Encouraging Young Writers: Why You Should Set Aside Time to Read and Write With Kids

Making time to read and write with your kids can not only encourage your young writers to flex their creative muscles—it can also help you find time to work on your own passion projects.
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by Austin Moore

Children change everything. Social habits, sleep habits, eating habits, and even writing habits are subject to complete upheaval when offspring enter the picture. The biggest change Tucker, my firstborn, made to this part of my life was in displacing my common excuses to not write. His cuteness and my exhaustion combined to be all the reason I needed to ignore a blank screen on any given day.

I write every day as part of my work in television and marketing, but the personal passion projects are far too easily ignored in favor of reading books to my children, playing with little plastic ponies, and quite honestly staring at small screens because there is too much noise and chaos in our house to focus on whatever narrative I might wish to create. However, I’m not complaining. I would trade none of it for the novel I just KNOW is simmering just below my surface.

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Still, a curious and lovely thing has occurred with my 9-year-old: He wrote his first book two years ago and has crafted several more since. TuckTucker’s and ElElla’s Adventures: Book 1 is 18 pages long including the character list and cover. Most pages have only one or two sentences, but are colorfully hand-illustrated. It is the story you might expect from a 7-year-old boy, told with all the skill you might expect from a 7-year-old author. It will surely embarrass him at 18, but at 42, I am in awe. My son had a creative idea, executed that idea, and moved on to the next project. How many adults struggle with that simple process?

In a recent Reddit post, I spoke of his writing and was astounded at the interest it generated. Many responded with their own experiences of parental encouragement, while others shared stories of childhood deterrence. So then question then was raised, what have we done to embolden him on this journey?

First, we read. When my son was small and now with our daughter, we read books by Dr. Seuss, Virginia Lee Burton, and Sandra Boynton during the day. These are fantastic works, beautifully illustrated, that help children understand reading and language and so much more. But at bedtime, I put away the books with pictures and read novels. Boxcar Children books at first, and then the classics. Sherlock Holmes, The Time Machine, and The Hobbit were some of his favorites.

This isn’t an effort to steep the children in culture. Books without pictures encourage them to close their eyes and lay still. Classics engage me enough to keep me awake, and calm them enough to allow sleep to come. Quite by accident I have found that because I care more about these stories, they pick up on my passion. Even though my children may not have always understood every passage I read, I know they understand the energy of the tale. That, I believe, is where my son’s spark began.

Secondly, we try to stay out of the way when it comes to their creativity, but close enough encourage and witness and cheer. Kids will create. It is their nature. Just let a kid feel bored for thirty, maybe thirty-five, seconds and you’ll see their creative juices start to spill over the edges. So when the kids want to paint, we usually let them paint. When they want to put on a show in the living room, we shut off or at least mute the TV and pay attention, even if the show has 15 song-and-dance numbers and seemingly unlimited encores. We always play along when they pretend. We build with them. We play with them. Sometimes we hide from them because they are exhausting and never stop talking. But, we never tell them to get real. We refuse to be the rain on their parade.

Finally, with my son’s writing I am careful to limit my suggestions and criticism. Despite my annoyance with the child’s apparent immunity to writer’s block, I always start with praise, and then I stay with praise, and then I ask one question, and then heap on a bit more praise. I don’t try to correct every spelling mistake or clear up every plot point. We are not looking for his first book, nor his third, or fifth, or any of them to make the bestseller list. I am only looking at each thing he writes as an opportunity to help him learn one more skill as a writer, something that will benefit him no matter what career path he takes.

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We have recently started scheduling time to write together, sometimes at a coffee shop, sometimes at a library. Today we are working at home. I find the tick-tack of his laptop keys give me the needed pressure to produce words myself. From a teaching standpoint, the lessons present themselves organically in this format. Today, he asked me which character should deliver a particular line he wanted said. This gave me a chance to talk about establishing personalities and motivation. Not a point to belabor, but a seed to plant.

As I said, the kids were probably just born smarter and stronger than us anyhow. It is likely nothing more than a lucky equation in which my wife’s genetics and mine multiply out better DNA for our kids. But we are thoughtfully trying to help them along the roads they want to take. In the end, that is probably the best advice I can offer to encourage the young writer in your life. Kids find the way to go. We just need to stay out of the way, occasionally help them side step a pothole, and otherwise make sure they don’t lose sight of the horizon.

Now my daughter and I just finished The Boxcar Children’s Blue Bay Mystery. Time to step things up. So next up, Treasure Island!

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Austin Moore is a video producer/director who spent the last two decades in public service. He is the 2010 winner for Best Feature Screenplay at the deadCenter Film Festival for “Bubba Ain’t Dead,” and was nominated for a Regional Emmy in 2012 for his work on the educational television series “SUNUP.” Austin and his wife, Melissa, have been blessed with three children who provide all the drama a chaos a writer so desperately needs. You may follow Austin on Twitter @auzemoto, LinkedIn or see examples of his work at www.agreybay.com/experience.html.

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