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JULY 28, 1997

Opinion

"Write" Tips for Parents

  Remember the film clips of Tiger Woods as a toddler, swinging around a wee-sized club, grinning grandly? Little Riger, who didn't know how to play golf, learned play by playing golf.
  
   Think about how children learn to walk: By walking! They arrive hard-wired with the formula: Grab a table leg. Pull up. A tentative sideways step. Boom - the bottom hits the floor. Let's try that again! Trying over and over is, in fact, the fun of it. (Much later we get this odd notion that trying - but not quite getting - is negative "failure.") Similarly, children who are around people who talk to them pick it up themselves. Experts say that we aren't "taught" to talk, we do it on our own.
  
   Writing researchers have noticed that we happily encourage young ones to operate their "hard-wired" talking and walking formulas for learning: Try, try, and try again. We even heartily applaud attempts falling far from the mark.
  
   So why, when it comes to writing, do we expect children to get it right right off the bat, writing researchers wonder. Kids are natural-born writers. From an amazingly early age, they're willing and eager to scribble you their very best thinking, their very best analysis of their pint-sized world. They, in fact, are learners at work, and parents and caretakers can help keep it going.
  
   Here are some writing tips that parents can use throughout the year from Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory writing-assessment expert Vicki Spandel. Let your child see that you enjoy writing, she advises, and that it is an important skill for everyday life. Let your child see that writing is really thinking - it's thinking out loud on paper (a notion that many adults may not have realized.)
  
   Be A Writer Yourself - Be a writer, and get help from your child. Your probably do lots of writing of various kinds in the normal course of living: grocery lists, to-do lists, postcards, reports, letters.
  
   Ask For Help - Ask your child to help you plan your writing: How should we begin? What should we say? How do we end it? Is it too long or wordy? Did we say enough? Should we use this word here? I'm not sure I spelled this right. Will you hand me the dictionary, please?
  
   Encourage Letters - Letter writing is a great way to encourage your child in the writing process. Pen pals can be fun, and notes to relatives are treasured.
  
   What happens if we're uncomfortable with punctuation? There's no need to get in a frazzle about commas and semicolons and where to put the darn things. Writing is about expressing thoughts, says Spandel, author of a parents' guide, and the only reason for a comma - or a period, for that matter - is to help make the thought and meaning clear to the reader. Good writers think of punctuation marks as traffic signals at an intersection. They keep ideas from crashing into each other, or to prevent the reader from getting into the wrong lane.
  
   Writing well is important to your child's adult future, but that's not the most important reason to encourage your child to write. For now, your child's job is learning, and an important reason for kids to write is that it helps them to think and to learn.
  
   This column is provided as a public service by the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory, a nonprofit institution working with schools and communities in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington.
  
   by Karen Blaha (Public Information Specialist, NW Regional Educational Laboratory)