Young writers benefit from encouragement, evaluation, recognition

Late one night our daughter jumped out of bed and started writing. She couldn't fall asleep and felt inspired to jot down her thoughts. Like many enthusiastic scribes, she then wanted to share her poen amd called out. although I was surprised to see a night owl, considering school the next day, I listened and praised the writing efforts. This creative moment added to her confidence in writing. It also alerted me to contribute more toward this growing interest.

There just aren't enough opportunities to improve the essential skill of putting thoughts into words and thereby communicating. Sometimes the challenge of writing a job or committee report spurs us toward greater awareness of the need to develop writing skills, and sometimes it can come from observing children.

Supporting young scribes doesn't need to be a difficult task reserved only for English teachers. Whenever families spend time together -- reading, traveling, playing -- they're providing the basis for much writing experience. With this grist for their writing mill, children are often motivated to record their impressions.

Here is where parents can help too. Don't overschedule children so they never have time to think, to dream to write. Our daughter now keeps a pad of paper next to her bed for any late-night writing bursts. Inspiration may come from exciting family vacations or stars outside a bedroom window, but a quiet time and place must be added to aid its expression.

Encouragement also enhances a young writer's efforts. Sometimes adults glance at a child's written work, quickly evaluate the effort, and remark. "I know you can do better than this." That's not enough. Encouragement comes from specific, concrete suggestions on how to improve the writing.

For example, children learn early that every story has a beginning, middle and ending -- even Sesame Street teaches it. But what exactly makes a good beginning?

Do they understand the options of using a question, a quote, or an interesting statement to launch their work? Does the middle of their story stick to the message? Have they done enough research? What is the difference between honesty and imagination? Have they reread and revised? After all, professional writers often revise seven, eight, or nine times! Encouragement such as this provides real "food for thought" to beginning writers.

Finally, recognition from parents or from the public does wonders for aspiring writers. At home it might be a favorable comment about a particular sentence or a touch of humor. It might be a place of distinction for the writing, such as in the family scrapbook or on the bulletin board. It might also mean helping the child submit a story or poem for publication. This newspaper and others publish children's original writing and art work. See the Monitor's "For children" page for samples and information on the procedure for this newspaper.

Readers' letters and original work are welcome at many children's magazines, such as Cobblestone, History Magazine for Young People; Cricket magazine; Highlights for Children; and National Geographic World Malibag. The addresses and editorial requirement for these and other magazine scan be found in libr aries.

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