Getting reluctant writers to write can be a huge challenge. There are tears, cajoling, and bargaining. And that’s just from us parents.
Having a reluctant writer of my own, I was tired of the struggle. I realized I needed to outwit him. I didn’t have the money to hire a tutor or enroll him in a writing class, but, knowing the importance of good writing skills, I needed to get him aboard the writing train.
I needed help. I looked to books, including 826 National’s “Don’t Forget to Write”. 826 National is a nonprofit with eight tutoring centers across the country. Their mission is to create strong writers. I also reached out to some of my neighborhood friends with kids, saying I had the crazy idea to start an after-school writing club. I thought by adding a few other kids to the mix, I’d get out of the bargaining rut I was in with my kids.
Not only would the presence of other kids encourage a positive writing atmosphere, but everyone tends to be on their best behavior when other people are in the room. I would be less likely to get frustrated, and my son would be more likely to write the long, strong sentences we had tried working on together.
After running the writing club for four months, here are some things I’ve learned—through trial and error—to help you get started with a writing club for your kids:
Keep It Small
Unless you have a background in teaching and/or crowd control, keep the number of kids in your group small. I’d recommend no more than six, and no fewer than three. You want enough kids that it feels like a party, but not enough that you have to use a whistle to get them all listening. If you have multiple children in a family who want to participate, break up the groups by ages and alternate days each group meets.
Ask the Village
You don’t have to do everything yourself. In fact, it’s so much better if you don’t. Taking on too much responsibility might make this group feel like a chore, and you might end up resenting the decision to start the club. Kids can smell resentment a mile away, and they don’t react well to it. You don’t want that type of challenge. We have three families in our group. Each one takes turns hosting for four to six weeks—depending on their schedule and availability.
Did you know that the key to an author’s success is snack food? Think about it. Have you ever tried to write anything on an empty stomach? How about when you’re thirsty? It’s impossible, am I right?
Snacks give kids something to do with their hands while they’re listening. Some kids need that extra bit of fidgeting to help them concentrate. And there is some research to suggest that chewing or eating crunchy things can actually help improve their concentration.
The key to maintaining sanity while parenting is also the key to working with a group of kids—be flexible. No one’s getting graded on performance, so if a writing prompt you thought was going to be awesome ends up bombing, move along. If there’s a kid in the group who struggles with the mechanics of writing, ask his parents for tips and adapt. Maybe you type up what he says, or he gets to draw instead of write.
If it looks like you’re losing the kids, change up the environment. If it’s nice, go outside; if it’s not, switch to another room.
And ask the kids from time to time what they think. What would they like to work on?
Over time you want the kids to learn how to edit their work for punctuation, grammar, spelling and capitalization, but don’t start there. Let them work like real authors. Have them get all their thoughts out first, then teach them the magic of editing. And it doesn’t even have to be in the same session. Maybe they write one session and edit the next. See what works. Be flexible.
End with Playtime
A writing club is a social exercise, and as the ringleader, our job is to keep things fun and light! We’re asking the kids to open up, share ideas, and edit their mistakes, and don’t be fooled because kids are cute—that’s really hard work! Even professional writers have a difficult time with it all. So make sure you end with 10 to 15 minutes of free play so everyone has a chance to blow off some steam and the kids have enough fun that they want to come back!
My kids have thoroughly loved the writing club and get excited each week to attend. Watch how our writing club reworked a classic play into an original production. Of course it’s rewarding to have them buy into an idea I had, but the absolute best part is seeing them grow into confident and capable writers. Their writing has improved by leaps and bounds!
I was talking with another mom in the group and she said this:
I was hoping my son would get a chance to try different kinds of writing—plays, letters, tour guides, comic books, poems—and he has. I wanted him to see how fun it can be. Too often, his school assignments feel like drudgery to him.
He’s gone from writing the barest minimum needed to fulfill the assignment to writing more freely. And he truly looks forward to the weekly sessions. Most of his extracurricular activities have a “season,” and he recently asked when writing club would end. “I hope it never ends,” he said.