Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Encouraging Young Children to Write

Today's guest post comes from Nikolas Baron of Grammarly.com. Having two enthusiastic young storytellers in my home (and a third who's well on her way to becoming quite the storyteller herself), I love the tips and resources Nikolas shares to encourage that delight to persist as they grow older.

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Young children want to tell stories. They want to tell us about the things they've seen, especially if they're discovering it for the first time. If they experience something that they enjoy, they especially want to share that joy with others. As they grow, many of them carry that love of storytelling into a love of reading. And, while it would be wonderful if this love of reading and writing continued into later years, that's not often the case. Unfortunately, when most children reach junior high or high school age, they're forced to read and write, and because of this, they tend to lose their love of stories. Reading and writing become additional chores, which they have to do alongside solving math problems and cleaning the kitchen. How, then, can we encourage our children to maintain this love going into these later years? By taking that early desire to tell stories and fostering it, encouraging them to view their world through words and express their imagination. Doing so will help them understand the power of words and, hopefully, develop a love of writing as they grow older.

So, how do we do all of that? The easiest way is to just take some time to tell stories with your young children. When they want to tell you about this thing they discovered outside, don't just half-listen, responding periodically with a “uh-huh.” Engage yourself in their story. Ask them questions. Encourage them to further think about how to express themselves.

Participating in your child's storytelling doesn't have to stop with listening to their experiences. Take them out to the park and look for stuff to tell stories about. If you see a squirrel, ask your child what he or she thinks that squirrel does when it's not in the park. Does it go home to its own squirrel family and watch squirrel cartoons on a tiny TV? While it may seem silly, doing this will encourage your child to engage his or her imagination and express what he or she is thinking.

As your child grows older, it may become fun to work with him or her to get his or her stories down on paper. In my work for Grammarly, I research how people are writing and what tools they're using to improve their skills. I can tell you that there are a number of online resources that will not only encourage you and your child to write together, but also help them create a visually fun and engaging storybook.

  • ArtisanCam's “Picture Book Maker” is one of the most basic ways you can begin. It provides all of the scenery and character art, allowing you and your child to compose the pictures on the page and write the words below. When the picture book is complete, you can then save it to a gallery and email a link to one or two friends or family members. In doing this, your child is not only getting a chance to share his or her story with you, but with others, which can be further encouragement to continue storytelling.
  • “My Storymaker” is similar, in that it provides the artwork for you and your child to compose a picture book. It differs from ArtisanCam, however, in its complexity. “My Storymaker” allows you to insert other objects into the scene, and even animate characters as they interact with those objects or other characters. As you make selections, “My Storymaker” will write many of the sentences for you.
  • “Little Bird Tales” takes the complexity even further by allowing you to upload your child's own artwork to build the picture book. You and your child can then write the story below, and even record your voices narrating that story.

Taking some time to foster a love of storytelling within your children can go a long way to maintaining that love into their later years. And, as they grow older, they may want to continue telling their own stories and further developing their writing skills. When this happens, it's important to help them develop a stronger understanding of some of the more specific grammar lessons. The grammar check at Grammarly can be a great way to do that. It will take any chunk of text and check it for over 250 grammar rules. This can be an easy way to catch basic mistakes, helping young writers develop solid writing skills.

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Nikolas discovered his love for the written word in Elementary School, where he started spending his afternoons sprawled across the living room floor devouring one Marc Brown children's novel after the other and writing short stories about daring pirate adventures. After acquiring some experience in various marketing, business development, and hiring roles at internet startups in a few different countries, he decided to re-unite his professional life with his childhood passions by joining Grammarly’s marketing team in San Francisco. He has the pleasure of being tasked with talking to writers, bloggers, teachers, and others about how they use Grammarly’s online proofreading application to improve their writing. His free time is spent biking, traveling, and reading.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Spring legs

I am a homebody. I am also a detester of all that is cold or rainy or snowy. In the chilly seasons, those two forces combine to leave me hibernating in the comfort of my home as much as I can get away with it.

But now it's spring (glorious delightful sunny spring) and the sunshine is calling. Wake up, come out, enjoy. The vegetable garden has been turned and weeded and half-planted, the nearby nature park has been explored, and picnics at the beach and the park have been eaten. We're getting out there even when it's hard for me to find the motivation. Just go, I remind myself. You're always happier when you do.

The only problem is that I've got spring legs. They're weak and wimpy and achy, and they complain all the day long after being well used. I garden and my thighs ache. I hike and my calves ache. I sit in the sun and they turn red. They're sad, sorry, grumbly legs after spending the winter curled up under a blanket, a mug of tea and a book and often a child or two resting on them.

But still the sunshine pulls and the kids push and I find myself outside once again. Muscles work and then they ache but they'll get used to it. I will press through the wimpy spring legs until I arrive at summer legs, tanned and strong and - bonus - more defined and lovely. They'll walk through sand and hilly trails and water and autumn leaves and then winter will come and I can pretend I'll keep getting out there, but I won't. Those legs will curl up under a blanket once again and this is simply who I am, the one who steps outside into the sunshine a few months later with weak spring legs, ready to press through to strength one more time.



Just writing along with the EO...

Saturday, 10 May 2014

When it's just you and the kids on Mother's Day

With the much-missed husband working out of town right now, it's just me and the kids this Mother's Day. And you know, that's life; it's not as though he deliberately chose to be away on this particular day. We've been chatting on the phone and messaging back and forth, and we're all managing just fine.

Now don't believe for a moment that I haven't allowed myself a few moments of self-pity. It's not often a day comes along devoted to honouring the mothers in our lives. Most days we quietly serve our family and watching these kids grow is more than reward enough, but a day especially for us? I'm not going to turn that down.

When reality doesn't match our ideals (as it so often doesn't), there's not much to do but make the best of it. And make the best of it I shall.

For me, that means that Mother's Day dinner will be take-out pizza and a nice cold glass of Coca Cola - it's been a long time since I last indulged that way. Then it's dirt cake for dessert, and oh, how I blushed at all that junk food rolling along the conveyor belt at the grocery store last week. Worth it, though. I do love a good dirt cake every once in a while, and there are few things kids find funnier than (gummy) worms to top it all off.

We'll spread our picnic blanket over the couch and watch a movie together while we eat and I won't feel guilty for a bit of it. This is my day and I intend to enjoy a bit of relaxation. A nice afternoon nap, I think, and we'll see if I can't wrangle some breakfast in bed out of these three wild creatures of mine.

A little extra housework tonight will be a nice reward in the morning too. I will wake to freshly-swept floors and tidy rooms and a sparkling kitchen, and it will all have been more than worth it.

If it's just you and the kids this Mother's Day, go ahead and, where possible, give yourself permission to relax and have things your way. Pick that coveted meal even if the kids hate it. Put your feet up and read your own book instead of theirs. Take a few extra minutes in the shower. Dress up or dress down, whatever makes you feel happiest. And if you've got a bit of extra time before you turn off the lights tonight, give the house a quick once-over so you can wake to that little extra bit of peace and calm.

Go ahead. If there's no one else around to do it, thank yourself for all that you do.

Happy Mother's Day to all of us.