One of my very favorite things to do is share the joy of writing with children. They are so full of ideas and stories. Adults often find themselves envious of the child’s imagination and creativity. Somewhere along the way from childhood to adulthood, many adults feel as though they have lost the ability to imagine and create. How sad this is!
Unfortunately, the step-by-step approach we often take with writing with children seems to smother that creativity and turn writing into a chore rather than honor the art form that it is. I’ve seen children, brimming with creative spark, move from writing for the pure joy of sharing their thoughts to writing what they think others, mainly the adults in their lives, want to hear. The children are looking for the right answer according to the adult.
The child’s writing is no longer an expression of himself, but a reflection of the expectations of the adult.
What if the way we teach writing is all wrong? What if we shouldn’t ‘teach’ it at all? What if our job, as the adults, is simply to mentor our children on their journey as writers?
In What a Writer Needs, Ralph Fletcher says that writers need mentors. Wherever a writer is along his writing path, he needs a mentor who is more experienced than he is. This is good news for all the parents who feel like they can’t help their children as they develop their writing skills. Just by the fact that we have been alive longer than our children, most of us have more experience with writing and can act as a mentor.
But what does a mentor do? Ralph Fletcher lists six traits of a good mentor.
- A Mentor has high standards.
- A mentor builds on strengths.
- A Mentor values originality and diversity.
- A mentor encourages students to take risks.
- A mentor is passionate.
- A mentor looks at the big picture.
The attributes of the mentor are what most parents would say they want for their children, high standards, originality, passion. What better way to encourage these traits in our children than to model them.
We can see that nowhere on this list does it say, ‘the mentor assigns writing topics’ or ‘the mentor grades the writing’ or ‘the mentor picks apart the writing until the original piece can’t be seen and the child is turned off to writing.’
I know that the last comment seems harsh but I have seen it happen again and again. When anyone, a child or an adult, shares his or her writing, that person is opening up a part of themselves. As a mentor, we must treat the vulnerability of this exposure with respect. If we do otherwise, we will not be given the honor of being invited into the writer’s creative space again.
So it is our privilege and responsibility to act as guide, helping our children to build upon the strengths and passion they naturally bring to writing, holding the space for them to authentically express themselves, and honoring that the words and ideas within them are worth sharing.