Using free-writing to hear what your child wants to say

Using Free-Writing to develop kids writing with free downloadable prompts

I want to draw your attention to something that you probably haven't paid much attention to, and it will blow your mind when you realise did mine!

As obvious as it is (when you're aware) not many of us actually see it until its pointed out (I got my alert from Brave Writer).

Whether you read newspapers, books or online articles, one thing for sure is we're all used to reading good writing.
 Most of us read the work of professional writers in some way every day. We know what good writing looks like, and we know what it does not.

So when our child steps forward to present before us their humble piece of work, in all its unedited glory, we see how it doesn't even come close to the good writing we are more accustomed to interacting with from professional writers. 

What we miss, is the fact that all the professional writing we read, has been drafted, proof-read, edited, and corrected before we set our eyes upon it. 

And yet we still somehow expect (even without realising we do it) that our child should be able to produce a piece of written work equal in stature, free from misspellings and grammatical errors... on the first attempt.  

Wow, right!

The good news is, once we realise this, there are a lot of fun ways we can help encourage our children to improve their writing skills, and importantly, develop their writers voice. Because lets face it, no matter how grammatically correct a piece of writing may be, it is the writer's unique voice which propels that writing forward and makes it something special.

free writing with kids

Why free-writing works to develop childrens writing

Our children know how to communicate. They are fluent speakers, and will speak their mother tongue better than any second language learner ever will.

So when it comes to writing, all we are trying to do, is channel what lives in their mind, out onto paper rather than out through their mouths.

It sounds easy when we put it like that.

So how do we achieve this?

Our children are brilliant speakers, because they speak every single day. And every time they speak, they receive instant natural feedback on their communication in the form of dialogue.

If they say something we don't quite understand, we simply ask them to repeat, or give us a little more information.

We may repeat back what they told us, correcting any major verbal errors (politeness comes to mind here!), but its done with kindness and understanding that we are showing them a better way to communicate.

We never tell our children their speech is not good enough or is rubbish!

What we want to do with our children's writing, is to give them opportunity to practice putting their thoughts onto paper a little more often so that it becomes more natural like speech.

Free-writing is an excellent exercise to do this, because it is fun and has no rules. You don't need to worry about spelling or grammar. The only focus is getting what is inside the brain, out onto the paper in all its glory!

We're trying to develop the connection between paper and brain so that it is as strong as the connection between brain and mouth....or at least a lot more natural anyway.

Free writing removes the obstacle of spelling, grammar and punctuation, and instead show cases original content. Its the ideas and thoughts that we want to capture, and cast the technical mechanics of writing aside (don't worry, those misspellings and grammatical car-crashes will be dealt with later as part of the process, but we'll save that for another day).

Our children are fluent verbal communicators in their mother language, they have a mastery on grammar without knowing how or why, they simply speak and their words come out in the correct order. Yet, when it comes to writing, everything they want to say somehow gets lost as they dumb down what they think so that they can spell right or put a comma in the right place.

Free writing helps them to ignore all of that stuff to start with, and prioritise the original thought instead.....after all, they do say content is king!

In The Writers Jungle (a totally brilliant writing program which shows parents how to guide their children through the whole writing process and I couldn't homeschool without) Julie Bogart explains why it is important to give permission to our children to make mistakes in their writing, to not worry about writing rules and simply, just write:

"....the writer must dare to write it wrong first. Yes, you read that right. The only way into the writing jungle is to write and the only thing preventing any of us is the fear that we'll make a mistake. Stop worrying and start writing. Our kids need permission to make as many mistakes as they like in order to begin the process. When they focus on how the writing will turn out before they've begun, they inhibit their creativity" 
We want our children to make their attempts at writing free from inhibition and doubt, just as they did as young infants making babbling noises trying to formulate their first words. It is through trial and error that they can see what works, and keep moving forward.

How the Writer's Jungle helps me teach my kids writing

How to start free-writing

Writers write best when they know the subject they are writing about. So asking your child to use something they're pretty knowledgeable about or researching can certainly help.

Writing prompts can also be used to suggest something fun to explore in the moment, and at the end of this post you'll find a free 52 week writing prompt PDF you can download. 

I did say a little earlier there are no rules....well actually thats not exactly true. There is, but not of the official rules-for-writing kind.

Rule #1:
Set a timer for a specified period (usualy begin with just 5 minutes when you start free-writing)

Rule #2
The pencil must keep moving on that paper until the buzzer buzzes. If that means you write ".....I have run out of things to say I don't know what to write anymore I wonder when lunch will be ready....." then that is what you write until the time ends. The pencil must keep moving and creating words.

It really is as simple as that.

You will find that many kids beg to do more. You want to aim to get the timer to finish before they have had enough, so they finish the exercise with enthusiasm.

I've certainly found when I've done this activity with my own children and their friends, that they appreciate this freedom to ramble. They liberate themselves of all the writing rules which tells them to get it right, and so are more relaxed to allow themselves to explore their thoughts.

If you have a particularly perfectionist child, they might take a little more convincing that you are not expecting a final piece of writing here. Julie from Brave Writer suggests you take a piece of paper and scrunch it up first. Open it back out and give the crumpled sheet to free-write on, to show this exercise is not about perfection and making mistakes is fine because it is her thoughts that are taking centre stage here, not anything else.

free writing with Brave Writer

Now turn the free-write into something beautiful

Spend several weeks free-writing, just one a week is sufficient.

Then choose one that will be used to polish up. Its best to allow your child to select the piece he would like to take further.

This is where you start to revise and make the edits, removing those random unrelated thoughts that have been scribbled in because the pencil had to keep moving, and asking to tell you more about ideas or explanations.

Something I learnt from The Writer's Jungle, is the difference between correcting our children's work, and inviting them to tell us more.

In The Writer's Jungle, Julie promotes giving feedback as an interested reader. Drawing on what you can identify as exciting and relaying back to your child the insights you have gleamed from her writing. She explains:

"By providing feedback like this, you're giving your writer the chance to hear what impact his writing had on you, the reader. He doesn't need to know what impact it had on you, the educator, until much later. Writers write for readers, not for teachers. Start out as a reader."

The idea is you are working as a team, in much the same way as perhaps an editor would, to guide and prompt an author to pull out more information for the reader. Instead of criticising or pointing out what is wrong, invite her to tell you more.

This is why I love The Writers Jungle, because its taught me to be a writing coach for my kids, rather than a dictator of instructions and mark checking. Its shown me to work in partnership with my children to encourage their writing progression, and guides me step by step on how to help my kids.

Honestly, it is thanks to Brave Writer that I have learnt this stuff and can now share with you.

52 Non-fiction free-writing prompts for kids

52 free-writing prompts to get you started

To help get you started, I've created a year long list of weekly non-fictional prompts you can use. I've cut mine into strips to store in free-writing jar so that we can pick one each week.

You can download it when you click on the high lighted text below:

52 free-writing prompts for kids.

If you're interested in finding our more about how Brave Writer can help you develop your children's writing, you can see how we've been using some ideas and product reviews here:


*This post contains affiliate links - please see my disclosure here.

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