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Reluctant Writers Part 1 - Writing for a Purpose

I have wanted to do a series of blog posts about writing for a while. If you are reading this you probably have a reluctant writer. You might have a child that isn't interested in writing at all or a child that has lost interest. I wanted to start by sharing my experience of trying to get my 5 year old to write at home.

Since the schools closed due to Coronavirus, I have noticed a big change in my daughter's attitude to writing. She has gone from a child that would happily pick up a pencil and write to a child that moans and refuses if I even suggest it. So what has changed?

I think it's down to the changes to her environment and routine. At school she likes to please her teacher, she knows she is expected to do certain things and she loves the reward chart and stickers. She doesn't have that same motivation at home. I get that. Her house was the place she would come home to and relax and play. Now she is being asked to use that space as a school too.

How has her writing changed?

We moved house in February, not long before lock down. She wrote this card for us when we moved to the new house. Notice the b/d reversal in daddy? I have shared an IGTV video all about letter reversals.

Not long after we moved in, I found this note on her brother's bedroom window. She had written it independently using chalk pens (affiliate link).

At the start of lock down we tried to follow a similar routine to school. We sat down and did lessons and she was happy to write sentences.

I thought of lots of ideas that would have opportunities for writing. For example, we planted sunflowers and I printed diaries off Twinkl. I suggested that we had sunflower growing competition and I thought she could record the heights and changes every few days.

When the shoot began to show she was excited and happy to fill in the first page. When the leaves began to grow, she reluctantly filled in the next page. After that she was only interested in watering the sunflowers and comparing the heights. We haven't filled in any more pages of the diary.

Benji loves the Hungry Caterpillar story, so I ordered caterpillars thinking we could do some observational drawings and record their life cycle. I should have learnt my lesson after the sunflowers. I could have posted this photo on Instagram and written a caption about our fantastic writing opportunity but the truth is it took blood, sweat and tears and over an hour to finish this page. Children usually have an attentions span of about 3 mins per year. So a five year old has an attention span of about 15 minutes. Looking back, I should have realised it wasn't worth the fight and put the activity away.

I decided we might have more luck with the home learning that school were sending home. The were emailing the planning they would have used at school, so they were activities she would have been expected to do at school. They asked us to make it look like a rocket had crash landed in our garden and then sent the children an email from an alien. Sophie loves space and this captured her imagination completely. She moved the pieces and used the BBQ to show what she thought the rocket might have looked like.

We used chalk to draw on rocks to show what we thought the planet would look like and then drew pictures of what we thought lived there. She added name labels. Finally some writing that she didn't moan about doing! I think not sitting at a table with a pencil and paper helped too.

The email asked them to draw a map to show where they lived so the alien could collect the pieces of his broken rocket. While we were walking around our local area, we saw a stream across the sky from a plane. Sophie thought it was the alien and that he had missed our house! She wanted to make the map as soon as we got home. She was happy to draw the map but didn't want to label anything. I persuaded her to so that we could send a photo to the alien and her teacher.

Her school also have a Maths Fairy that leaves a trail of glitter and a maths problem somewhere in their classroom. School had emailed us one to use at home and as soon as she saw the glitter she was hooked! She loved the maths activity.

But when it came to writing down what she had found out, it took bribery again to get her to do it.

However, I found this note in her fairy garden that she had written by herself. It clicked. She was reluctant to do the ideas someone else had come up with but she was happy to write when it was something that she had thought of.

So why was I approaching writing so differently to how I would do it in my Reception classroom?

At school we use 'In the Moment Planning'. Rather than call children out of their play to sit at a table and write about a topic chosen by an adult, we go into their play and try to provide writing opportunities. In Reception it doesn't matter what they write about or where they do that writing. What matters is whether they are engaged and motivated so that they enjoy it and develop their skills.

So I changed my approach at home. I stopped planning ideas and activities and instead follow her lead and her interests. I tried to make sure that the writing that we did had a purpose. I thought we hadn't done that much writing during lock down and had felt quite guilty. Then I looked through the photos on my phone and realised we have done more than I thought.

Here are some examples of writing that she wasn't reluctant to do!

I collaborated with Liz Smith Illustration to create a set of menu templates, which are available to download in my shop for free. Sophie loved these! She enjoyed filling them in and then pretending we were at a restaurant. She saw a purpose for writing. She also sat in my office and filled them in and I think the change of location helped too.

She saw us making shopping lists and doing the online shopping. She picked up the pen and started to add some things that she wanted to the bottom of the list.

It was her nan's 96th birthday and when I asked if she wanted to make her a card she got stuck right in.

I have tried to add opportunities for writing in her play. When we played vets, I modeled how to fill in a card with the animals name and a note to say what was wrong with them. She had a go at doing this as she played too (Daisy lost voice). Now we have added a notebook and pen to the doctors set.

One night we set up our tent so that we could camp overnight in the garden. I said that we could really pack and pretend to go on holiday and I suggested that she wrote a packing list. I went to empty the dishwasher and when I got back she had written this list by herself because she was so excited.

I added clipboards and pens to the mud kitchen and she pretended to take my order. She wrote down what I wanted and the price so that she could give me a bill at the end. I always pay with a note so she has to work out my change!

Sophie loves role play and she wanted to do a concert for us. I asked if I could buy a ticket. She cut up some paper and made these. I helped her add more details like the time, date and place.

As a teacher, I tend to avoid worksheets if I can. I love it when my children's learning folders are full of scraps of paper and post it notes with writing on. To me that captures real meaningful writing, writing that children have enjoyed and chosen to do.

I try to have a variety of things to write on and with. As an adult, I love stationery. There is something so appealing about writing with a nice pen in a new notebook. So I wanted to give her the same opportunity rather than always giving her a piece of paper and a pencil. I picked up some notebooks and pens just before lock down so I could set up a writing station.

I find that because she has access to writing materials 24/7 then she writes when she gets the urge to rather than when she is asked to. My favourite thing is finding letters that she has written to me.

But not all children will choose to write independently and not all children will engage with the ideas that I have shared in this blog post. I once taught a class of 24 boys and I really had to get creative with how we did writing. One day they created a cinema in the playground. I followed their lead and we ended up making movie posters and tickets. They sold snacks and made a menu with prices. Children that were reluctant writers were engaged and writing!

So my advice is:

  • try to make writing purposeful

  • follow your child's interests

  • have a go at following their lead rather than starting with a plan of what you expect the writing outcome to be

  • if it's not working, don't be afraid to leave it and do something else

Remember, we have been flung into home schooling with no notice and we are all juggling so much. We are staying at home to stay safe. If writing happens, brilliant! If not, they will catch up when they are back at school. This is my day job and I'm struggling to get a Reception child to write! We can only do our best!

I hope that has been helpful. I have lots more that I want to share about writing. I will be adding some blogs about how to follow their interests, how to support them to write, resources you could use and what has worked for other people during lock down.



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