Teaching Kids to Write

November 20, 2018 — 12 Comments

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My grandkids have stunned me with their enthusiasm for writing. And all it took to inspire them was a very simple activity.

I invited our ten youngest grandchildren (aged 4 to 12) to write their own family newspaper. Although I devised our family publication myself, I’ve since learned that there are abundant resources—albeit of vastly different qualities—available online. You’ll find some links below.

The first challenge was to explain to them what a newspaper is. The irony is not lost on me that none of our four families currently subscribe to daily papers. It was more difficult than I anticipated to explain to all of the novice journalists precisely what newspapers are. I use the present tense, because the medium is not quite obsolete, despite the downward trajectory of most local papers. As an editorial in the Washington Post said this year, “newspapers have been dying in slow motion for two decades now.” And it seems to many the process is accelerating.

Nevertheless, as the proud veteran of high school and college newspaper staffs, and a former contributor to my hometown weekly, I believe such publications are ideal for developing writing skills. The passion overflowing from my writing bullpen has vastly exceeded my expectations, confirming my impression.

While it took a while to gather enough submissions for the first issue, they rushed to fill the second. When each was “published,” all of the kids immediately sat down and read their personal issues from proverbial cover to cover.

My endorsement of family newspapers does not carry over to the commercial press. Sadly, too much of what is presented as “objective reporting,” is patently subjective. I debated my journalism profs about that matter forty years ago, and the evidence has only grown more visible. I also agree with C.S. Lewis’ opinion that the majority of what passes for “news,” is superfluous or sensationalistic.

Even in peacetime I think those are very wrong who say that schoolboys should be encouraged to read the newspapers. Nearly all that a boy reads there in his teens will be seen before he is twenty to have been false in emphasis and interpretation, if not in fact as well, and most of it will have lost all importance.

Most of what he remembers he will therefore have to unlearn; and he will probably have acquired an incurable taste for vulgarity and sensationalism and the fatal habit of fluttering from paragraph to paragraph to learn how an actress has been divorced in California, a train derailed in France, and quadruplets born in New Zealand. (Surprised by Joy)

Perhaps ironically, Lewis did not hesitate to publish his own writings in worthy newspapers. Most notably, The Guardian (an Anglican newspaper printed between 1846 and 1951) published several of his essays. In addition, they presented to the world (in serial form) both The Screwtape Letters and The Great Divorce.

For an interesting discussion about C.S. Lewis’ opinion that newspapers are inadequate tools for assessing truth, check out this article. The author draws a valid distinction between Lewis’ example and the current state of affairs where “we judge too quickly and offer grace much too slowly.”

Elements of Our Family’s Publishing Experiment

After describing to the kids what newspapers are, I provided them with a list of potential subject matter. In addition to “standard” sorts of news and reviews, I added things like “sermon notes,” fiction, and comics.

I encourage them to illustrate their own articles, and the first two issues have been graced with images of dogs, horses, King Tut, and a Turtle Bear (who served as a weather forecaster). Each child contributes at their own level, and the cousins commend each other on their efforts.

We’re early in the stages of teaching the kids about rewriting and self-editing. Depending on the situation, either their parents or the editorial staff (grandma and grandpa) assist them with learning to revise their own work.

I must confess that one of the most fun aspects of Curious Cousins Courier is my ability, as the editor, to creatively engage in a bit of editorial privilege. The primary example comes in a “Family Heritage” feature that I write for each issue.

In the first, we considered the life of the cousins’ great-great-grandfather who immigrated from Norway in 1912. Julius Olaissen Næsbø unsuccessfully attempted to travel on the RMS Titanic, but the steerage class was full, and he had to settle for a departure several weeks later. The fringe benefit of reading about “Grandpa Nesby” came in learning that other languages include letters in their alphabet that are foreign to us in the States.

In the second issue, I pointed the children to one of their ancestors who helped establish our country itself, during the Revolutionary War. Joseph Johnston was born in Ireland, and was a sergeant in the Fifth Virginia Regiment.

The importance of cementing family bonds—and instilling a healthy awareness of our family’s legacy—is extremely important to me. I suppose that is due in large part to spending the first third of my life as a nomadic military kid. Yet that sense of disconnectedness from my extended family did not prevent me from inflicting the same itinerant military lifestyle on my own children. But that’s a story for another day.

If you help to establish a newspaper or journal for members of your own family, I trust you will find it as rewarding as I do.

A Few Online Resources

Get the Scoop: Create a Family Newspaper,” from Education.com

How to Make a Family Newspaper,” from wikiHow.

The 5 Ws are noted on ImaginationSoup. (In case you’ve forgotten, they’re who, what, where, when and why.)

More developed thoughts, with an eye toward the classroom, are available at The CurriculumCorner.

12 responses to Teaching Kids to Write

  1. 

    What an excellent activity!
    I tend to assume news is just recently about worldwide disasters too far away to apply to us and socialites’ terrible lives and actions, so the C.S. Lewis quote surprised me.

    • 

      What passes for news varies, of course, from source to source. My wife and I subscribe to some Christian magazines that balance struggles with successes. By that I mean they bring to our attention things that we can influence pretty much only through our prayers… alongside good news stories that leave us more optimistic about the world we live in.

      As for the stuff about celebrities, I rarely find it remotely interesting. I pity most people who choose to live in the spotlight. Well, I pity them for their foolishness, and I sympathize with their families who did not make the choice to live under constant scrutiny and criticism.

  2. 

    Excellent as always. A very refreshing story in a time when too many struggle just to read.

    • 

      It is nice to be reminded, isn’t it, that if children’s addiction to digital devices can be prevented, they’re still able to love learning?

      I look back to how the rise of the television consumed so much of my own generation’s time and creativity. I fear that modern technology dwarfs tv and the cinema in terms of its appetite.

      If we love our kids and grandkids, we will be very wary of turning their parenting over to cell phones and the internet.

  3. 

    What a wonderful idea. At the moment we have 2 older avid writers & 2 just beginning & then the up & coming writer’s who are scribble drawers. Miss you all.

    • 

      It’s perfect for beginning writers. And, for our pre-writing little ones, we or their parents act as scribes. (We’re spoiling them; they may grow up thinking all they need do is dictate… which technology may actually make a reality.)

  4. 

    What a blessing to have so many grandchildren! I loved creating “newspapers” when I was a child, but I only had my sister to do it with me. Thanks for sharing this wonderful family project with us!

    • 

      Yes, it certainly is a blessing. Three of them are spending the night with us, and the nine year old told us her twelve year old sister wants to have a dozen kids (which her sister acknowledged with a nod).

      I suggested that might be too much of a good thing.

      I do, however, concur with the Psalmist: “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!” (Psalm 127:3-5, ESV)

  5. 

    Hi Rob,

    Writing is always a great outlet for anyone. I wish people weren’t so hesitant towards writing. They would find so much of an outlet for everything.

    Thank you,

    Gary

    • 

      I’ve always found that to be true.

      I’ve met many people, however, who seem to find it daunting. The folks you refer to as being “hesitant.” I sometimes wondered when in their lives they were discouraged about the process of putting their thoughts into written words.

      I don’t doubt that some people who were never overtly criticized simply don’t enjoy writing. After all, it is true that even when one is inspired, there remains an element of “work” in the process.

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