It’s natural for young children to bubble over with ideas, schemes, and jokes. Unfortunately, capturing those ideas on paper does not always come as easily. Here’s how you can help your child get in the flow and learn to enjoy writing.

Help your reluctant writer at home

If your child struggles with writing, practicing at home will help, but you don’t want to make it seem like another school chore. The answer is to sneak writing into play — and vice versa.

As Joseph Pearce says in The Magical Child, “The child can never learn to play without the parent playing with the child. Play … is a huge creative potential built within the child, which never develops unless it is stimulated by the adult model, the parent.”

Remember that your role as a home writing coach is to have fun and to honor your child’s imagination. You don’t have to be the drill sergeant in charge of spelling. In fact, research shows us that in the long run, it’s far more important to encourage the communication of ideas than to hamper a child’s style for the sake of correct spelling.

Here are three key lessons from research that help back up the ideas shared here. “Three lessons from the science on how to teach writing,” a 2014 meta-analysis in The Hechinger Report, provides suggestions based on hundreds of studies. First, they advise trying to encourage all kids to write for 15 minutes a day, with extra time beyond that being even more helpful for maximizing writing skills. Poland raised their PISA scores after they implemented a rule requiring kids to spend four hours reading and writing each week.

“Write on a computer” is the second lesson. Why? Using software with spelling and grammar correction relieves kids from these distracting and demoralizing burdens, allowing them to focus on the substance of what they are trying to communicate. The third and final tip, “Grammar instruction doesn’t work” backs up the second lesson. According to the report, six different studies showed that writing quality deteriorates when kids are taught traditional grammar rules. Their essay grades drop below those of students spared the tedium of memorizing the functions of irregular verbs, conjugations, indirect objects, future perfect tense, and the like.

The root of the word “communication” is “to commune” — in other words, to coax the ideas in your child’s brain down through the paper and up into your brain. You can help by:

  • Saying, “Let’s play a game.” There’s no need to mention “writing game” if your child is a reluctant writer
  • Choosing subjects your child loves, like brontosauruses or monster movies or soccer or TV shows.
  • Talking through ideas, asking questions, and listening carefully to answers.
  • Making drawings, notes, and story maps together, if your child can’t remember ideas.
  • Taking dictation or having your child use a computer.
  • Praising honestly and liberally.
  • Keeping games short.
  • Sharing the work! Post written work on the wall or refrigerator, or sending it to family members and friends. Writing is meant to be shared.
  • Quitting if it isn’t fun for your child or for you.

Try these writing games for grades K-2

Eat your words

The reluctant writer of any age often needs to return to the word level. Make it fun by baking dinner rolls or cookies in the shape of words that mean something to your child. For example, if your child loves comic books, bend purchased dough into “Pow!” or “Shazam!” If it’s their birthday, bake their wish, like “Gameboy II.” (And if all this is too messy, use PlayDough or craft clay for words — but don’t eat it.)


Pretend you are stranded on an island somewhere in your apartment, house, garage, or local park. You need to write “Help!” so you will be rescued by planes that are searching for you. You don’t have a pencil or paper (and if you did, the writing would be too tiny to be read from the air). Tie towels around your head and take water (it’s hot on the island). You and your child must survey your surroundings and invent non-pencil ways to write HELP! If you’re in the bathroom, you might make giant letters out of toilet paper (and hope there’s no wind). If you’re in the garage, you might find paint and brushes. If you’re in the park, you can always write with your toe in the sand box. Suggest as little as possible, unless your child needs prompting. This game allows the child who balks at writing to experience the power of a single word when it is used for a reason. And if your child’s imagination is fertile, don’t stop at the first idea. Find as many ways as possible in each room or location.

Flying messages

You’ll need a ball or Frisbee, some tape, and paper cut into six 1-1/2 – 2″- wide strips the long way. Both you and your child should write three commands, one on each strip of paper, that tell the other person to do something physical. For example, you might write, “Hop on your left foot six times” or “Squeak like a mouse.” Try not to see each other’s commands. Go outside and stand as far apart as your child can toss the ball or Frisbee. You start the game by taping your first strip to the ball or Frisbee. Toss it to your child. They read the message and follow the instructions. Then they tape their first strip to the ball or Frisbee and return a flying message. If you don’t have a place to play outside or the weather won’t cooperate, you can stuff the message in a sock, ball it up, and toss it inside. (Hint: Don’t play this game on a day when you’re pooped.) In school, a child with learning problems may not connect why ideas in their head need to land on paper and be read. But when messages fly through the air, affect the other person’s behavior (and especially make them look silly), writing makes sense to the child.

Try these writing games for grades 3-5


The writer Remy Charlip wrote a classic children’s book called Fortunately, in which one good event happens, followed by its unfortunate opposite. The book opens with, “Fortunately one day, Ned got a letter that said, ‘Please Come to a Surprise Party.’ But unfortunately the party was in Florida and he was in New York.” You do not need the book to play this game, but it’s more fun if you first read it together. (If your local public library doesn’t have the book, they can find it for you through interlibrary loan.) Each person playing the game receives one sheet of paper. Write in large letters at the top of a sheet of paper “Fortunately.” On the reverse side, write “Unfortunately.” Talk with your child about a trip they have always wanted to take. To Disney World? Across the United States by bicycle? To the moon? Help your child think of a first sentence about the trip, starting with something like “Fortunately, we won the lottery. Our whole family decided to buy bicycles and ride across the United States. Mother quit her job.” Write the “Fortunately” sentences. Then pass each paper to the other player. Turn it over and write the “Unfortunately” part. For example, “Unfortunately, it rained every day, and our bicycles rusted.” If your child wants to play more, you can either make new Fortunately/Unfortunately sheets or you can draw a line under the first part and continue the story. Number each part on the front and back, so you can read the finished stories out loud more easily. Remember, this is not the time to fuss about spelling. If it’s easier for your child with LD, let them dictate to you. Your role is to help your reluctant writer communicate their ideas to the world.

A day in the life

Photographer Rick Smolan has published a series of books called A Day in the Life… showing 24 hours in the life of an astronaut, a country, a state. Now it’s your child’s turn to create a similar book. Buy your child a disposable camera or let your child use your phone. Page through one of the Smolan books and explain the concept. Then talk about documenting one day in your child’s life (or the pet’s or sister’s or friend’s or whomever your child wants). Start the day by photographing your child asleep just before you wake them. Then let your child take a photo every hour of the entire day. (A timer set to an hour will help you remember.) Finish by taking a last shot of your child, asleep. Print the photos and paste each one on a piece of construction paper. Help your child write the details that explain each picture — why your child picked the subject, why it is important to their day, and who was nearby but not shown. Make a title page by writing “A Day in the Life of [your child],” with the date of the photographs. Punch three holes in the left margin and tie the pages together with yarn or dental floss. Keep the book forever, and show it to everyone. Talking about your child’s ideas is a crucial part of writing. It helps your reluctant writer capture those elusive details that sometimes scramble in their brain.

Family time capsule

Start by gathering a shoebox, paper and writing tools, and an envelope for each person in the family. Tell the family that you will be making a Family Time Capsule, to be opened in one or five or 10 years (or for whatever length of time you and the family vote for). It is to be a record of who you were, who you are today, and who you want to be. Have each member of the family write a private letter, telling the world about their life. Where were you born? How old are you today? What do you look like? What are your favorite activities? Foods? Books? Movies? Colors? Vacations? What’s going on in the world today? Where do you want to be in one or five or 10 years? If you have pets in the family, have the children write letters for the pets and take pawprints. When each person is finished, seal the letter in the envelope and write the person’s name and date on it. Then add more items to the Family Time Capsule, like baby and current photos, tapes of children singing and talking, postcards from vacations, and drawings. Also include the front page of today’s newspaper. Have everyone help seal the box with tape. Then write on the outside “Do NOT open until [date]!” Stash the box somewhere and forget it until Opening Day.

If I ruled the world

Your child has been elected to rule the world. They will need to give an acceptance speech on TV to their adoring subjects, but must supply the text of this speech to the person (you) who types it for the TelePrompTer. Other members of the campaign (i.e., the family) can also help with all steps leading to the final speech — proper costumes for Sibling Subjects, setting up the TV studio, and typing the speech. First, choose the props. What hat or crown should the Ruler of the World wear? What outfit? Does your child have a personal symbol of greatness, such as a favorite stuffed toy, blanket, item of clothing, or sports equipment? Set up the TV studio. You will need something to function as a camera (it can be pretend), lights turned on the Ruler, a microphone-like object, and something to serve as a podium. You can take a video on your phone. Now plan the speech. If your child has trouble with handwriting or sequencing, talk first about their ideas for ruling the world. What needs to be changed in the world? What would make it fun for their subjects to live in his world? Is there anybody your child wants to thank for helping them reach this important position? What are their plans for the future? If your child’s learning difficulties prevent them from handwriting comfortably, you can audiotape the brainstorming, jot down the key ideas, or take dictation. Then enter it into a computer or print by hand. Tape the papers together so that they form one long sheet. Have another child or friend hold up the paper next to the “camera” and let the Ruler deliver their speech. Share the video with family, especially at a gathering if you can, for the rest of your kid’s life.

Make writing a game, not a chore

Writing has many stages before it reaches paper — generating ideas, noticing likenesses, deciding on one main idea, eliminating other ideas, choosing appropriate words, and putting them in an order that readers can follow — and these stages can all be fun!

Your child may not always love to sit down and write. But if they can learn to enjoy the creative process and write for a reason and an audience, half the battle is won. Incorporate writing naturally into play and it need not be a chore for your child or for you. Let those ideas flow into print and sparkle.