There are at least two ways to lock up a child’s ability to write. Tell him to write about anything he wants. Tell him what to write about.
Too much freedom too soon, locks up a child’s skill. If a young child or an older student who is a new writer is given the complete freedom to write about whatever he wants without having been trained about how to do that will often say,“But I don’t know what to write about.” When I was given this instruction in school it felt like I was being placed in the middle of the ocean in a row boat and being told, “Row yourself home in which ever direction pleases you.
Too much information too soon, locks up a child’s imagination. Using writing prompts to help children learn to write is a common teaching method. These prompts can be excellent tools in the proper context. I liked being given a writing prompt when I was in school. It gave me a place to start. The problem arose when I needed to take the prompt beyond the beginning. A writing prompt without the skill to execute is like giving a car to a five-year old and asking him to go to the store and buy some milk.
So, how do I start the process of teaching my child how to write? Take a walk in the garden and ask him what he sees. If he says, “I see a caterpillar on the leaf.” Ask him questions being careful to accept his answers at face value? Ask him what color the caterpillar is. If he says white with purple polka dots. Accept that answer, because correcting him will send a loud message that there is a right answer to your question. Because he loves you and wants to please you, he will learn to mold his answers to your expectations.
Sit beside him as he admires the caterpillar and ask more questions. What is the caterpillar doing? Where does the caterpillar live? What does his home look like? Where is he going? Does this caterpillar have a name? Does he have brothers and sisters? I call this game What if…? You might be wondering what to do if his answer is, I don’t know?
Answer: Model imagination for him.
It might look something like this.
Mom: Peter, what is the caterpillar doing?
Peter: I don’t know.
Mom: Oh, I think he’s going to see his cousin.
Mom: Why do you think he’s going to see his cousin.
Peter: I don’t know.
Mom: I heard the caterpillar tell his mom he was going to his cousins to play ball. (Peter’s expression becomes more interested).
Mom: Why do you think the caterpillar wants to play ball with his cousin?
Peter: It’s fun.
Playing What if…? Opens wide a door to thousands of possibilities which make the creation of stories possible. As this child grows older, because his imagination isn’t locked up, his capacity to put pen to paper is enlarged. Who knows where he’ll end up!