The Power of the Pen ~ by Valerie Parry
The Power of the Pen
I love to write; I love the feeling of weaving words together to develop my own creation, playing with it, adding colorful words and vivid descriptions until it becomes a true expression of exactly what I’d like to convey. Over the course of my very long teaching career, however, I have come to realize that many children truly dislike writing. While they are happy to text a friend or engage in an online chat, their reaction to an essay assignment is often an inward groan at best, writing is often perceived as a chore rather than a chance for self-expression. Writing is not only an essential means of communication, it is an amazing opportunity to learn about yourself and an extraordinary chance to share yourself with the world. How do we transmit this to our children; how do we inspire children to approach writing with joy and purpose?
As a child, I grew up in a house full of sisters. Our house was tight, and we were an obstinate and impassioned lot; disagreements and arguments were frequent. My mother had no patience for our constant bickering, so when tempers flared and voices raised, her immediate response was, “don’t fight it out, write it out!” She would send each of us to a different room and, arming us with paper and pencil, she would tell each of us to write her a letter describing the transgression of the sister in question and leave them on her bed when we were finished. From that exercise, so often repeated as I grew up, I learned to write with passion. I learned that some words were more effective than others; to say I felt “bad when my sisters teased me” did not carry nearly the weight as “I felt humiliated and demoralized when my sisters cruelly taunted me.” I would pour out my hurt and anger on the page, seeing in my mind’s eye the tears of sympathy in my mother’s eyes as she read of the wrong-doing that had been inflicted upon me. The letters rarely elicited that response; although I occasionally earned some sympathy, my mother most often shared the letters from both sides with us, and from that we learned that things looked very different from a different perspective.
My parents used the same tactic when we ganged up on them and demanded a new puppy or pierced ears. They told us to write down a convincing argument supporting our idea. Again, we learned to write with fervor as we tried to convince our parents that a new puppy would be a wonderful addition to our family, and we learned that collaboration could be a valuable tool. My parents would read our letter at the dinner table, and, even after much discussion, we rarely won. But sometimes we did, and from that we learned the power of writing.
It is important for parents to give children meaningful opportunities to write from an early age, and it is equally important that they make the time to enter into the fun themselves. My parents encouraged us to write stories together, and they were ready to listen to us read them as soon as they were “published”. One summer, my mother bought us a children’s typewriter and set us to work writing a “newspaper” to share with our distant relatives; each sister had a separate column, and my parents paid us 25 cents an edition if we made the “deadline.”
These ideas may seem a bit archaic, but every parent has opportunities to help their children value writing. Encourage your children to collaborate with friends when writing, as other kids can serve as an inspiration when the words are difficult to find. Enter into the writing activities yourself and make sure they are enjoyable to you as well as your children. Keep a bowl full of “what if” slips of paper, and periodically spend an evening conspiring together to create a “What if you woke up tomorrow and all of your stuffed animals had come to life?” story. Take turns writing the sentences, and make sure you don’t censure any ideas, even if the story takes an unanticipated twist. Write a story with your children about a vacation adventure, and make sure it’s a true collaborative project. Or, if you can’t spare time to write with them, suggest that your children write a story about something that “happened” to them, and allow them the freedom to embellish with abandon; then encourage them to share it with you, and perhaps pass it on to someone else, who will undoubtedly be delighted. I remember trading inventive experience stories with my Aunt Rose beginning the summer I was 10, and it created a wonderful writing relationship that has lasted to this day.
There are many ways to allow children to discover the fun of writing. Try giving an older child a chance to write a bedtime story for a younger sibling, and give them crayons, markers, and colored pencils so they can illustrate it, along with a promise of allowing them to stay up a bit later the night they read the story aloud. Arm your children with tools of the trade; give them fancy pens, a thesaurus, beautiful paper, and journals where they can express all their feelings, passions, and discoveries of the world. Try hard to never be too busy to listen to them share their written words with you, your appreciative reactions will keep them writing; and always save their stories. When cleaning out my mother’s house following her death, my sisters and I were rewarded with a trunkful of our creations from the past, delightful childhood stories written almost 70 years earlier.
Writing is a true gift. It is a gift for the writer as it empowers them in so many ways, and it is a gift to the reader as they have a glimpse into the wonderful world of the author. Engaging with your children in the writing process and giving them the power of the pen will truly arm them to become individuals who can speak their written truth with confidence and joy.