notebooks where they paste, color, and collect ideas or questions that might lead to future writing projects of their own. Here’s a ready-made notebook your writers might enjoy!

4. Tinker, explore, create, play!

I’ve transformed my own approach to writing in the last year by dropping the “w-word” from my vocabulary. Instead of writing, I now practice, explore, or play. It’s impossible to have a “bad” writing day when I’m simply practicing, just as there’s no right or wrong way to play.

Any time I show up to my work with this mindset, there is something to be gained.

When young writers can be taught to approach their writing playfully, the heavy burden of getting it “right” falls away.

5. Frustration is part of the process.

There comes a point when I’m writing a book that I’m sure I’ve broken it. The story feels like it’s beyond repair. Sometimes this happens multiple times!

If kids know ahead of time frustration is a natural part of the writing process, the experience can be less intimidating. Those moments of struggle might be shorter lived.

Instead of fearing them, writing challenges can be seen for what they are: opportunities to go deeper and wider, obstacles that if faced will eventually lead to breakthroughs, growth, and change.

6. Revision’s where the real writing happens.

Revision means exactly what it sounds like — a chance to see a piece of writing again, this time in a new light. As a young teacher, I didn’t understand how crucial revision was.

I wish I’d known then to ask my students the questions I now ask myself after I finish a draft:

  • What is it you’re trying to say?
  • What was your original idea?
  • How has it changed, for better or worse?
  • What changes need to be made to bring this piece of writing in line with your vision for it?

This book is an excellent collection of revision strategies based on the work of published authors.

7. Writing as self-directed learning.

One of my favorite things about writing historical fiction is picking an era that intrigues me and digging in. I spend as much time as I need to learn all that I can. I’m both student and teacher in that I set the curriculum, scope of my studies, and pace.

The books that I write provide readers with a chance to learn, too. They’re not tools meant to point to historical facts but opportunities for readers to witness the world during another time, to see that though we might be different from people who lived long ago, our emotional experiences are largely the same.

My newest book, Jasper and the Riddle of Riley’s Mine, is a middle-grade novel about the Klondike gold rush. In it, eleven-year-old Jasper follows his brother Melvin to the Klondike in search of gold. Along the way the boys hear of One-Eyed Riley’s mine, a mysterious claim worth millions.

Jasper’s convinced he and Mel will be the first ones to find it. All they have to do is survive the rough Canadian terrain and some unsavory fellows also after Riley’s treasure.

If you’d like to use my newest novel to create a unit study on the Klondike gold rush, or if you’d just like to learn more, here are some helpful links:

A note from Jamie: All of Caroline’s books are imaginative and full of heart, and her newest release about the gold rush COMPLETELY captivated my two boys–Jonathan read it twice, Elijah begged me to read it aloud, & the two of them spontaneously decided to act out much of it together while listening. Such fun!

About Caroline Starr Rose

Caroline Starr Rose is an award-winning middle grade and picture book author whose books have been American Library Association Notable, Junior Library Guild, American Booksellers Association New Voices, Kids’ Indie Next, Amazon’s Best Books of the Month for Kids, and Bank Street College of Education Best Books selections. In addition, her books have been nominated for almost two dozen state awards lists. In 2012 Caroline was named a Publishers Weekly Flying Start Author for her debut novel, May B. She spent her childhood in the deserts of Saudi Arabia and New Mexico and taught social studies and English in four different states. Caroline now lives with her husband and two sons in New Mexico. You can find her at http://www.carolinestarrrose.com/.

Comments

  1. I’ve got a 19 month old who loves being read to.

  2. My kids are 10, 8, 6, 4, and 2. My oldest is always writing a new book!

  3. Lisa Smith says:

    I’ve got five kiddos. 😍 13, 11, 8, 4, and 1. My 11 year old writes the most but no one has picked up a passion for it…yet.

  4. Lisa Smith says:

    I also follow both on Instagram!!

  5. Elizabeth says:

    My kids are 16,12,11. My 12 year old loves writing comic books.

  6. Susan Allred says:

    My youngest three are 15, 11, &10. One is currently writing a mystery novel!

  7. Hello! Thanks for the opportunity to win. My kids are 8, 5, and 3. My eldest likes to dapple in writing. Her creative juices flow much more easily when she’s left to her own devices, rather than restrained by a writing curriculum.

  8. LeKeshua Malone says:

    I have a 9 yr old son and a 7 yr old daughter. They both enjoy writing. They enjoy writing stores, songs, and scripts.

  9. My girls are 12 and 14. The 12 year old is always writing stories and poems, but they both are always TELLING stories. Like, long, involved stories. It is one of their greatest past times.

  10. What a fun post and prize package! I have a 9.5-year-old daughter and a newly seven-year-old son. My daughter always has a new story idea, and she likes to play with words. Her latest writing experiment is acrostic poems written from the perspective of our cat. Truly hilarious. 🙂

  11. I follow both on Instagram.

  12. My boys are 11 and 9. My nine year old says that he hates writing, but I find him writing stories sometimes. He is very creative and a great storyteller. I think his passion for writing is just around the corner.

  13. I have a 9, 6, 4, and 1 year old. My 9 year old loves to write. She is actually working on a book right now 🙂

  14. Leslie M P says:

    My children are ages 16, 13, and 3. The oldest enjoys writing, especially poetry; my middle–no, he doesn’t enjoy writing at all. The youngest likes to scribble and LOVES to be read to.

  15. Leslie M P says:

    I follow both on Instagram.

  16. Adrienne Vacanti says:

    My boys are 6 & 8. They love to read with me and make up their own stories. Sometimes they even write them down!

  17. My son is 11 and loves writing! We’ve done NaNoWriMo the past three years together.

  18. Kara Bidelspach says:

    My daughter is 16. We just started homeschooling and she is finding her voice while writing.
    She just started to love reading and writing!

  19. My kids are 14, 12, 11, 10, 6 and 4. Three of my olders say they hate to write and one loves to. My so. Year old is enjoying it more as she reads more.

  20. 11, 9, 6 My oldest is a poet at heart and, when allowed to write without force, can really write beautiful creations. My middle has really grown in his writing this year. His creativity is starting to transfer to the page. My youngest is a great story teller.

  21. My kids are 16, 14, 12, and 7. Some of them have written stories without my help, but I wouldn’t say they have a passion for it. I used to write stories…well, start stories. They rarely got finished.

  22. annabelle says:

    They are 11, 9, and 7.
    Writing no, but storytelling yes! They can spend hours telling a story together and there is a new story every day. I know that one day writing will be easier which in turn allow it to become a passion. Thank you for sharing 🙂

  23. Heather Baier says:

    My girls are 8 and 5. My oldest doesn’t like writing but I will be starting this new approach to it today!

  24. Lisa Miles says:

    My son is 10 and really struggles with writing; he has some special challenges overall, but has really improved this year! Letting him write about things he’s passionate about and having time to do so without it being graded has been very helpful.

  25. Heather Baier says:

    Following both on Instagram

  26. Lisa Miles says:

    Following both now on IG. 😊

  27. Bethany Thorsness says:

    My children are 9, 7, & 4. While I don’t see signs yet of a passion for writing, I have seen good results when I’ve allowed then to pick their topics and encouraged them to write about the things that excite them. Haiku writing is way more fun when the topic is Mario Bros. 🙂

  28. Heather Minardi says:

    My boys are 10, 9 and 4. They do not have a passion for writing yet 🙂

  29. Brittni A says:

    My children are 10, 7 & 4. My oldest loves writing books.

  30. Brittni A says:

    I follow both on Instagram.

  31. Carrie Eacker says:

    10, 8 and 5. Passionate readers. No passionate writers.

  32. 10, 8, 6, my oldest two enjoy writing!

  33. Beverly G says:

    I have 3 boys, ages 15, 14 & 13 (this Friday), and a girl who is 6. None of the boys enjoy writing (not sure about our daughter yet), but they all love to read and listen to stories.

  34. Katherine says:

    My kids are 7, 6, 3, and 2. The older two have just started writing their own stories and it’s so fun!

  35. My kids are 7,5, and 3–BGB. They are just starting to enjoy writing notes to me asking me for stuff, “can we wotch somting? Circle yes or no.” lol it’s a start 😄

  36. My boys are 8 and 5. I have tried to take a very relaxed approach to writing with my 8 yo. Recently he wrote two stories all of his own accord. We are working on putting them into book fork with illustrations, etc. now that he has the plot how he wants it.

  37. Also, I follow both Jamie and Caroline on Instagram. Thanks for the great giveaway; fingers crossed!

  38. I have a 16-month-old boy whom I read to every day. He loves books and will go to his basket of books and pick out ones for my to read to him. Sometimes he even sits and “reads” to himself.
    Thanks for hosting this giveaway!

  39. My children are 11 and 9! My 11 year old son just wrote a puppet skit for the children’s program at our church. My 9 year old daughter “stays up late” writing “like Jo” in Little Women.

  40. My kids are 12, 10, 8, and 4. My 12 year old loves to write! She could write all day long.
    Julie

  41. My kids are 11 and almost 9. Both of my kids love to write while in school, but don’t do it at home. I’m hoping to inspire them to continue writing this summer. Thanks for the great giveaway. Awesome job on the blog (and not just because of the giveaway 😀). Thanks!

  42. My boys are 8 and 5. They both love making books. The 5 year-old’s is full of scribbles, but it s a great beginning!

  43. Jennifer Anderson says:

    My children are 11,9 and 8. The eldest daughter loves to write.

  44. Jennifer Anderson says:

    I am following both on Instagram!

  45. I have seven: 11,9,7,6,4,3,18 months. And one on the way! We read historical fiction and this book sounds excellent. My oldest likes to try his hand at writing and with encouragement could begin to have a passion. Thanks for your website. It’s inspiring!

  46. My 7 children range from age 11-25. My one daughter has a definite gift and interest in writing. This became apparent when she began to read and write and would write many short stories and has continued to this day, which helps her as she works to earn her degree in elementary education.

  47. Natalie Jones says:

    My children are 11, 9, & 6. My 9-yr-old LOVES to write, even entering the HLSDA essay contest last year. My 6-yr-old is just entering the writing stage & has enjoyed it so far, so I have hope. My 11-yr-old HATES writing because, in large part, he is such a perfectionist. But he’s growing — I think it is now a strong dislike, not so much hate, actually. 🙂

    Thanks for these helpful tips & a chance to win!

  48. Jenny Smith says:

    My son is 9 and, while he’s not yet passionate about writing, he LOVES books (especially historical fiction) and creating stories!

  49. My son is 11 and my daughter is 9. She loves to write! She wrote her first book as a Christmas gift for my husband.

  50. Erica Millick says:

    My daughter is 10yo and while she loves to read and is very creative, she struggles with writing. She has moments of inspiration but usually sees it as a chore. I really appreciate your helpful comments and will be incorporating to try and help her enjoy it more.

  51. Mine are 13, 11 and 8. My oldest and youngest love writing and illustrating their own “books”.

  52. My still schooling kids are 12 & 7. All of them love to tell stories and make up “plays” (use blocks, playsilks, small animals and people to set a scene and tell a story) but the mechanics of writing are still a challenge at our house!

  53. Denise Crook says:

    My kids are 12 and 10. Both will sometimes choose to write in their free time, but neither is passionate about it.

  54. I have four sweeties – 19 (already graduated), 16, 14, & 12. My oldest two both love to write, the other two, not so much. Thanks for the book suggestion, it sounds great!

  55. 10, 8, and 2, and one of them usually has a homemade book going.

  56. Amy Sloan says:

    My kids are (almost) 12, 9.5, 6.5, 5, and 2. My 2 oldest love writing poetry, my oldest likes to write non-fiction instructional manuals, and my 9.5 year old begins many stories. The 6.5 year old loves writing letters to others. 🙂

  57. My kids are 13, 10, and 6. Writing is still not the favorite activity for these guys. Legos are much preferred. We do quite a bit of writing about Legos!

  58. Wow:), so exciting!! Our children are 16,11,6,3& a new baby. Both of the oldest love to write, actually we do writing journals EVERY day- no matter what:) Extremely STOKED for this opportunity, hoping to WIN😊Thanks

  59. Lauren J says:

    My son is 4 and loves making up his own stories.

  60. We have 2 , 15 yr olds and yes, they are becoming great writers!

  61. Thanks for the prize opportunity! I am following you both on IG. I love the fact that my 16 yo daughter with special needs (ws) likes to tell stories even though the physical act of writing is difficult for her. I just scribe for her and she does quite well. My other two children still at home (ages 10 and 7) are just beginning to show an interest in writing and telling stories. My son (7) does the story telling but my daughter (10) loves to write!

  62. My kids are 7, 5, and 2. They love creating made up rhymes, songs, poems, and jokes. I try to write them down whenever they can. They love sharing their work with grandparents!

  63. I have a 4 year old and a 9 year old. My 9 year old has been trying to write his own chapter book entitled “Tales of a crazy sister” ever since he read Judy Blume’s “Tales of a fourth grade nothing.”

  64. Kristine says:

    I have a 7 and 9 year old. They both enjoy writing at time and in spurts, and neither dislikes it. Thanks!

  65. Catherine W. says:

    Great writing tips! My kids are 13, 11, and 11, and two of them like to write for pleasure.

  66. Charissa says:

    We have four kids, ages 1, 5, 7, and 10. We are still beginners in our exploration of writing, so I have yet to see if any of our kids will have a particular passion for writing. Thanks so much for the giveaway and the chance to win!

  67. Marybeth says:

    My children are 15,13,10 and 8. The two oldest love to write and are quite good! The youngest are still catching on but are animated storytellers and love to be read to.

  68. 6 and 4 year olds. My 6 year old loves to write short stories and both love listening to stories!

  69. My daughter is 8, and she has really just started to enjoy (a little) some of the writing process. This article was encouraging!

  70. Dana Kolste says:

    I have four kids, 10, 8, 6, and just 5. They are all creative kids, but writing is a hit or miss activity. Some days they love it, some days they hate it, some days it is just a chore to complete. I’m okay with that since I do see their skills increasing no matter how they feel about it.

  71. My boys are 6 and 9 and although my 6 year old is not physically writing on his own yet, I have transcribed many fantastic stories. He loves making up tales and also like to tell stories back and forth with me, each of us adding a few lines at a time.

  72. Nicole Floyd says:

    My kids are 14,6, and 2. The older 2 are both reluctant writers. My 2yr old loves to scribble out anything and everything though!

  73. My kids and I are always looking for more books to accompany story time. Thank you for this opportunity!

  74. Rachel Taylor says:

    This gave me some wonderful ideas! We are a family of 9. We have children ages 14,11,9,7,5,3,2. I homeschool 4 of them right now. The oldest attends a public school but loves writing and speech. The 11 yr old used to love to make up stories but not as much anymore. The 9 and 7 yr olds are learning more about writing. The 5 yr old loves to talk and always has a story to tell, i can see her as a artistic writer someday.

  75. I’m so excited about this giveaway! My kiddos are 10, 8, and 5 😊. My 10 year old daughter absolutely loves writing (she has written many, many stories) and is also constantly reading. My 8 year old has started writing one story, but hasn’t fallen in love with writing….yet 😉.

  76. I follow both on Instagram! ☺

  77. My older boys (10.5 & almost 8) love writing, when they can manage to forget it’s an assignment. Once, my oldest decided to write a story in Japanese, so he got his Cracker Barrel quill pen and a Japanese-English dictionary and spent hours copying down hirigana and katakana word by word. He’d gotten through about a paragraph before I asked him to go ahead and write the English translation before he forgot the details. LOL Probably helps that our kids are named after book characters!

  78. Katherine says:

    I have an 8 year old who likes to write reports after reading about a chosen person in history. Second grade and loves to read big chapter books. My six year old loves notebooks and pens and jots little things down, likes to read and is inspired by big brother. My 10 month old earned a little board book from our library which she read to mommy(baby talk), in our goal 1000 books before kindergarten:-)

  79. 10,8,6

    Copy work

  80. My children are 15,12,10,7, and 3. Some passion in the group and some dislike 🙂 Always looking for ways to become a better teacher and encourager.

  81. Mine are 11 and 13. The oldest is working on her sixth adventure book. She writes daily!

  82. I have a 8,6,5,2,And newborn. The oldest three are not yet physically writing much yet but all three are avid and imaginative story tellers! Sometimes with illustrations😀, too.
    Janet’s latest post: homeschooling through a season of change: Janet’s day in the life with a 7, 6,4, almost 2 year old and newborn.

  83. Followed both of you on IG!

  84. I have a 5 and 8 year old and the oldest loves telling herself stories,and the younger loves writing cards for her family and friends.

  85. Rebecca S says:

    My kids are 5 and 9. My 9 year just started keeping a journal, so I hope this boosts his confidence in his writing ability.

  86. My kids are 5 and 6 and we haven’t done any formal writing instruction yet, but I’m excited to begin incorporating it next year!

  87. My kids are 8, 6, 3 and 1. My oldest three love to write, stories and “books”! From a young age my oldest has had me spelling out words so she can write her thoughts down. My second dictates to me pages and pages to give words to his drawings. My 3 year old likes to follow the older two and staples pieces of paper together and makes mini books.

  88. I have 9 kids ages 9-29. My “baby” enjoys writing stories and reports.

  89. I have 14, 12, 10, and 7 year old kids. My 12 year old is writing a book right now – fan fiction inspired by the GameKnight series. She is on chapter 16!!!

  90. Crystal W says:

    My boy is 10 years old. He loves to type his books.

  91. My kids are 10, 17 and 20. My 10 year old LOVES to write!

  92. I also followed both of you on Instagram.😊

  93. My kids are 9, 7, 5, 4. My oldest wants to be a writer when he grows up, and my second-born tells stories through play and drawing pictures all day long! We’re a house of readers and writers.
    Julie’s latest post: the home stretch.

  94. Jennifer says:

    My kids are 11 and 6. Neither love literal writing, but they love to tell stories.