Raising Writers: A Q&A with Pam Allyn

Writing fosters a child's emotional growth, helps develop critical thinking skills & leads to improvement in academics

By Marcela Landres
Published on LatinoLA: May 7, 2012

Raising Writers: A Q&A with Pam Allyn

Most parents know that raising their children to be readers is important. Did you also know that inspiring kids to be writers is equally beneficial? According to Pam Allyn, author of "Your Child's Writing Life: How to Inspire Confidence, Creativity, and Skill at Every Age", writing fosters a child's emotional growth, helps develop critical thinking skills, and leads to guaranteed improvement in academic achievement. To learn more, read this month's Q&A with Pam.

Pam Allyn is the executive director of LitLife and LitWorld, national and global literacy organizations. She is a nationally recognized expert on children's reading and writing development. Her books and work have received numerous awards, including the National Parenting Magazine and Mom's Choice awards. She lives in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York. For more information, visit http://pamallyn.com/

Q: Many parents know the advantages of reading to their children, but why is it important for children to also write?

A: I see reading as breathing in, and writing as breathing out. They go together as beautifully as that. A growing child is busy creating all the time, whether through play or through conversation, and writing is a way for the child to begin to put ideas out into the world. In writing, the child practices what they are absorbing through reading and being read to.

The beauty of language, the pleasure of a rhyme, the lovely choice of the perfect word. When the child goes to his own page or screen, he then makes decisions based on what he's heard and read. What moved him in his reading life will propel him towards a writing life. Also, the child who writes is learning to value the exquisite delight of stopping to notice, pausing to observe, and savoring the magic of every moment.

Q: Is there a particular age children should be before parents encourage them to write?

A: We can name the earliest play and drawing children do as "writing" by saying "What story are you telling today?" As soon as you see your child is interested in the tools and resources of a writer (and keep them handy), your child is ready to "write." The writing might look like scribbles or early picture making but this really is part of developing literacy. Celebrate all these small steps just as you celebrate when your baby babbles or says "mama" and you instantly affirm that your genius has just said your name! We don't do this affirmation often enough when our children start their forays into writing.

Q: Would you share three things parents can do today to help their children fall in love with writing?

A: 1. Read aloud. The more we read to our children, the more they marinate in language and stories. Read aloud from all types of texts, too: Poetry and stories, nonfiction and silly riddles. It's all good for their brains!

2. Ask them to tell you stories. Storytelling is an important early component and lifelong companion for a writer. Try to be as specific as possible in your questions. Just asking: "How was school?" won't really get to it. Instead, say: "Tell me what happened on the playground today." Great writing is all about specificity and the child who is practicing specificity in oral storytelling is going to write well.

3. Be a writing role model. Let your child see you writing e-mails, letters, notes, and anything you do for work and pleasure. Writing is something that's usually done in solitude but it's so important for our children to see how much it matters in our lives and that it's not always about writing long; it's about writing when you need to communicate.

Q: Alternatively, what three potential pitfalls might parents wish to avoid?

A: 1. Criticism. Let yourself be in the journey with your child. Praise her for her tender baby steps as a writer. Don't be tempted to correct spelling or handwriting, or try to speed her up on the keyboard. Let her wander, dream, wonder, and observe. And celebrate that.

2. Negativity around writing. Try to stay positive about your own writing. Try not to say: "Oh, I hate to write." Be as joyous as you can be. Get writing journals and write on vacations; take photos and make captions together. Leave each other notes in the morning. There are so many ways to make writing fun.

3. Lack of time. Don't rush so much. Put down your mobile phone (or if you have it in hand, text loving messages to your child as part of your writing life!). Sit and love the blooming garden in your backyard and sit and love the setting sun, or the sounds of the city. Then together savor them so much you want to write about them together.

Q: Aside from your winsome book, "Your Child's Writing Life", what resources (books, magazines, web sites, etc.) would you recommend to parents who want to learn more about instilling a love of writing in their children?

A: I love New Moon Magazine for girls. I love National Geographic for Kids and Sports Illustrated for Kids to show our children how many topics there are in the world. Share blogs with your children, showing them that writers have passions and that passions make blogs.

Q: Who is your agent and how did you meet her? How did you come to be published by Avery?

A: My agent is Lisa DiMona and she is a genius! I adore her. She has been an enormous source of inspiration for me. I met the amazing team at Avery through an introduction from Lisa. They have been so supportive of me from the beginning and I treasure all of them.

Q: Do you have upcoming projects that my readers should have on their radar?

A: Yes! I have another project simmering with Pearson (Avery is part of Pearson) called Core Ready and it's all about teaching to the reading and writing standards. Even parents will find it of interest because so much is changing in the world of literacy right now. I love all the changes; it is a very exciting time. And for Scholastic, my other wonderful publisher, I have a new book coming out on solid homework ideas to accompany a child's independent reading life. The ideas are pouring forth!

Excerpted from Latinidad?« ?® 2003 by Marcela Landres

About Marcela Landres:
Marcela Landres is the author of the e-book How Editors Think. She is an Editorial Consultant who specializes in helping Latinos get published and was formerly an editor at Simon & Schuster.
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