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Parental Engagement and Writing

We often place too much emphasis on what medium our kids should be proficient in. We should focus more on what they are ACTUALLY writing.

Kids ARE Writing…

Most of us want our kids to have basic writing skills, yet we often place too much emphasis on what medium our kids should be proficient in. We should focus more on what they are actually writing.

In today’s 21st century world, ‘yours truly’ has given way to TTYL (talk to you later). Our kids don’t write letters; they send texts. They don’t keep pen-and-paper journals; they blog. It’s not that our kids aren’t writing; in fact, if you count Facebook status updates (many of which are quite creative), social media messaging, and texting, our kids are writing all the time.

A brief look at history shows that the trend is for the physical act of writing to become easier and easier while the cost becomes decreasingly expensive. Consider how much it cost, both in time and money, to write even one book on a scroll. Only that which was important was written on scrolls, and the vast majority of people couldn’t even afford to buy scrolls. Writing belonged to the elite as did the possession of scrolls, which is why scholars were the only educated people at the time.

With the invention of the printing press, books became readily available and the cost of making a book was exponentially lessened. As a result, the trivial was published right alongside the important. Living in the digital age, one can write almost effortlessly and for only the price of a laptop/tablet/smartphone and internet connection. The ratio of “good” writing to fluff now seems to have completely reversed from the days of clay tablets and scrolls.

Most of us are familiar with the phenomenon of “mommy bloggers.” Many women have found blogging to be a creative outlet and will blog at night while her kids sleep. Many teens blog too, and with new online publishing mediums appearing all the time, there are plenty of creative outlets online.

If we consider how many Facebook messages our kids are sending, how many texts they send in a month, and how many Facebook status updates they write in a single week, it becomes apparent that getting them to write is not the issue – teaching them to write well in different mediums is the tricky part.

We need to teach our children the universals of writing; principles that transcend the limitations and structures of each medium. If we teach our kids how to write clearly and concisely, they can successfully learn to write in any medium. In fact, the greatest thing we could ever do is teach our kids that it’s a valuable skill worth developing. If we do that, our kids will be more likely to grow in their ability.

We as parents need to encourage our children to write in whatever medium they naturally gravitate towards. Once they have developed a love of writing, we can challenge them to experiment in different mediums and genres.

Writing to Reflect

Some people start a diary as casually as they start golf, stamps, or a new digestive cure. Whereas to start a diary ought to be a solemn and notable act, done with a due appreciation of the difficulties thereby initiated. The very essence of a diary is truth—a diary of untruth would be pointless—and to attain truth is the hardest thing on earth. To attain partial truth is not a bit easy, and even to avoid falsehood is decidedly a feat. – Arnold Bennett

Whether you prefer to use a diary, journal, or other medium, writing to reflect is an important discipline to develop.

As someone who had tried to keep a journal knows, the key word here is discipline, because it takes a LOT of self-discipline to main this habit. Reflective writing is about taking time to regularly process and record your life experiences, to find meaning, and to preserve your memories.

An exciting and relatively new field in the world of counseling is writing therapy. Research has found that “writing about traumatic, stressful or emotional events has been found to result in improvements in both physical and psychological health.”

Whether it’s writing stories, recording memories in a journal, or expressing emotions through poetry, expressive writing has the ability to help us heal, process emotions and thoughts, and relieve stress and anxiety. In addition to the health benefits, physical and emotional, journaling is also a fun recreational activity!

Besides the benefits of keeping an individual journal and encouraging our kids to do the same, keeping a family journal is also a great way to preserve memories and reflect on experiences together as a family. A family journal can be as simple as recording birthdays and noting important activities (such as a family vacation) or as detailed as writing about every single day. Family journals can also provide a written records for future generations to learn from and enjoy. We have a tradition in my family which we call a “thanks book.” Our goal is to look back at a previous week or month and record things that we are thankful for. My parents started this tradition, and it is still going a generation later.

3 Journaling Tips

1) Develop a Routine

Figure out what time of day works best for you and then develop a routine that lets you fit journaling into your busy schedule on a regular basis.

2) Don’t Stress

When you write, try to turn off the internal ‘editor’ and don’t stress out about writing “amazing” prose or making sure every word is spelled right and every law of grammar is obeyed. Instead, just think of writing as you would talking: You’re communicating, and the focus is on what is being communicated, not how it is being communicated (substance, not style).

3) It Will Feel Like a Chore

Remember that it is quite natural for journaling to feel like a chore. Most runners will tell you that it is often hard to get out of bed in the mornings and that they often loathe having to go for their morning run, but once they start running, they fall in love with it all over again and by the end of the run, they’re happy they resisted the impulse to skip it. The same is true of the discipline of journaling.

Writing to reflect is a habit that can benefit all of us, and, while it is often hard to get started, it’s well worth the effort. Make a conscious decision to start journaling and encourage your kids to do the same.

Recommended Resource:

This classic essay, “The Diary Habit”, by Arnold Bennett, is a passionate defense of journaling, a comical essay that gets you laughing, and a thought-provoking discourse on the power of the written word.

Do Your Kids See You Write?

My wife, who is a real writer, unlike me, journals every day. She likes to sit at the kitchen table in the morning with a warm cup of coffee and write. Nicholas and I will often notice her writing or typing away on her laptop as we go about our daily tasks, and we’ve grown accustomed to seeing her write. We often talk about what she is writing about with her and offer our own suggestions and ideas.

It is important for our kids to see us write. If we make it a point to write where they can see, they will learn that writing is a valuable skill and valuable use of time. In addition, writing in front of our kids opens those doors for discussion like I mentioned above. Through discussion, our kids can take ownership of these values that we are communicating and can internalize those values.

Life is often very busy and it can be hard to make time to write. The first step in teaching our kids to value writing is to make the conscious decision to write and then to do it. It starts with an act of our will; by making the resolve to write, we’re making a conscious effort to think through how we can fit writing into our schedule.

Simply resolving to write or to just write when you think about it is not enough. We need to actively work to fit writing into our busy schedules — and the best way to do that is to develop a routine. Of course, creating a routine requires experimenting to see what will work best for you: maybe writing in the mornings as everyone is getting ready to face the day won’t work for you and your family — perhaps doing it in the evenings after supper might work better. The important thing is to develop a routine … and then see how it works. Success isn’t the activity, it is the communication of value.

Writing is important, and what better way to communicate that truth to your children than to model writing for them? You don’t have to be a great writer — you don’t even have to share your writing with your children — but by taking the time to write, you’re showing your kids that writing is a valuable skill. We have busy, hectic lives, but making time to write is a crucial activity that we cannot afford to skip — both for our children’s sake and for our own.

Research Says Writing is Important

Writing is one of those skills that is applicable nearly everywhere. Communication is at the center of all relationships, whether it’s emailing colleagues, texting family members, or writing letters to a friend. It’s not surprising then that research says it is an important skill to develop. What may be surprising, though, is the extent to which writing matters. For example, research shows that writing is key in creating opportunities for success in the workplace.

According to a report entitled Writing: A Ticket to Work…Or a Ticket Out, writing has become a needed skill to navigate the workplace. To quote an analysis of the report:

Writing is both a ‘marker’ of high-skill, high-wage, professional work and a ‘gatekeeper’ . . . People unable to express themselves clearly in writing limit their opportunities for professional, salaried employment.

Whether it’s writing an application, reporting problems, sending an email, or writing manufacturing documentation, writing is often an inescapable part of the workforce, especially for white collar jobs. Being able to write clearly and effectively is an important skill for getting good jobs, advancing in those jobs, and creating opportunities for career transitions.

The workplace is not only the place where writing is important. Writing is also important in the classroom. According to research shared in The Wall Street Journal:

Writing by hand is more than just a way to communicate. The practice helps with learning letters and shapes, can improve idea composition and expression, and may aid fine motor-skill development.” The article also shared that adults “may benefit similarly when learning a new graphically different language, such as Mandarin, or symbol systems for mathematics, music and chemistry.

There are also health benefits. In the world of counseling, a newer field has emerged called “writing therapy”. Research has found that expressive writing, such as reflecting in a journal, has therapeutic value and can help us cope with emotional trauma or even just the normal upheavals and stressors of life.

When people are given the opportunity to write about emotional upheavals, they often experienced improved health. They go to the doctor less. They have changes in immune function. If they are first-year college students, their grades tend to go up.

Benefits of Expressive Writing

• Fewer stress-related visits to the doctor
• Improved immune system functioning
• Reduced blood pressure
• Improved lung function
Improved liver function

Writing is a crucial skill to develop and as the research shows, there are many benefits to becoming a good writer. Whether it’s reducing stress and boosting physical health, gaining a competitive edge in the workplace, or excelling in the classroom, it is important for our kids to learn how to write effectively.

A popular phrase says that “readers are leaders” and the same could be said of writers; equipping our kids with the tools they need to be good writers and communicating the value of writing by doing it in front of our children and talking with them about the importance will help prepare them to be the leaders of tomorrow.

We often place too much emphasis on what medium our kids should be proficient in. We should focus more on what they are ACTUALLY writing.

About Ethan Demme

Ethan Demme is the Chairman and CEO of Demme Learning and is passionate about building lifelong learners. Ethan is an elected member of the board of supervisors in East Lampeter Township, PA. He has never backed down from a challenge, especially if it's outdoors, and is currently into climbing big mountains and other endurance sports. An active member of his local community, Ethan is a well-socialized homeschool graduate who holds a B.A. in Communication Arts from Bryan College.

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