Hello everyone, welcome back to My Swiss Story. Hope all of you are doing well and staying safe. When it comes to quarantine life, most parents are faced with a new challenge of homeschooling their children. This is why I thought, who better than a teacher to talk about the art of writing, the love of writing, and how to make most of this time to develop those skills.
Nayana Chakrabarti-Bhattacharya is a teacher of English who has taught in the UK, India, and Switzerland. After obtaining a Tripos from the University of Cambridge and a MA in Twentieth-Century Studies from King’s College London, she returned to the Faculty of Education in Cambridge to train as a teacher of secondary English. However, since then Nayana has diversified her skills to include teaching phonics as well as primary literacy. She is a passionate advocate of reading, storytelling, and creative writing.
And now, onto Nayana.
Do you know what the problem with writers is? Well, they make writing look easy. The other problem is, of course, that books lie.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that books and stories are created by people who sat down at their desks, invited their muse in for a cup of tea and a natter before letting the magic happen. Writers make writing look effortless, and books hide the fact that not just one person worked on the words inside but that multiple people did. Thus, when we or the young people in our lives sit down to write, we expect the same degree of perfection from ourselves. The fact that writing is not a leisurely stroll along a beachfront and the fact that it is indeed a steep, uphill climb instead comes as a bit of a rude awakening, especially so when you’ve mastered it and it’s now your turn to teach your kids…
Coronavirus And The Challenge Of Teaching Your Kids At Home
No one told you that life was gonna be this way.
Writing is part of the triumvirate of the 3Rs. Reading, writing and arithmetic. A triumvirate that is so often repeated that we take it for granted in our lives. We think it should be easy because it sounds easy, but COVID-19, the global pandemic has turned much of what we know on its head, and suddenly, it’s up to parents to steer learning at home. This, while simultaneously navigating all the other challenges that a global pandemic will throw at you (working from home, limited time outdoors, shortages of toilet roll and what-have-you).
In light of everything that is going on, it would suddenly appear that those 3Rs are not so basic anymore and that educating our own children is a lot more challenging than any of us bargained for. And therein lies the rub, within this nexus of challenge and stress, how can we find ways to encourage love, for anything, least of all writing? I’ve spoken to many friends recently who are tearing their hair out, as they have woken up to the realization that convincing a 9-year-old to begin a sentence with a capital letter, is akin to squeezing blood from a stone. And, while we are at it, what on earth is a tripod grip anyway?
The good news is that the path to writing and learning to love it is not difficult either, it’s textured. Writing is pleasurable, it is a form of self-expression that has its own rewards and not just something ‘uniform’ that teachers and parents enforce in school or homeschool.
In some ways, I am fortunate that my interests and my work converge. Reading and writing are the cornerstones of my existence. Because of this, I feel like it’s my personal responsibility to ensure that my children find pleasure in both as well. This is why at-home -pandemic or otherwise – I prefer a child-led, informal, and relaxed approach to reading and writing.
Reading Is Equally If Not More Important Than Writing
Let’s take a quick detour through the world of reading before we address writing. I genuinely believe – and research supports this – that if we do not make room for reading in our lives, we are going to really struggle to make sense of writing. It is never too early to start reading. We can begin it in utero. There are also no ‘right’ books. I read out loud to my own children when they were infants from the books that I was reading at the time. Eventually, once I emerged from the baby bubble, we made our way to wordless picture books before progressing onto picture books in general. Encourage a representative and diverse bookshelf. You will notice that as your babies grow older and emerge as rather vocal toddlers, they show interest in retelling the stories that they have read. This is often the time that they also joy in mark-making. Before you know it, they are exuberantly coloring outside the lines and indulging in all of the child-led activities that make up the world of ‘pre-writing skills’, and while they are at it, they are also honing fine motor skills. You can begin to celebrate them as writers by turning their marks and their coloring into mini-books or zines. A few folds of the paper and then you are done!
After all, writing is a lifelong journey of learning, and we are all at different stages of that journey, from babyhood right through to doddering old age.
Make Writing As Playful As Activity Time
Play is another way in which we can encourage writing. Children build magnificent worlds in the stories that they tell through play. A recent favorite from my own nearly 4-year-old was “And then the fire truck flew through the moon”. Write down those first stories. If you have the time, illustrate and let your fine artist color and paint those words alive.
But what’s the point? Why should we cut up zines and pander to budding baby Hemingways? Very simply, the answer lies in confidence. Building confidence in our children’s ability to write and to associate it with joy and pleasure lays down the foundations of a happy writing career. We don’t need to aspire to a Booker Prize to pursue writing in our lives, do we? The ability to wield words will help to make your children better and more effective communicators. But as with everything, it is better to take it slow.
But what about older children? At one point or another, be it in English, or German, French or Italian, certain letters are going to need to be capitalized, and that grammar is, in fact, a thing. At some point, we have to let our children in on the secret that the language of a text message, of Tik Tok and Snapchat is different from the language of a formal letter. However, our own fear of not getting writing right and our own fear for our children’s writing – however well-meaning – can result in paralysis.
How to encourage writing at home
It’s best, at home, to take the pressure off and to build in writing into the daily routine in a manner which is not forbidding and in which they learn to write for themselves. Whereas younger children tend to favor applause and acknowledgment, older children might prefer recognition of a quieter sort as they are often too much in the spotlight anyway – society’s collective eye together with its standardized examinations seem to be permanently trained on children five to eighteen. For older children, I find that journaling is a lovely and private way to encourage writing at home. Journaling not only aids in cultivating mindfulness but, from a writing point of view, it also encourages us – no matter how old we are – to discover our own unique voice and strengthen it.
Intrinsic Motivation & Extrinsic Motivation: What’s The Difference?
As with most other things in life, motivation is key. But, did you know that there are in fact two different kinds of motivation? Researchers of education often refer to extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation. Studies have shown that scholastic achievement is frequently underpinned by motivation. In contrast, extrinsic motivation is actually a form of external regulation whereby we undertake activities because of their merit and value in society, intrinsic motivation is when we undertake activities because we recognise the need to value learning as an end in itself. Journaling is something that one does for themselves, irrespective of external regulation, and thus it is a way in which we can coax children to value writing as an end in itself. Furthermore, the introspection that journalling inevitably encourages also helps to lay the foundations for a healthy growth mindset.
Finally, a journal that is begun now, in these unique circumstances will also help young people to document their experience of living through history and create, if you will, a written time capsule which can be revisited in the years to come. And, finally, when we write history, spelling, punctuation and grammar are small fry, they cease to matter.
Nothing is as terrifying as a blank page, so here are some prompts that may help to foster both creativity and introspection:
10 Writing Prompts To Fuel Creativity, Voice & Introspection
- Draw a picture
- Write three words that best describe your day, across the page
- Write down the headlines from today: what’s the top story in the news?
- Use this prompt to write: You Make Me Smile
- Use this prompt to write: The Dining Table
- Use this prompt to write: “S/he/they was/were the owner of the moonlight on the ground” (This prompt is from Tales of Moominvalley by Tove Jansson)
- Use this template to layout a page:
- My name is…
- Today is…
- What did you do today?
- What was your most favourite part of the day?
- What was your least favourite part of today?
- Is there anything you would change about today?
- Circle the word which best describes how you feel about today? ( happy, sad, surprised, angry, scared, worried, tired, sick)
- Why did you feel this way?
- When is the happiest you have ever been?
- If you could have any job in the world, what would you choose?
- What age are you most looking forward to in the future?
Image courtesy: Pixabay and Unsplash
Nayana Chakrabarti-Bhattacharya is a teacher of English who has taught in the UK, India, and Switzerland. She has worked closely with children aged 18 M- 18 yrs. A published writer, Nayana is currently working towards an M.Ed from the University of Exeter. In parallel to her work as a teacher and freelance tutor in Zurich, Nayana also edits a newsletter for third culture kids in Switzerland. She has created a creative writing course for children aged 7-18. Nayana is a writer herself who has had her short stories published in collections, online magazines, and journals. You can follow Nayana on Instagram or better still, send her an email on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stay tuned for more resources, we have some great content lined up with experts in various fields – marketing gurus, coaches, wellness experts, chefs, and teachers to get you through this tough time. Stay safe and healthy! Make the most of your quarantine with My Swiss Story.
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