Raising Thinkers & Writers Who Write Meaningful Notes & Respond to Challenge
I brought back a suitcase of gold from my time in the US. Any one of us who live abroad or who call more than one homeland “ours”, know the importance of imported goods– especially if, like me, you find yourself solo. Better bring lots of useful and whimsical loot home.
A couple weeks ago, I unloaded my suitcases. Sheer joy, a virtual birthday, Christmas, and Chanukah. Out of pjs, books, and a few small toys, perhaps the most enthusiastically-received was a pair of acrylic cups, with lids, and hard-plastic straw. Retro, classic, and totally usable. Except I kept forgetting the system they enacted! It was bothersome. Who wanted which color lid? Wait–does my son get the orange straw or was it the teal?
Toddler Straw Cups for Target
This might/could have been a time for “You get what I give you, no tantrum, or it’s mine, forever”, but in this house, we try to honor their preferences, providing they are respectful and it works for us. I had to at least start with a better system to remember before I dashed it all. Hmm, the onus could be on them to help, not simply on me.
Enter note-writing. My daughter knew I needed her help; here was her chance. Total buy-in, right? Writing and literacy depend on relevance, audience, motivation. This was intrinsic and extrinsic. “Can you please draw for me the cup, lid, and straw you want?” No problem. My girl scrambled out of her chair for the supplies (paper, notebooks, pens, and pencils are always fully-retrievable for all kids in a house desiring and operating in the fullness of literacy). A rendering of both cups appeared within seconds. At this age, drawing is a massive help and support to keep it fun and for multiple-intelligences.
“Now we draw and write to show who gets which parts. This is labeling!” She drew and also articulated to me the words which I them encouraged her to write. This process may look like a child thinking of each sound, then writing the letters themselves. Other times, it may mean the child helps by dictating, then co-writing, by supplying sounds and sometimes letters, while an older writer moves the actual pencil. Parents and kids can also work together, passing back and forth a pen or marker. “Oh, let me write that, please!” Vary the jobs to keep it fresh.
This is the best: when your child desires independence, knowing their skills are a match for the activity. There is confidence in the process and in the product.
In this case, I have a child-made guide taped to the fridge, acting as a reminder when I prepare their cups. They can also compare the work, or theirs, if they prepare a cup for themselves or for their sibling.
This is literacy in action—a way to work better in the world, using voice, and all the skills they’ve been gathering since day one.
Also, some children would thrive with more order, more organization. Writing can give them an avenue to get what they need. A parent, besides, modifying their own behavior, or household, can encourage a child to write out their own list to aid in the family-process. Say I keep forgetting to buy the soy milk they love. Let them write me a reminder note! Say they feel too big for their now too-small bath towel. Encourage them to draw a picture of what is wrong, and then, maybe on the other side, what can be done to change the situation. This is a place where kids are invited to problem-solve, helping you in your job of parenting. It’s more than simply a wish-list; it’s an invitation to voice need and preference and order. After all, they will solve a much bigger problem than just cups and straws, right? Literacy is for right now, but it’s also scaffolding for forever!
Invite them to bring the paper to the store and choose a towel, a bigger obento set, a not-cracked habitat for kabuto mushi, those awesome helmet beetles they’ll want to collect come summer.
Or maybe it’s furikake; your husband bought a too-salty kind and they’d really like to feel healthier with less salt, and more nori and sesame flakes.
Be multi-lingual in these notes! Translate! Incorporate all of the “pleases” and “onegaishimasus“, and “s‘il vous plais“, you know. Write the whole plan or request out in both or all languages. Draw itty bitty details about what you want in the seasoning for your rice, or what kind of juice you’d like to try this summer. Diagram your perfect layout of dream-foods for the fridge! Help me by writing a reminder about what you’d like to do this Friday afternoon. Or maybe it’s a movie, the items we need to prepare for soccer, your suggestion for Friday night dinner, with dessert plan or seating chart. Lists are a vital, magical, organic fertilizer, helping all of your seedlings grows.
Notes can help everyone; the kids feel helpful and get what they want with less frustration and more confidence. Parents see literacy in action. I don’t lose my patience over kids whining or complaining when I get the cups and lids and straws wrong. They’ve helped me to streamline even a small process, that has freed us up to pay attention to the big things, our fun togetherness and the juice, milk, or water inside their cups.
Let them write, draw, and then find, according to the needs they’ve described. You’ll not be the only one doing all the work. Help will take the form of creative thinkers, excitedly cramming plans and diagrams, all sorts of lists in your hands.
Enjoy the work of praise and encouragement. These are the seasons of love.