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Helping kids write, helping me write #30BrighterDays

My kids dislike writing. Many of the kids in my son’s class do, too. I know this because I assist in my fifth-grader’s classroom with writing twice weekly.

The Process

Even though I write with some level of skill, I have no solid teaching methods beyond intuition and parenting experience. Those don’t necessarily help when a kid simply does not want to go deep brain-diving for word inspiration, or to try catching the right words in a net, to fish that inventory out of their head, not to mention to then string it all together.

For the most part, other subjects–math, science, reading, social studies, even a second language–hold clear right and wrong answers that you can learn, store and retrieve at will. If you pick the wrong answer, you may browse internally or externally for the correct answer.

With writing, you have to populate the entire answer inventory, and then also try to shape it into a narrative (thank you fifth grade vocabulary refresh!). When your narrative doesn’t flow, sometimes you need to return deep within your brain for new inventory, and other times you only need to rearrange what you have. Often you simply don’t know, which feels frustrating enough when you already have mastery over the process, but especially when you’re a beginner and wrestling to grasp concepts.

Adding an audience– a reader– creates another level of difficulty. Your idea, and your word inventory plus the shape of the narrative all need to stack-up both for you, and for your reader. You need comprehension at a minimum, and ideally, resonance. For a student, the teacher must see that you understand and completed the assignment with some degree of success. As a writer, you need your reader to understand you, you need to hold their interest, and you want them to like or love your writing.

When I’ve helped with reading, spelling, or math in past years, the kids didn’t worry about a completed assignment being “good” or their idea being “stupid.” With writing the stakes feel higher and more personal. Writing brings insecurity and vulnerability along with, eventually, tremendous potential for adventure, creativity, insight and even delight.

The Performance

I know some writers might argue that audience opinion holds no bearing over their work. I don’t know, unless they’re publishing nonstop–one best seller after the next–or keeping their words under lock-down in a journal, the rest of us writers perform. We need our audience for page-views, engagement (i.e dialogue with our readers), money (lol) fame (lololol), publication, book deals, self-worth, validation etc. Our motivations vary, but the desire and need for readers remains a constant.

With a few notable exceptions of kids filling page after page, I watch many of the fifth-graders struggle to write. I stick with them as they try to express themselves, all the while managing the constant interruptions of wrangling with their grammar and punctuation, not to mention highly distracting protest burps and wiggly “flossing” entertainment from their classmates. Often as much as they get fatigued and want to quit, I also get fatigued and want to quit helping them. It’s hard enough to find your own words and make sense of them, not to mention someone else’s. However I feel devoted to my job to see them through. I honor that time as a meaningful way to hold space with them, and work through resistance while serving their education.

The Lesson

Getting myself to write when I feel uninspired–getting those words and thoughts to come together despite myself and my inner critic ego–brings me great satisfaction.  Moreover, writing about my day or my world often casts a new light on my experience–helping me crystalize memories or gain a helpful perspective I would’ve missed otherwise.

Next time I don’t want to write (or insert your own practice here) I’m going show up for myself like I show up for the fifth graders; in service, with devotion, and possibly also some flossing.


This post is part of #30BrighterDays; a thing I made up to brighten each day of November

1 comment… add one

  • Vikki November 27, 2017, 4:24 pm

    I have one kid for whom writing is easy and one for whom it is not at all. I am the designated writing helper in our family and it is a struggle. Sometimes I have to resort to the idea that she HAS to do it and the only way to be on the other side of it is to wrestle with the words. I doubt she’ll ever love it but she’ll have to do it anyway.

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