Jot it Down

Kids need to know what writing is really all about. It’s not about producing pages for the homeschool folder. It’s not a means of torture designed by sadistic mothers and school teachers. Writing is simply capturing the lucid and true thoughts of human beings in written language. There are scores of writers whose words have made it to the page by means of transcribers, that is, people who handwrite or type their words for them. My father wrote an entire novel that way—he dictated his novel onto a Dictaphone and paid his secretary to type it up. So who gets credit for the writing? My dad or the secretary? If we think about the way most teachers teach writing, you’d be likely to answer that question by saying “the secretary.”

But we know that’s not the case. The writer/author is the one generating the ideas/stories and putting them into language. Who does the transcribing is secondary.

For resistant writers (that is, kids who don’t like holding pencils), they often associate not wanting to move the pencil with not having any valuable thoughts for writing. They say things like, “I can’t think of anything to write.”

But if you ask them if they have anything to say, you may get a different answer. And if you wait until they are actually talking, unprompted, you are now unwittingly encountering your child as writer. Your job, then, is to quickly snatch up a piece of paper and start transcribing those productive bursts of thought into language. Your child is talking, you are jotting. (My kids talk so fast that I tend to use my laptop to type up the thoughts they reel off; so don’t be afraid to use your computer for “jot it down” moments.)

Once you’ve “jotted down” their words, read them back, later to an interested party. Perhaps you can pull out that scrap of paper and read it to Dad at dinner. Perhaps you can share it with the other kids. Or, if your kids love the sound of their own voices, as mine do, they might enjoy reading their own words back to themselves. And they always like it when I read their words back to them.

And this is the point. There is something deeply affirming about hearing your thoughts out loud, in a recorded fashion. The subtext of this practice is that your thoughts are important, and not only that, but that they are important enough to be written down and shared.

Even teens benefit from these impromptu moments where they see you rush to paper to jot down an explanation of the lyrics to a favorite song, or their own review of a great movie, or the how-to’s of a computer game. When your teen falls into a narrating moment, reach for the back of that envelope and grab a pen. Start writing. If he asks you, “Mom, what in the heck are you doing?” Simply put up your hand and say “Keep going. This is too good to miss. I just want to get this down so I can tell Dad what you said later.”

If he or she says to stop writing because it’s too distracting, then stop. And really listen. The second he or she finishes, do the best you can to recapture their narration/comments in as close to their words as you can. That still works! And you can still share it later.

Jotting it down is a great way to bring writing to life for your kids. They learn that writing is about them, not about spelling, punctuation or school.

Check out our Jot It Down Bundle of materials for your family.