May 20, 2012

Find Your Child's Motivation to Write in the Heritage Language

This weekend my son handed me my first unprompted English note. He wrote it on his own, without anyone asking him too. He thought of every word, decided the spelling himself, and wrote it all down on the back of a piece of origami paper, and handed it to me.

I am so proud.

I also want to bottle up whatever it was that made him do that. Wouldn't that be awesome? It would help parents all over the world, struggling to find their kids' motivation.

My son's first unprodded note in English
Apparently all it took to give him the motivation was to make him mad!

Looking at my collection of letters to the editor, I know exactly where he gets this trait! Finally something of mine in his personality. He's not just a carbon copy of his daddy.

He did something and I made him come inside to have a "talk". Well, he was steaming mad. He went up to his room and did not want to talk. So he wrote this note (Don't Come In, Don't I Said Mom - with a few extra letters just in case!) and slipped it to me so I would know he meant business.

Poor guy though, it didn't work as intended, he still got the talk, plus extra hugs for the note he wrote me. But he wrote it. Now he knows how to get mom's attention!

The thing is, I can't make him angry enough to write all the time. I need to find other ways to prompt him.

When we went on a little trip earlier in May, Stompy, Domba, and I all drew pictures and wrote stories about the trip (okay, I wrote what Domba dictated). That was pretty fun. I'm going to keep that activity up from now on. But I still want the kids to want to read and write on their own. Part of it is they need to get more skills, that's where the practicing comes in. Once they are both a little better and can write exactly what they want to say without adding extra letters just in case (which I have to say is pretty darn cute!) then I think they will have a little more idea of how useful writing is.

I think that the best things about my son writing this note to me, in addition to the literacy skills he is building, is that he can get out his emotions, and the reaction is immediate. All the other writing activities we have done have had the payoff so very late (6 weeks later for a letter from Santa, 3 weeks for his postcard to arrive in Canada) that it's hard for a young child to not get frustrated. It's this immediacy, if not the emotion, that I will seek to recreate, by getting him to write notes to English-speaking friends around here, and by letting him use my phone to write text messages to his grandparents and possibly other friends his age who have access to phones and are interested in trading messages.

But I think that what I have been missing all along is role-modeling. I read, read, read to my kids. But how often do they see me pick up a pen and write? Not often. I write Christmas cards and New Year's cards, but almost everything else I type on the computer and on my cell phone, including my grocery lists.

I am going to change that, starting today. I will handwrite my grocery list, and have Spinky read it out to me when we go together. I will handwrite notes on books I review, instead of typing directly into Blogger. And this week when he goes on a field trip he is going to find a note in his bento box.

What do you do to motivate your kids to write? What is your own motivation for writing?


  1. Love the note! How great!

    I still write a lot of things by hand- to do lists, shopping lists, cards, letters etc. I could do more though!!

    The note in the bento box is cute. I am sure he will love it. Hope his writing continues to take off!

    1. He did like it. :)
      You do a lot more than me- I always suspected you weren't cut from the same lazy cloth.

  2. That note is so cute XD

    I love the 'write to get your feelings out' technique. Whenever I'm particularly steamed over something I'll write a nasty note, edit the heck out of it so it's perfect then file it away to never be seen again.

    I write most of my story notes by hand and my to-do list and grocery list, but very little else. Xander and I draw pictures with crayons often and when he starts to learn to write I hope this will progress to writing stories together.

    1. What a great idea, it's good to start getting into the habit early!

      I'm dangerous. If I write something I rarely file it away...

  3. My daughter, 8 years old, really loves writing and drawing. No one have motivated her, but I assume she likes to show what's in her mind with letters and colors. She loves to copy a picture in a book to a paper with her hand. Not only pictures but letters. She tries very hard to write hiragana or kanji as exactly same as them in text books.
    She likes shodo, calligraphy, very much.
    She looks motivated when I give her some tips to write them better. But she is not interested in competition thing, like shodo contest. She wants to write or draw like just she wants not for a prize, I guess. So, I try not to push hard. but you know parents tend to push when they found a "gift" in their kids! haha , Anyway, I like to watch my daughter's face focusing on writing.

    1. Oh you should be so proud. A love of writing, intrinsically, is a great gift. Well done!

  4. That note is just too adorable. My parents have a framed index card on which I wrote (to my brother), "Don't touch my tapes, you brat!" I've always been charming, I guess.

    1. As an older sister, I give you my commiserations. :)

  5. My daughter used to write notes to me when she was three, thought I'd spent LONG ENOUGH on the phone. Phonetic spelling. You tak tu mach!! Since these were on a magnetic drawing board, I photographed them - and her angry face. Made me hang up, though. Message received.

    1. Kids are so good at letting us know when we get out of line! I bet that photograph will be cherished as she gets older.


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