Your Child’s Writing Life by Pam Allyn

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When I was young, I wrote.

When we were about 6, my friend and I would sit at my blue Smurf picnic table in the family room of my house, armed with crayons. One of us would write the story and the other would illustrate it. When I was in first grade, my class had regular writing assignments, and we’d take our carefully written and illustrated creations down the hall to the “publishing center” where it was spiral bound like a treasure. I loved being a creative writer.  When I was in seventh grade, I wrote half of a novel on our family computer.1

At some point after seventh grade, I stopped writing fiction2. Even until a few years ago, I thought I wanted to write fiction, but I never have.  I don’t know why. Too many other papers over the years, now too much books blogging? Too much self-consciousness, realizing I am not that good? Maybe I just prefer nonfiction, but I wish I had the creativity for fiction I had as a child.

Pam Allyn’s Your Child’s Writing Life (published by Penguin USA, 2011) is about the need to nurture our children’s writing and creativity. It’s a handbook for the parent to open up opportunities throughout the child’s childhood. Ms Allyn talks about why nurturing your child’s writing life is important, the various stages to watch for in your child’s development, strategies to help the reluctant writer3, writing prompts to get children started, and suggested books to read together for discussion opportunities and ideas.

Your Child’s Writing Life is, as the title suggests, geared towards parents. Ms Allyn is giving advice for those after school hours. The teacher may find gems for helping bring more creativity into the classroom (especially with the chapters with writing prompts), but most of the book suggests a cozy home environment conducive to sitting down and writing whatever one wants, without the pressure of an assignment, just for the sake of personal enjoyment.

What really stood out to me on finishing this book is that just as reading with your child is an indicator of future success, encouraging your child to write regularly beyond school work likewise aids in future success. Creativity is a must for adapting to new situations in the home and work place. One wonderful way to encourage creativity is by encouraging writing.

My favorite chapter was that which discussed the different stages of writing. Although my son cannot yet physically write with a pen, he still has stories to tell. Ms Allyn’s book encouraged me to ask him for his stories, and he’s enjoyed creating them with me. Here’s one of my favorites from the past weeks, dictated straight from Raisin’s mouth.

Winnie-the-Pooh and the Mice
June 21, 2011
by Goldbug (or so Raisin informs me; Goldbug is his best imaginary friend)

Once upon a time, there were some mice. And the mice tried to find their friend Pooh. The mice looked up and down, here and there, front and back, left and right. But they couldn’t find him. And they started looking for Winnie-the-Pooh. They went to a bush and looked behind it. But Winnie-the-Pooh wasn’t behind it. They saw a snake behind the bush! And they go to a tree and looked behind. But they didn’t see Pooh. They saw Owl. That means they were in Hundred Acre Woods. And they looked right across from it. And they saw a house. And they looked behind the house, and they saw their friend Winnie-the-Pooh. And that’s the end.

The End.

What I liked about this story was the fact that Raisin started with an end in mind: he knew that by the end, the mice would find Winnie-the-Pooh. He also followed patterns in the search, and gave a little adventure with the snake. Some of his other stories were like random dreams, ending up anywhere compared to the beginning or the title. I can see progress after just a few weeks of our “writing time” together. I hope we continue it, because it’s fun to see his creativity. I’ve also got him to journal, for me, the time he spent with the babysitter and grandma while I was in New York. That was fun, as he detailed every stoplight essentially.

Ms Allyn’s book reminded me that although I strongly encourage reading in the home by reading with him frequently, I don’t often model the writing side of creativity. Raisin can mostly read already thanks to our picture book shelves, but how often have I written stories with him? Maybe once every six months we write a story and illustrate it together.  That needs to be more frequent. Besides, I’m now inspired to rediscover my own fictional muse. She must be dormant somewhere inside.

I read Your Children’s Writing Life via Netgalley courtesy the publisher, Penguin.

  1. It was a time travel to the 1980s from the very distant future, and it was supposed to have a romance between seventh graders by the end. I think it was the romance that kept me from finishing it, since seventh-grade me had never yet had a “romance” that I could write about. Unfortunately, my novel has been lost so I can’t share the gems from the 2078 I’d created.
  2. I remained a compulsive journal writer, and obviously have taken my writing into a blog instead.
  3. I mentioned I was reading a book on the subject to a sister-in-law and she asked “Does she address what to do when a child won’t write?” In answer, I say, yes, there is a chapter. But, I don’t know how easily Ms Allyn’s techniques may be applied in an individual situation. I read the book with my unique perspective as the mother of an almost four-year-old. I can see the steps to creating a life-long writer. I don’t know how I’d apply the ideas to an older child because I haven’t gotten to that point in my mothering yet. I feel inexperienced to respond to the hows of mothering an older child.
Reviewed on July 8, 2011

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  • Oh wow! This is amazing! As a parent of a kid who is REALLY in to reading and “writing” (he’s three) and telling stories, I am very interested in keeping this passion alive. Guess I’m picking this up, today!!!

  • Aw, yay for Raisin! That’s the cutest story ever. You’re so right, it’s an excellent thing to get a kid doing and enjoying early on, just from a school standpoint if nothing else — being fond of writing made writing papers in high school and college soooo much easier later on.

  • I think you hit the nail on the head!!!! I loved reading your post because I’ve always wondered how to keep the fire lit in our children’s imagination. I echo what the previous commenter said as well. We have created reading spaces for our children with colors that inspire imagination and we limit TV! We have also put them into several books as the characters….they love reading them and it always conjures imagination. by John Abernathy are a great way to start. He offers several options for stories the artwork is inspiring. He’s got a great story.

  • My parents did a lot of this with me when I was little—writing down my dictated stories before I learned to read and write—and it’s the source of some extremely fond memories for me now in addition to hilarious records of the stories themselves. Definitely something I would do with any future children I may have, at which point I would probably seek out Allyn’s book or something similar.

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