“Hey, can I read your book?” I looked up at the face of a young boy watching intently as I worked on my newest novel manuscript. Ben lived in my dorm with his family, the community counselors. I smiled and passed the book over and three days later, he became my youngest reader. Over the course of the semester, I began helping him in creative writing and motivating this budding artist. It was incredibly rewarding to have the chance to invest in a young person’s life, but I was truly touched when I received a letter from Ben that moved me to tears.
“Ciera, thank you so much for always encouraging me with my writing…I am doing an assignment called ‘whose shoes’ where we write to someone we look up to as a hero. I just want to thank you for the time you have spent with me helping my stories progress and grow…I hope that when I grow up, I will be as generous and loving like you…I will never forget you.”
Young people are highly impressionable and the smallest amount of encouragement can go a long way. In this case, I discovered that sharing my work with him and reading his writing in return gave him the necessary motivation to further pursue his dreams of finishing a book.
Writing is an integral part of life in that it helps young people learn to appreciate language and culture and formulate their thoughts on the world in a way that is both creative and formative to their development as an individual.
As parents, you have an even greater opportunity to instill a love for writing in your children. Not only will they learn by watching you as their role models, but you have the unique ability to touch their hearts with encouragement and challenge, which is both gracious and inspiring. Whether or not you yourself were raised to have a love for the written word, if you desire for your child to have a greater appreciation for the art and discipline of writing, there a few key ways you can encourage them.
- Expose your child to quality literature at a young age.
Consider ways to make books a part of your child’s life, such as making regular trips to the library, giving books as gifts or encouraging your child to read every day. When I was growing up, my mother scheduled reading time for an hour every afternoon. This practice helped me gain the ability to focus intensely for longer periods of time. In addition, it widened my palette of vocabulary and helped me fall in love with the narrative art of storytelling.
Furthermore, children who are read to daily are found to test higher in cognitive skills such as language, mathematics, memory and the process of understanding and recalling facts. A study from the University of Melbourne showed that parental reading increases a child’s cognitive skills and reading abilities from the age of six months to age 11. In other words, you can start reading to your baby to help instill a fundamental understanding of cadence, language and object recognition! This basic understanding of reading is the first step toward leading your child to love writing. Words become meaningful to them and they will ultimately have a greater desire to use their own words to express and communicate.
- Have them keep a journal.
Journaling for personal meditation or along with devotions and Scripture is a good life practice for any Christian no matter the age. This is beneficial for any child, both because it helps them learn structure and responsibility and also because they become more naturally self reflective. Furthermore, the progress is tangible and they can see their own growth as a writer as they fill up the pages.
I have personally kept journals since I was five years old — granted, the subject matter of my entries has changed greatly, but to look back into the thoughts of a younger me is a beautiful gift. Reading over my old notes is like stepping back in time, having a conversation with myself and it gives me insight to see how certain events shaped me. The practice of journaling can be creative, too, and I often include pictures, sketches or poems, anything that is a personal reflection on what I’m thinking or feeling.
- Celebrate when they ask questions.
Before answers can be found, questions must be asked. That truth is at the very heart of writing. To write is to question, to analyze, to seek truth and to strive to examine what you observe. The heart of this, though, is the art of experience and the acquired ability to reflect what you see in what you write.
Questions like, “What does it mean to be a girl? Why do I have to love my brother? Why do we go to church?” are life shaping. Let them thrive on the “why” questions and explore answers though the process of putting thoughts into words.
- Praise the work ethic.
I’ve heard it said “Praise the process, not the product!” But the truth is that we should affirm both. The journey is just as important as the destination and the same truism applies to writing in that we should value the method and time spent working on our craft just as we should appreciate the end result. When your child shows you a story he has written, praise him for the effort, encourage him in his endeavors and challenge him to grow. Illustrate ways in which he can learn more or become better, but understand that the truth is loving and to love is to be truthful. So affirm his desire to use his gifts and interests and show him how to practice his skills humbly.
- Help them see writing as applicable to various interests.
There is a place for the writer in everyone’s world. Not every child will have the same artistic imagination to write their own fairytales; others may prefer journaling or nonfiction or poetry. But the understanding that writing is both expression and communication is key. It’s both deeply personal and can be made public. It is an art and a discipline. Encouraging your child to learn how to think analytically and write critically about the world around them will sharpen important life skills and even help them formulate their recognition of identity.
When I received Ben’s letter about his project “Whose Shoes”, I was incredibly honored to be selected as this boy’s hero because of our writing mentorship. His note continued, “Our writing teacher asked for a pair of signed shoes from you, for our ‘whose shoes’ display that we have in class so we can literally walk in your shoes.” He asked for old, worn shoes that I wouldn’t miss. Instead, I gave Ben my favorite pair of Chuck Norris Converse. Being selected as Ben’s role model has continued to be a reminder to me that we as Christians have the blessing of being able to speak deeply into others’ lives, especially children. I truly believe that leadership skills are not determined by how much we accomplish, but by how much those we lead accomplish. As a parent, recognize that you have the ability to lead, challenge, humble and encourage your child in both the writing process and whatever endeavor they undertake. The “write” way looks different for every child, but to instill a love for the written word in them is to share a valued appreciation for stories, both those of others and their own.
Bio: A sophomore at Wheaton College, Ciera is a unique blend of academic and artistic: she reads Kerouac and Chaucer, paints still life and modern art and loves writing poetry on her typewriter named Ernest. As a writer and champion public speaker, she grew up hanging out with Christian music stars, artists and writers who greatly influenced her culturally-engaging outlook on life, which she writes about at www.cierahorton.blogspot.com.