Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Writing at Age 5 or 15

I learned to ski when I was 18 years old.  Because I started as an adult, I never gained the fearlessness that is needed to be a good skier.  I always knew I could crash and that pain or injury could disable me.  For nearly two decades my husband, who started skiing as a child and now attacks moguls for fun, has tried to convince me that it's all in my head.  He tells everyone, including my daughter's kindergarten teacher during our recent parent-teacher conference, that I am a better skier than I think I am.  I just need confidence.

My daughter is a lot like me.  She wants to do things right, and she wants to do things well, and she is keenly aware when she is not "good" at something.  At age 5, she is learning to read and write, yet she knows that she is not quite a "reader" or a "writer," at least in a standardized, school sense.  She will bring us books, asking us to read, and when we sit with her, she can actually read the majority of words herself.  She is better than she thinks she is, but she doesn't have much confidence in herself.

During parent-teacher conferences, I saw evidence of her struggle in her writer's workshop folder.    She had incomplete stories, empty art boxes, and many places where she needed to "stretch" her words.  Her work confused me.  She is an artist who writes, draws, paints, and creates constantly at home.  She is a songwriter who regularly composes lyrics for her favorite tunes and new tunes where old ones won't do.  The blank pages, which seemed to invite her creativity, stared back at me even as my husband told her teacher about my "ski mentality."  I knew at once he had correctly diagnosed the problem, and from my experience as a teacher of writing, I also knew that no amount of "practice" would motivate my little girl to "stretch" her words.

I asked the teacher, "Would it be okay if she wrote down some of the lyrics to her songs during writing workshop or some other time in school?"  I thought the topic might inspire her.  Her teacher agreed, and that night, I shared with my daughter the possibility.  She was excited, and the next morning at breakfast, she laid out her plan to write her lyrics so that she and I could sing them together.

Later in the week, I invited her to my computer, where she composed a message to her uncle.  She worked diligently on my lap for 15 minutes, finding and typing letters, sounding out words, and learning the form and function of an email message.

I loveyou. hao isbagz?

love megan

She took pride in her message, composed entirely by her, and as she hit the send button, she exclaimed, "Can we write someone else?  This is fun!"  Her next email was a little longer; despite the tediousness (to me) of the find and peck typing, she kept at it.  She planned what she wanted to say, sounded the words, and composed a message that was understandable - a far cry from the incomprehensible work I had seen in her writing workshop folder.

Before she had even finished the second email, my brother responded to her.

Hey Megan,

I love you too! Bugsy is doing just fine. I will let her know that you asked about her.

Uncle Matt.

She read his email independently, and I silently thanked him for demonstrating the power of an audience.

Megan was excited to receive a response from her grandparents to the second email she wrote that night, and after I shared it with her, she made a plan to practice her emailing every other night.  (She smartly decided that she needed time to play, too, so she didn't think she could manage it every night.)  

My expertise is in teaching writing to high school students, and I know that choice in topics leads to increased motivation.  I also know that real audiences have an impact on a writer.  And thanks to my daughter now I know that it's no different at age 5 than it is at age 15.  With that knowledge, perhaps, I can help her develop the confidence to be a great writer and to enjoy the process of creativity that writing invites.

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