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Are you struggling to teach writing to a reluctant writer? “My kid hates writing! What can I do to help?” “I can’t stand writing! Do I have to do it?”
Back when I was a teacher, I heard both of these comments frequently. In my class of at-risk teenagers, most hated school. Reading was frustrating and math was confusing, but most kids hated writing most of all.
Teach Writing to a Reluctant Writer
Writing is a hugely complex brain function, which also makes it a bit complex to teach writing. Not only do kids need to think about and understand a topic, but they need to logically organize their thoughts. Then they need to come up with correct vocabulary and remember how to spell it. After that, they need to be coordinated and hold a pencil correctly, form letters, space properly, and write in a straight line. On top of all that, we often ask them to be creative and come up with ideas out of thin air. Writing is a huge challenge!
Unfortunately, writing isn’t something we can just brush off as unimportant. Writing skills are critical to functioning as a member of society, getting a good job, and engaging with the world around us. Our children need to be able to write, which is why a child’s frustration stresses us parents out so much!
Thankfully, there are many steps you can take to help ease your child’s frustration and help get them on track. However, it’s unlikely that anything will fix their hatred overnight. In some cases, you may find that they actually have a learning disability, which requires very specific interventions. Regardless, be persistent and keep encouraging them. They can do it!
First, learn why your kid hates writing
As I showed above, there are three general skill groups a kid must master to write effectively:
- Organize thoughts
- Choose & spell words
- Hand strength & coordination
Any of those areas could be the source of their writing breakdown. Instead of brute-forcing practice and compounding the problem, work smarter instead of harder to teach writing. Help them identify what their biggest problem is.
There might be one other, non-technical reason for your child’s struggles: self-esteem. It’s hard to improve if a child has developed an identity as a bad writer. They might have been told that by a teacher, a peer, or even you, or they just might compare themself unfavorably to others.
Once you’ve determined why your kid hates writing, you can move onto the next step. This is when you help them strengthen that area (or multiple areas one at a time).
Teach Thought Organization with Writing
In order to write well, children need to be able to organize their thoughts. This skill comes from two places: practicing in non-writing ways and reading. Here are a selection of fun activities you can try with your child to help them strengthen this brain muscle.
Talk out loud
Talk out loud so much your child thinks you’re a crazy person. Narrate how you drive, the order of steps to make mac & cheese, and how you decide what to watch on TV. Kids need to hear others’ thought patterns to recognize their own better.
Use graphic organizers to teach writing
These are diagrams designed to help kids see the logical flow of ideas. Depending on the writing assignment, you might need different kinds. We have a TON of graphic organizers, but you can also make your own by googling things like ‘Venn diagram.’
Think of nursery rhymes like Mary Had a Little Lamb or stories with lots of repetition like The Three Little Pigs. These old stories help kids develop an innate sense of how narratives work that can translate into their own tales. Speaking of that…
READ to Teach Writing
Famous novelist John Green says, “Reading is as important as writing when you’re trying to become a writer, because it’s the only apprenticeship you have.”
So take your child to the library as often as you can. Or get an app like Epic! that lets you download thousands of ebooks, if you’d prefer. Read out loud to them, and give them time to read to themselves (if they’re skilled enough). And don’t forget to make sure your child catches you reading once in a while, just so they know it’s not just for kids!
Encourage your child to illustrate the sequence of a story. It might be the mini-chapter on the American Revolution in their history book or an episode of a kid’s story podcast. Regardless, drawing pictures in the order they take place helps kids visualize sequence and logic that otherwise seems very abstract.
Teach Kids to Choose & Spell Words to Improve Writing
Vocabulary lists are pretty much a given in any homeschool curriculum. This is because the faster a kid can mentally retrieve the word they need and spell it correctly, the more they can focus on communicating their ideas effectively. You might source vocab words from your history, science, or health textbooks, or you might get a specific workbook for vocabulary & spelling practice. Either way, there are fun ways to improve!
If your child is at all musical, have them turn the melody of their favorite song into a spelling memorization technique. I don’t know about you, but I *still* remember how to spell bananas with that ridiculous Gwen Stefani song.
Point out words
Roadside signs, food labels, board game directions- everything counts. You and I know that words are everywhere, so help your kiddo improve their awareness of word choice by pointing it out when you see it.
Write words in strange mediums
There are so many ways to practice spelling which are more interesting than sitting at a desk with a pencil and workbook.
- Write words in shaving cream
- Scribble in sand
- Use magnetic letters
- Shape words with playdoh or clay
- Carve words into wood
- Write out words with legos
- Bake pretzels shaped like words
- Stamp out words with footprints in the snow
Shake things up
Sometimes, kids start to associate a certain book or notebook color with misery. Telling them “we’re doing vocab differently today” might be all it takes to shake them out of a mild funk. If you’d like to try, we have a grade K-3 sight word booklet that might help.
Copywork is an exercise where students copy a passage, writing every letter, word, and punctuation mark exactly as the original author did. This helps teach kids writing structure, grammar & vocabulary in addition to getting some handwriting practice. While I’d offer some quality passages from classic works, you could also offer snippets from Percy Jackson or Captain Underpants if it would help morale!
Improve Hand Strength Before & During Writing
The technical, physical part of writing can definitely trip some kids up. Younger children don’t have much experience using a writing instrument, and some older children have fallen out of the habit by using devices too much. Holding a pencil the correct way, using pincer grip muscles, and the stamina required to write for long periods can all be part of the problem. Here are some ways to help if this is why your kid hates writing.
Get a good pen/pencil
There is a proper, ergonomic way to use a pencil correctly. Things like pencil grips can help train children to develop good muscle memory. These can reduce strain and hand cramps.
Fountain pens are also an option, if you have an older child capable of taking care of quality items and managing potential messes. Fountain pens have flowing ink, so you need a fraction of the pressure compared to a ballpoint pen. This makes writing faster & less strenuous!
Send your kid to finger bootcamp! Grab some playdoh, stress balls, or rubber bands and have them do finger exercises to improve the tone in their finger muscles.
Other options might include having them practice piano, play wall ball, or kneading dough for the same result.
Teach Writing without Writing
While it’s good to practice hand writing, it shouldn’t get in the way of learning to write. If your child is pitching a fit solely because of issues related to hand strength, have them opt out of pens/pencils for daily work. Instead, you could let them write with chalk on the driveway, offer typing practice and require writing be done on a device, or
Teach Writing with a Curriculum
It doesn’t all have to be on you. A strong curriculum made especially for reluctant or struggling writers can do a lot to guide you through the process and make writing easier to teach and more fun to learn. The one that has worked best for us is WriteShop. This is the first curriculum we’ve used that (1) really thoroughly takes my kids step-by-step through the writing process and (2) works hard to make all those steps engaging and fun.
If you want other options, we also have the Complete Homeschool Curriculum Guide, now updated!
For more reading on this topic:
- My Child HATES Writing: Two Tips for Turning It Around
- Writing Prompt Journal: No Pressure Creative Writing Activities for Kids
- Writing Activities for Kids: 10 FUN Ideas to get Your Kids Writing!
Hillary is a former teacher who went rogue and became a freelance writer. When not offering support and advice to homeschooling families, she tends to her own garden, family, and cat. You can connect with her on her website, homegrownhillary.com.