This is my second review of a Pam Allyn book, the last one was on Pam Allyn’s Best Books for Boys. Pam has the ability to synthesise and present the latest research on literacy, teaching and our children in an captivating manner. And the woman is prolific. Best Books for Boys came out earlier this year, and now in August, we already have a second effort from her.
While Best Books for Boys was aimed more at the classroom teacher rather than the parent, Your Child’s Writing Life is aimed at parents – though teachers will gain from reading its pages.
If you’re a writer, like me, you know that good readers make good writers. What Pam drives home in this book is that good writers in turn make good readers. There is a positive feedback cycle between these activities. Readers make writers, and writers make readers. In her introduction, she outlines why writing matters:
1. Writing fosters a child’s emotional growth
2. Writing helps develop critical thinking skills
3. Writing leads to GUARANTEED improvement in academic achievement
And what really piqued my interest in this book is that “far earlier than the start of formal schooling, your child can begin to have a writing life...the human instinct to connect through language begins in a baby’s first smile.” Allyn wants to help us to help our children “write from the youngest age.”
Studies show that “the early childhood years, from birth through the age of eight, are the most important period for literacy development,” Allyn explains. The book is filled with both wisdom and with practical tips from Pam Allyn for mothers of pre-schoolers on how to nurture their children’s writing life. Her wisdom includes concepts such as “be a dedicated listener to your child and what she has to say;” and “believe that he has something worth saying.” This sounds simple, but how often do you ignore what your child is saying to check an email or read a message on your phone? I’m guilty of it. On the practical side, Pam includes discussions on children’s developmental progression so that you can check to see if your child is off track, and get the help you need if she is.
Pam Agreed again to a short Q&A with me, and I’m so pleased to be able to include our exchange here:
1. Why did you write this book?
I wrote this book because the two things i love most in the world are children and stories. And i don't think children get enough credit for two things: how much they naturally love to write from a very young age, and how many stories they have inside them that will compel them to really want to write forever.
2. Who is the target audience?
The target audience is parents and all caregivers, but i hope teachers will read it too. And i've already had people tell me they love it even if they don't have children in the home! That it's inspiring them to want to write too!
3. Is it ever too late, as a student, to start learning to write analytically?
It's never too late! But it requires mentors, both in terms of people who write well and also in terms of texts that are knockouts. Students need to see examples of what we mean by great writing.
4. Case Study: My Older boy is 5 1/2. He's only just starting to write his name and such. He can read a small bit. What are a few simple things I can do to encourage him over the summer?
Go with him to the store and purchase a writers notebook. It can be something as simple as a composition book. Then bring it home and decorate it together, with pictures of things he loves and is passionate about. These become springboards for his writing life. Save even ten minutes a day for writing together. You should have a notebook too. Tell each other stories, then encourage him to write his down and you write yours. Don't criticize his spelling. Let him spell his own way. The main thing is to get him to learn to write in volume, and to enjoy the ritual of it every day. Make sure you allow time every day to read aloud to him from a variety of books and stories and poems. Reading aloud helps our children fall in love with language.
5. What about mothers of 2, 3 and 4 year olds - kids who barely know their alphabets - what three things can mothers of children in this age groupd do to encourage "a writing life"?
Great question! Three things:
1. Make sure to allow lots of time for play. Play is the base for all storytelling and for the child building her capacity for narrative.
2. Read aloud at least two to three times a day. It is just essential, like fruits and vegetables for the growing mind. Good delicious ones!
3. Make sure to have all kinds of paper and writing materials available and handy for your young child. Create a writing corner in the kitchen or wherever you are as a family a lot. Provide lots of fun, safe tools for writing, scribbling, drawing. Your child will start feeling like a writer immediately!