Growing up, I was homeschooled from 2nd grade through 12th grade. When I was twelve years old, my mother had her third child and only son, Elijah. I had always wanted a little brother, so from the very beginning, I had a special love for the little guy. Being so much older than him created a unique relationship between us—making me something of a mixture between an Annoying-But-Loved Sister and a Cool Aunt.
As my brother has grown, I’ve done my best to meet him on his level and connect with him through play. One particularly dear memory I have is when I unintentionally introduced him to creative writing before he had even learned to write words on his own.
Creative Writing Before Writing Words?
One day when my brother was around three or four years old, I cleared a space on the floor of his bedroom for the two of us, pushing all the toys and shoes and blankets to the side. Elijah and I opened a new box of crayons and drew together, holding those one-sentence-per-topic conversations that happen with young kids.
“So, Bub, what’s your favorite color?”
“That’s a nice color.”
“Velociraptors are my favorite dinosaur.”
“That’s cool. I like stegosauruses.”
“Uh-huh. I saw a dog eating a bug.”
“I like baseball.”
And so on.
The previous Christmas, I had given my brother a little homemade storybook about a knight who saves his sister, a princess, from a dragon (starring ourselves because I’m adorable and sentimental like that). That must have been what brought the idea to our minds, for before long, our random colorings became a project to create a new storybook. I told him that he could come up with the story and draw the pictures, and I would write the words.
The project was on. He’d draw a picture, and then I’d ask him to tell me what it was. (After all, I knew his markings meant something, but I couldn’t decipher them whatsoever without his explanation.)
“Okay, so what’s happening here?”
“These are pirates!”
“Wow, that’s really cool! What else?”
“Um…they like PUPPIES! They love puppies.”
“So they’re nice pirates. Gotcha. I’ll write that down.”
I labeled the picture according to his description, then asked him, “What do these puppy-loving pirates do?”
“They…go on an ADVENTURE!”
“Brilliant! Draw the picture of their adventure.”
Back and forth we went. I kept asking him what happened next. It didn’t matter if it didn’t make sense. It didn’t matter if Elijah told me something that wasn’t in the picture he drew. No matter what, I wrote down what he told me for the story.
I wish I still had that collection of pictures we amassed, or at least remembered more of what we came up with. The only other details I remember of that afternoon are one particular image and my brother’s description of it.
The page had four small, clumsy squares drawn at the four edges of the paper. Lines connected the squares to a circle in the middle of the page, inside of which were several squashed and deformed figures I knew to identify as puppy-loving pirates at this point.
“What’s happening in this one?”
“They’re down a hole.”
I decided that we didn’t really need to know how they got down the hole for the sake of the adventure.
My brother continued, “And there’s smashing things.”
“Yeah, smashing things.”
After scrutinizing the page, it dawned on me. “Oh! The squares! Those are the smashing things?”
“And they are going to smash the pirates who are down the hole?”
“Oh no! How do they escape?”
“They…They get away.”
In spite of this rather anti-climactic description of the dire escape, I knew without a doubt that the scene playing in his little pre-K brain was of Indiana Jones-level epicness.
What about you and your homeschool student?
What does this matter? How does this story affect homeschooling and writing at all? After all, my brother didn’t actually write anything that day.
Or DID he?
Even though my teenage-self was not trying to teach my brother a lesson, I realize now that I did. I not only encouraged creativity (“Let’s write a story! You tell me what happens.”), but I also demonstrated how you can express what is in your mind in a shareable manner. Elijah’s ideas became pictures. At my promptings, he had to explain the pictures to me verbally. That verbal explanation became written words at the bottom of the page—words that he couldn’t even read yet but still knew somehow communicated what he was thinking.
He wrote the story, even if he never picked up the pen.
Writing is one way to clarify and to express your ideas in a sharable format. Creative writing and story-telling are ways to learn to express what is happening in your brain. And in this form of writing/expression, you don’t have to worry about having “the right answer,” because there isn’t one.
Try it yourself! Whether your homeschool student is physically writing yet or not, you can teach them to be creative and put their thoughts into words!
Pull up a carpet and create a story with your young student. They don’t have to draw pictures if that’s not their thing. They can tell whatever story they want. They can tell the story of the Lego build they’re constructing, or the frog they caught on the driveway, or the plan they have to clean the kitchen. (That last one sounds strange, but I have a friend whose toddler is very, very scrupulous about keeping things tidy and loves to tell people about his processes.)
Write down what they tell you, and let them see you do it. Show them that writing is thoughts put into words put onto paper, and it’s as simple as that.
And have fun with your kid! That’s what I did with my brother on that random day when we wrote the story of the Puppy-Loving Pirates and the Smashing Things.
Head of Curriculum