Want to know one of the secrets of writing well?
This may seem strange and even counterintuitive. If you want to be a better writer, then you should read more? If you want to be an artist, should you frequent museums? If you want to be a professional sports player, do you watch as many games as you can?
As a matter of fact, yes! You do!
Exposure to an ideal is instructive. If you want to do something well, then surround yourself with things well done. Reading will naturally prime homeschool students’ minds for how to write well. This doesn’t take the place of hands-on practice—that is also important! But think about how an infant learns how conversation works and how to interact with objects around them by observing how their parents act. In the same way, reading will play a major role in instructing a student on how to write well.
Why is reading such a big deal when it comes to writing, you ask?
Reading demonstrates how to communicate through writing.
By ingesting what others have communicated through written language, students learn that sharing ideas through writing is not only possible but effective. When students laugh or cry or become scared or learn something because of a piece of writing, they are normalizing the idea that written words connect with the reader and mean something. They aren’t just words.
Reading introduces students to new vocabulary for more effective self-expression.
Having the words to express oneself is important. Reading introduces students to language they can use to understand themselves and the world around them better. For example, they may say something makes them feel mad. But if they had greater knowledge of vocabulary, they may more accurately say that the thing disgusts them. But what if it’s more? What if, given the right language to use, the student realizes that the issue is not just with their reaction, but with the thing itself—that the thing itself is perverted? Each of these words/ideas (mad, disgusted, perverted) is similar but means something slightly different, becoming more and more precise. Reading helps students learn these types of increasingly precise ways to express themselves and process their surroundings accurately.
Reading shows how to use prepositions in the correct way.
This one is a little strange to think about, but it’s true. I have it on the authority of college English professors with PhDs that they can immediately tell which of their students “is a reader” by how they use prepositions. It’s also a fact that, when learning another language, proper preposition usage is one of the most difficult things to pick up.
For example, in American English, there is a difference between “I talked to my daughter” and “I talked at my daughter.” Imagine if someone asked, “What did you do in the weekend?” instead of “over the weekend?” Or if someone said, “I got my degree in Harvard” instead of “from Harvard”? It just sounds wrong, doesn’t it?
Reading shows how to use prepositions properly according to the cultural standard.
Reading is important in the quest to learn to write well. What should you, as a homeschool educator, do to help your student read and write to the best of their ability?
Here are some suggestions:
1) Encourage reading!
Obviously. Chapter books and novels are great and interest many children and teens. Right now, the market is full of books directed at these audiences!
However, know that they aren’t the only option. Some students just aren’t all that into fiction, and that’s okay! Offer them poetry, or magazines, or articles. Let them read about history, science, current events, NASA, philosophy, engineering, anything! In whatever area your homeschool student is interested, encourage them to read.
2) Give your student reading material they will like!
Associate reading with something positive rather than making it a chore. When it comes to fiction, many children and teens will most likely be interested in books that are purely fun or wildly sensational.
You know what?
You really don’t have to hand your thirteen-year-old Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky. If they want to read fantasy books about cats or goofy books about long-lost princesses and just really aren’t interested in the more literary children’s or YA books, that’s okay. Let your child develop a love of reading their way. I promise you they will grow as readers and get into more quality stuff eventually. Almost every one of my reading peers (twenty- and thirty-year-olds) has certain books that they look back on and think, “Wow, those were so stupid and horrible, but I loved them.” And they turned out fine and did grow to appreciate more quality novels. The important thing is that the “reading bug” was caught and encouraged young.
3) Engage with your student about what they are reading!
Don’t let the experience stop with reading of the words on a page. Talk to your kids about it!
“Did you like it? Why?”
“What was your favorite part? Why is that your favorite part?”
“Who was your favorite character? Why do you like that character?”
“Did you learn anything?”
“Was there anything in the book you didn’t like? Why?”
Discussing what they read will encourage students to really think about what they are ingesting rather than just ingesting it and moving on. Verbal discussion (or hey! Written discussion) will help students understand that written content has deep meaning and can relate to many things in life.
Plus, talking about books gives you the opportunity to connect with your kid on their plain. Any excuse to deepen the relationship between you and your child is a good one.
Bottom line: You want your student to write well? Get. Them. Reading.
(Note: This post is not about how to judge the content of children’s and YA novels, some of which do not contain positive influences on a student’s thinking. For guidance about how to sort through the thousands of options, talk to your local librarian or do a search online for parent-friendly reviews.)
Head of Curriculum Development for Essentials in Writing and Essentials in Literature