Motivating Kids to Write

When my 12 year old was 6 years old she frequently wrote for pleasure. Around this time we read the Little House on the Prairie series of books and she created her own book which summarized each chapter.

Unfortunately, all of her motivation to write was squashed when she was given assignments and her work had to be revised. I made some huge mistakes! I think it all happened in about one day. From that time until five weeks ago I've been working to relight her writing candle. Despite her talent for writing, it was a struggle of ups and downs for several years.

For a while she wrote from story starter sheets that contained prompts such as...... If I had a pet I would have a................... and My favorite place to visit is............... While these types of sheets weren't too objectionable, they weren't very motivating either. She completed them with a minimum number of words required to check the box and call it done.

Next we tried writing using the senses to describe things and tried more story and journaling prompts such as: Write about something nice somebody did for you, and Write about what it would be like to be a fish. We tried looking at unfamiliar story book pictures and using them to inspire a new story. We tried putting twists to favorite books such as Eric Carle's Brown Bear Brown Bear What do You See and creating book reports. We tried selecting a topic and doing research reports and writing letters to friends.

Last year many writing assignments were correlated to our history and science studies. All this time revision was kept to a minimum in that it was done rarely. Despite these efforts, writing was viewed as a chore and not a lot of fun. It wasn't horrible, but she hadn't had the passion I saw when she was so young.

Luckily, I'm happy to report that all has changed this year! We had a long summer break and I had time to reevaluate. It occurred to me that the problem was obvious. She hadn't been writing about what she wanted to write about.

My new plan was simple.
  • Require writing every day.
  • Let the kids write about anything they want.
  • Write with all the children at the same time.
  • Share what's been written when a paper is complete. (I write all the time on my blog, but the kids don't always see me writing. The see me working on the computer. Now I write with them and share too.)
  • Don't correct mistakes or require revision. Instead encourage revision by suggesting the excellent paper be typed into the computer and published on my blog, submitted to a magazine that publishes writing of children, or submitted to our small history co-op group for publication in our unit study newspaper. So far this hasn't happened, but I haven't lost hope. I believe writing improves tremendously with practice. In addition, if there are major issues, they can be discussed at a separate time. For example, spelling words can be practiced at spelling time, or grammar time can be scheduled to discuss what's included in a complete sentence.
I started discussing the changes in our writing time about five weeks before we began school. Since the kids were enthralled with the Wizard of Oz series of books they often made-up similar stories which they told orally. In addition, they had each imagined what it would be like to live in their own lands. While I was talking about the upcoming changes to our writing program I mentioned that it would be great to read about each of their lands. I threw out many other possible writing ideas but always said - "You get to pick what you write about."

The results of these changes were astounding right from the beginning! At the end of the first week my 12 year old daughter wrote two full pages (front and back) describing her land. Her land floats around in the ocean and sits on a pancake-like inner tube that has a radius of approximately 100 miles. It's at a height of 10 feet above sea-level. Her two pages are filled with descriptive detail. I guess the past five years haven't been a total waste:)

My son wrote about the ten machines found in his land.  There is an Enemy Keeper Awayer, a Transporter, and a machine that makes you get old or young in only 30 seconds. He described each machine with a short sentence or two.

My six year old spent much of her time illustrating, but stated that her land is similar to Oz. The green land is where the hedgehogs live and the pink land is where the sewing people live. There are slides connecting each of her color lands. Last week she told me writing is her favorite time of day.

What I have taken from this is nothing new. Kids are motivated when they are doing what they want. They need control and choice and then can own what they are creating. After all, I wouldn't like it too much if my husband came home and told me I had to write about my favorite cars from the 1950's. So why should the kids be excited to write about the food of the ancient Chinese? My goal is to get them excited about writing. They can learn about history during another part of the day, and if they would like to write about history during writing time that would be wonderful, but I won't be creating any more writing assignments in the near future.

I plan to continue this writing philosophy by throwing out new ideas during meal times and asking questions. I would really like to know what an Enemy Keeper Awayer is made out of and how big it is.


  1. I have found the same things to be true. Have them write a lot, for fun, without too much correction. They do automatically improve.

    1. Thank you for the support. I always have some degree of wonder if I'm doing the right thing. I'm glad to hear this has worked for you too.

  2. Thanks for sharing how you've turned around the atmosphere of writing in your home. It's very inspiring and I feel encouraged by your success.

  3. I love the way you share your experiences so openly. It's really helpful. I love the examples of all your kids' writing. And fantastic that writing is now Jemma's favourite time of day!

  4. This is great! My 8 year old has tons of ideas in her head and is always making up stories orally, but hates putting them on paper. One of my goals for her this year is to help her get her stories on paper. I did find a publishing company that has 2 yearly writing contests for kids and I have encouraged her to send in her stories. So far, she's only written one full story. To help her get it on paper I let her dictate it to me and I did the writing, (asking her to slow down a few times). Then I handed it to her and suggested she type it so we can send it in to the contest. She likes the idea of typing much better then printing. I guess we'll see what happens. I'll have to try some of the things you talked about too. Maybe that will encourage her more. Thank you for sharing!

    I found your post on the Hip Homeschool Hop.

    1. Wonderful. It sounds like you're doing a super job to motivate your daughter. When the goal is getting the story out and not correcting spelling and grammar, kids seem to have so much more energy. Good for you!

  5. Thanks for sharing what has worked...and not your family! I wouldn't want to write about 1950s cars either =)

  6. Did you kids have a hard time coming up with stories? I find when I give "free write" time that my boys spend most of it complaining that they don't know what to write or else they ask me how much they have to write before they even start. I love this idea and really want to bring a sense of enjoyment back to writing.

    1. Most of the stories my kids come up with are based on their play. For example, they love stuffed hedgehogs and often play with them as some kids would play with dolls. For free writing time they tend to write down the stories they act out.

      I think free writing takes practice. I've heard of kids writing things like "I hate this. Writing is stupid.," but after a few sessions they begin writing more and more meaningful.

  7. We had the MOST fun writing when we'd do our Monday writing prompts together. Thanks for sharing your insight on homeschool writing and for linking up at Literacy Musing Mondays. Hope to see you again this week. :)


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