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Quick writing tips for every age

Turn your child into an unstoppable scribe with this grade-by-grade advice.

By Joe Quirk

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Second grade

Many parents think their kids are overscheduled. After school they have a commute home, a meal to eat, and homework to do — not to mention extra activities guaranteed to "enrich" them. Parents sometimes feel like scheduling writing won't leave any time for what kids do best: playing. How do you get kids to write without feeling like a drill sergeant?

When kids make up games, they invent rules, which should be written and posted. Hang up a whiteboard in the playroom so that your child can write on it as her playing demands. Write this at the top of the whiteboard: "Writing is part of pretending."

Try this: When playing with kids, try to think of ways to include writing. For example, playing restaurant can include menus and little waitress pads. Police officers write tickets. Robbers consult maps of the bank. Cowboys and indians sign treaties. Playing house would include cooking, thus writing out recipes, grocery lists, and to-do lists.

Don't worry if you've never heard of The Penguins of Madagascar. All of today's games are derived from ones you played as a kid. If your 7-year-old says, "The penguins need to spy on the lemurs to bring home the blimp," don't try to figure out what that means. Say, "This spy mission needs a map and a written plan! Write it in invisible ink!"

Joe Quirk is a novelist, science writer, and creative-writing teacher living in Berkeley, Calif. His bestselling book, The Ultimate Rush, is an action thriller about rollerblading.

Comments from readers

"what to do when your twelve years old son refuses to talk to a counselor and parents got divorce."
"Middle school is the time to focus on how to organize and compile notes for a simple research paper. This should start in 6th grade and be repeated in the 7th and 8th grades as most high school English classes now assume that students have note-taking and organizational skills honed in middle school."
"I like your positive suggestions to our boys and girls. However, if you can give us more exciting tips of how we can visualize and understand our children motive in terms of their school works as well as liking boys or girls especially during school hours. Why at this stage of 5th grade and middle school both of these genders are really preoccupied of school works and being popular. Who is more likely to be asked to be their girlfriends and boy friends? And how can we as a parent handle this situation in a right way for them. Give us more technique to understand them. I always like your topics about our children. Thank you very much. "
"I feel very strong about assisting children in their education. No one is too old too learn and no one is too young. Children today are expose to the computer and parents are there to encourage their children."
"Thanks, this article gives hope to a cringing grandparent!"
"Encourage them to write letters and start petitions as well! One of my children was upset that our community wasn't recycling everything other communities were recycling, so I helped him write a letter to the agency responsible. They wrote back! And while one letter seldom changes anything, it was a kick for him to read that they had heard from others and were planning to implement a change. "