By Jamie L. Scheppers
In the words of Susan Taber, former communication arts consultant for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, “Reading and writing are reciprocal processes that strengthen each other.”
Success in life relies heavily on literacy and, specifically, on the ability to communicate clearly through writing. The easiest way to improve your child’s writing skills is to encourage him to read. Your child will do a lot of this in school, but it’s important to encourage reading outside of school work.
It’s a parent’s job to ensure that reading material is age appropriate, but this is just the beginning. Guide your child to a wide variety of authors and subjects. No doubt your child will have his favorites. Taber says this is normal. “They go through different stages. That’s good,” she says.
“One thing we’ve realized, and that research has brought out through the years, is that [children] should really be reading more nonfiction,” Taber says. If the children love to read, it can be even more beneficial for them to learn something valuable at the same time. “Interestingly enough, kids love nonfiction. That’s something we’ve missed through the years.” So, if you and your child are browsing for books at the library, head to the nonfiction section.
Once the reading is under control, it’s important to help your child bridge the gap between reading and writing with a form of free writing. Paraphrasing and summarizing are two important skills that will help your child with academic writing, but it’s also important to encourage journal writing. Taber says summarizing isn’t the only thing that can improve comprehension and suggests “journal writing about the day’s events, current events, or anything.”
Paraphrasing is the act of taking someone else’s words and revising them in your own words. Consider paraphrasing a "translation" of a complex work into your own words. This is important for children to do because it helps them more fully understand the things they read. It also helps them learn what plagiarism is and how to avoid it. Summarizing has very similar benefits, but involves condensing the material so that it can be reviewed in less time than it took to read the source material.
Original text: In the 18th and 19th centuries, commercial hunting of belugas by Europeans and Americans caused a drop in the Canadian Arctic beluga population. In addition to using the meat and blubber, Europeans also used the beluga whales' fine melon oil to lubricate watches and machinery, and to illuminate lighthouses. From 1868 to 1911 Scottish and American whalers took more than 20,000 belugas in Lancaster Sound and Davis Strait. (Silich, Steven “Beluga Whales Discovered” (1991): pp 67-69)
Paraphrased: In the past two centuries, European, Scottish, and American beluga whalers have decreased the Canadian Arctic beluga population in both the Lancaster Sound and Davis Strait. The whales’ meat, blubber and melon oil is used for many things from watch and machine lubrication to lighthouse illumination. (Silich, 67-69)
Summarized: In the past two centuries, whalers have significantly decreased the Canadian Arctic beluga population in both the Lancaster Sound and Davis Strait. (Silich, 67-69)
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