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Tea with Julie

Welcome to "Tea with Julie," a weekly missive by me, Julie Bogart. My wish is to give you food for thought over a cup of tea to enhance your life as an educator, parent, and awesome adult. Glad you're here. Pinkies up!
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Cincinnati, September 23, 2023

Hi Friend,

We want words, lots of them, churned out on reassuring sheets of lined paper, with curlicue cursive ‘r’s and proper punctuation reflecting both the demands of syntax and emotion. When the words fail, we try to coax them out.

What sometimes gets missed in this process is the power of talking. Speaking leads to writing more than any other skill. Getting words formed in the head and then out through the mouth leads to better writing. It doesn’t even matter if they are organized or concise or logical. What matters is the process of dredging them up, giving them room to develop in the mind and then speaking them through the lips by way of the tongue.

Writers make as many words available to themselves as possible. They do this by reading and speaking, speaking and reading… and then writing. There’s a powerful imitation process that gets worked out through talking too. Writers are likely to test new words in conversation before making them a part of their writing vocabularies.

My kids would often mimic actors and their lines, testing them in conversation for effect. Or they would ask us if they were using a word properly when they encountered a new one.

Principles to Support the Process

But even those strategies are only part of growing as a writer. Being able to talk to an adult in a supportive, nurturing space increases competence in articulation, in putting words together, that will lead to effective writing later.

So, think of these principles when you talk with your kids.

  • Find time to give eye-contact and focused attention. Kids talk better and more if the audience is actually interested. You can give the best level of interest by hearing a story or talking with your child without distractions (not cooking dinner, not cleaning, not shopping). Driving seems to be okay, though, and often leads to some of the best conversations.

  • Involve yourself in the interests of your child. Let your child teach you how to play a game on the Wii, or learn how to shoot baskets, or draw together while your child talks to you about art. Find a way for you to be in the role of “learner” and let your child sort through the vocabulary and sequence of events or practices to help you learn it.

  • Talk about language. When you watch a Shakespeare movie or read a novel or notice a clever billboard, take time to discuss the words themselves, the effects they create, the nuances they reveal. Make words cough up their secret and share these with your kids. Even ask them to see what is funny or clever or insightful about the wording of whatever source.

  • Discuss important things. Trust your kids to tackle big topics with you (according to their ages). Draw them into discussions about ideas like justice, compassion, racism, poverty, space, nature, human and animal rights, education, going green, neighborliness, death, birth, materialism, power, war, punishments and crime, and so on.

  • Don’t shush your kids. It’s easy to want to turn them off when they get rolling on another narration of level 4 of Super Smash Brothers Brawl. I understand. Still, you need to make space for the repetitions, for the meandering so that they can sort it out. If the words stay in their heads, they don’t grow as writers as easily.

A Subtle Nuance

I want to emphasize that before a child feels fluent in the mechanics of writing, before a child has had success with writing to the degree that he or she discovers the magic and power of the written word to unveil that next layer of insight, talking is the means by which a person develops a vocabulary of personal value.

In other words, talking is the primary mechanism that establishes “writer’s voice.” Conversation, reporting, sharing, narrating all lead to a growing confidence and competence in language – the very stuff that will lead to more satisfying writing, more ease in writing eventually… which will then lead to better thinking.

To nurture that development as your children share, then, you will:

  • listen,
  • reflect back,
  • mirror and support the development of speech.

You’ll notice their flourishes, their senses of humor, their attention to detail, their surprising word choices and your job is to affirm these.

When kids go to write, perhaps you will even remind them of that “so funny thing they just said at dinner” to include in the writing. You might jot down their words as they fly out of their mouths for them (and naturally this will happen when you are nursing the baby and making dinner at the same time). If you can “catch your child in the act of thinking” (i.e. talking) and capture the words on paper, you’ve given your child a huge headstart in the writing process. Suddenly that natural voice, those easy to find words are available for writing! Such a relief!

As you support that process, you are actually giving your child a chance to see just how connected the interior life, conversation, and writing really are: which is the strange and magical mix that informs all good writing.

So get talking! 

Need help learning how to talk to kids about writing? We've still got amazing classes with openings this fall. Check them out here.





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Julie Bogart
© 2023 Brave Writer LLC™

Brave Writer



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