Writing to Help in the Home

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?

target cups

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! 

More examples:

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.

Today, the Inevitable Good

Today, this afternoon, in a small classroom

flanked by chilly sun, the last of fall leaves, and a baseball field,

I took out a secret weapon of sorts.


They were rowdy, post-December-party,

post Monday, all day, after-the-weekend-fallout

of no-more-focus, but bouncy, wiry, zooming fatigue.

And they got me for literacy time.


I know. Not the best timing for 4 year old brains,

lips, teeth, tongue, high-top feet.


wpid-imag0623.jpgIt took so many “shushes”, a slew of positive feedback,

and some great, dramatic, all is lost, maybe, siiiiiiiiiiiiiighs.

And crayons falling on the floor.

(I helped them along to add to the drama.

Sometimes 4 yr-olds like drama.

Maybe this is always).


Eventually, my aha…


No one knew my guy,

the innocent bearded minstrel

of my WHOLE childhood and my sisters’

and now my own squirrelly, gorgeous kids!


No one knew my RAFFI,

who is the voice of children everywhere,

who got us thinking about Manuel and Rahim in Iran,

Gita in India,

Janet, Koji in Japan, and all those kids,

Baby Beluga and Everything Grows, babies, too,

I swear, this is how I learned about the world.


He was my One Light One Sun chorus to G-d,

my notion of inherent goodness,

to wit that could be sweet and kind,

the incandescent,

the loud

altogether in my living room cassette player,

in the shower, and on long trips,

to and from errand-trips in the blue Honda.


They were so silly; no way did they want slow songs.

Only the sillies.

Only the peanut butter song and You Gotta Sing.

Only great snaps and stomping breaths.

I, no, we, were saved.

Sometimes, you know, you gotta sing.


PS To my sister, to everyone: Raffi has a new album!

PSS I know I am my mother.


Here’s a maybe similar post, more of an essay on umbrella strollers, libraries, and love. Oh, yeah, & CHERRIES!!! It’s all about a girl named Bidemi & what you do with when you’ve got pits. Or when life is, for that moment, the pits.



Writing with a Magniscope

I never told you about Hakone. I never told you about the wind up there in a gondola or how our dear friends came careening in from Florida, touching their salty, tropical toes and rolling suitcases into our neck of the world, into a nether continent. How they adjusted their sleep cycle well in advance, or how they bought out all the candy in the world for us, enough to stuff two piñatas. They threw up a sheet and came in like hang gliders, just trusting currents and the season of reacquaintance, trusting in G-d, trusting in love.

I am still not delving into their visit. I’m not even fully unpacked from the season of Visitors in our little Tokyo Campus of a narrow three story. I will tell you that I used a new metaphor in writing. It is called applying the magnifying glass, holding up a thick, important lens to see little important things.

In front of seven brilliant Japanese young ladies, in my school, in my round English Lounge of a class, I stood on tiptoes. On tippy tippy toes, fourteen bold, inquisitive eyes peering at me, I held up a picture. It was so far from them, breaking the rule of “Hold art up at eye-level”, that they had to squint. I asked them questions. “What do you see? Who is it? What are the shapes? What is happening?” They squinted. They tried to see. “Two girls. Sisters? Friends? Short hair.”

“What color are their eyes? Can you tell if one is angry? Where are they?”

I brought it down and sauntered over, magazine picture in hand. What is this? We looked close, making wrinkles in our noses, wrinkles in our brows. We pretended to even look through a magnifying glass picture I had prepared. We went over what it does, this magnifying glass–mushi megane in Japanese. It is a lens used to study bugs, to count fuzzy legs on everyday creatures, making the “not so interesting” more mysterious. (Have you ever seen butterfly wings up close, under a microscope? Truly, G-d is in the little things like cells and scales, iris, and retina). There is beauty in looking together.

hakonr 9

So. We looked closer. They wrote and wrote the details that warm the writer. Not just a dress–velvet with belts of ruffles! Not just red, but wine red, merlot red, deep red! Plum! These second-language learners, these wise translators and inheritors of the freedom of English, recorded the Beauty of Detail! Not just short hair, but golden ringlets! The younger sister, hmm, maybe age four, is cutting a paper chain of children! They are under the dining room table, and look at all that Berber! (It happened to be that these are the girls of Brooke Shields, the setting, their sprawling, gilded home).

We got it. Beauty in Details. We then looked to their last assignment–writing about where they went during their summer vacation. It was mostly painted with broad-strokes, mostly pictures like postcards found in swiveling airport book stands. No magnifying glasses, no record of rich detail.


They chose the place they’d lay down that magnifying lens. So you went to Okinawa! What was in the water? What shade of blue? Tell us about the dappled light streaming into the Kyoto bamboo grove! Apply that lens to make us FEEL how nice the people were in Chang Mai! Because if you have beauty, people want to know!

What if I said we went to a petting zoo, but I failed to tell you just how odd it was to see a pelican cohabiting with sheep and goats, iguanas stretched-out near the feet of alpaca? Details just beg you to speak!

petting zoo


Here is the first Hakone shot. It is like the canopy over a rainforest. How much light is let-in? What animals are there to swing? How about down, down down to the damp earth floor–what snakes do slither there? Tell me, before I swim–are there sharks, whales? Minnows? Plankton? Give me the fine with the broad. I can take it.

Hakone 1

hakone 6

And my girls, these burgeoning writers can take it. They want to relive; they want to recall, and then find the adequate words in English. Words which call to the soul. There is beauty in recalling details. It is not enough that he proposed! How did he do it? With what manner of words? On one knee? Was their grass and was it wet?

I can look closer, gaze deeper and find individual trees, berries and leaves. I can find inhabitants. My husband and children, giggles, and a song.

hakone 2

hakone 3

hakone 10

Even if their many extra details become changed or even deleted later, there is power in the art of looking-in. Within the craft of writing, the very exercise of magnification and focus is so so so so good. Sometimes, when counting the legs of some whatever-bug, or wondering what exact flower was it that dotted the hedged landscape, we find our calling to be a rememberer, an artist, scientist, and lookout.

hakone again

That afternoon, with some crappy clip art printout of a magnifying glass, a torn-out magazine picture (thank you, Brooke Shields), and a starting paragraph, we had all that was needed to discover a richer beauty, the velvet in a dress, azaleas and piñon trees. We had a big of magic, magnified.

The Importance of Voice From Maya Angelou


I don’t remember which Maya Angelou poem it was,

but I heard voice.

The choice to sing out,

to align letters and sculpt mood.

Maya made rubies out of wood.


I heard a woman, stark, celebrating

though she’d been a slave,

bruises deep as ancestral scars;

Her stories brought out the

stars on an obsidian night.


She had the words to sing

though she’d been harmed.

She’d also been formed with love

and lumps of soft clay.

This woman had style, phenomenally.


Grace to look at the truth of things and smile;

such was her Hope.


She had sass and swing and enough spring to make

showers of thousands of powdery puffs

flit onto the sisters of her generation.

She commanded mesmerisation.


Ms. Angelou showed us elegance in cotton,

grandeur in the sweat of penning a memoir.

That a true-life-hymn could spring up from my soul.

That lonely words could be straightened out with Joy

and human rights.


She showed me swinging hips and education,

that writing that made me giggle and trust

with anticipation–

all might be well in the morning.

She shared with me, Voice.


Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister’s eyes, into
Your brother’s face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope
Good morning. 

–Maya Angelou

Here is a  video of her own gorgeous voice

Her Letters



Can’t believe today she pulled pine green thin marker across Mother’s Day paper,

Made her way over F and learned the downward slope of R, the slide that distinguishes it from P.

She has her own formula for M, the consistent last pull of the left stick joined to Vl. Her pull is consistent. Never is this line neglected. She knows M is me, Melissa and Mommy. Maki, maple syrup moonlight following her down streets and even into train cars.


It was the R that got her, or maybe F, fickle and flummoxed. “Writing is not for kids” this one proclaimed, while staring down at her angled, not round enough O. “It is not for kids”.

But then, out of some real need, some internal prodding, she asked, “Mommy, is this the word, “from”?

Pine green, the crunch of iceberg lettuce all showing up in letters, straight, strong, and gleaming with meaning. This is what it is to witness your daughter making Mother’s Day cards to her Baba and Godmother. I was so charmed, so absolutely excited, and playing it cool, I forgot to take any pictures.

The cards have flown off now, perhaps pinned to fridges, maybe on a dresser. I wanted to say more, how it all came from her, how I did not have her copy. There was no promise of sugary dessert following the meltdown of P popsicle. I did not lure her with reward. It was all her own lines, the stroke of a three year old girl. Letters were drawn on the inside, as well as in the card.

Raising Writers: Use Preposterous What-ifs


Here’s the second in my new series, Raising Writers.

Exercise: Using Fortunately, by Remy Charlip, as a guide, start a family brainstorm/story that starts with something good, or fortunate.


“FORTUNATELY, I found seven eggs in the Easter Egg Hunt”.

(Now the bad event moves in).

“UNFORTUNATELY, they were rotten eggs that my baby brother burried.

FORTUNATELY, my cousin gave me two chocolate eggs.

UNFORTUNATELY, they were a bit hard. My tooth came out..

FORTUNATELY, the tooth fairy has been known to visit our house.

UNFORTUNATELY, my tooth was accidentally vacuumed.

This can launch an entire drawing & a full page o “what if” storytelling!

Then, together, write! Enjoy.This should not be a time to worry over text, but a time to enjoy brainstorming events. This is also a skill in itself, cause and effect (causal relationships), sequence, and forming and adding vocabulary (fortunately, unfortunately). You are helping them to communicate ideas.

See what sounds they can supply as you collaboratively make a word bank. See what words and sounds they can figure out as you help in dictation, copying their ideas  down.

Specific Goal: Create four statements together, or if your child is able, independently after your discussion, creation of a word bank. 

1. Fortunately,…

2. Unfortunately,…

3. Fortunately,…

4. Unfortunately,…

This is the big, positive leap from ideas (the creative, verbal realm) to representing thoughts using written language. This is how idea are recorded—so they are not lost or forgotten! Those funny and wildly interesting ideas can be shared and enjoyed! We are keeping it fun.

There may be an intrinsic reward of completion as you finish the one verbal to written sentence/idea/box and then another. There may also need to be a physical reward to reinforce their work and completion. Perhaps they may do the thing they’ve been itching to do, like take a run to the park, crack open the juicy melon, open a new puzzle.


Fortunately, I am reminded of a fabulous series that also deals with unfortunate events.

We are helping them to LOVE writing. It can be a very rewarding process.

Happy perhapsing & jotting down all those hilarious what ifs!


Raising Writers: Drawings & Dictation

With the teaching I do & the ideas I employ, I thought I’d start a record of just some of it.

I’ll also use this part of my blog to communicate with parents, I suppose.


See? Kids are natural writers & artists. In the beginning, these two qualities are more integrated.

Ways to Get Your Child to Write


(The ol’ graphic novel trick)

Have you read any Captain Underpants? How ’bout Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid?

How about a more cerebral read, Persepolis?


There is a reason graphic novels are so beloved. Text accompanying pictures is a win.


I say, if we’re after bringing out our child’s voice & raising them up as a writer, we need to get them speaking, drawing, & writing. They’re not alone. Not at first, anyway. We’re with them. We are the encouraging art teacher, the art theapist, the stenographer. Finally, we are their reader, cheerleader, editor, & coach. But the point is, we support.

Do it: Draw situations and moments with your child—it could be a glimpse into a moment when he fell on his new scooter, or how she just tried Salisbury steak or uni for the first time. It could be an illustration recounting a strange experience they just had at the grocery store. Whatever the picture, it should carry fresh experience, even perhaps, emotion.

Here is Goodreads’ marvelous list of graphic novels for kids. 

You are building a bridge from the experience to the paper, using concrete materials and conversation.

You know what? You can use drawn pictures or photographs! The point is discussion & getting ideas & words down on paper.

They may have a spectacular picture of a new shiny bike, but if the their picture is not etched with a very recent shadowing of elation, surprise, pride, or a big scare, or even a fresh scar, this may not be the prime candidate of a picture prompts to use for dictation and writing. Follow excitement and emotion, though. Translation: Jog memories & record them!

Remember together, say, the time she went to Chuck E. Cheese for the first time (if this is fresh & recent).

Think–what  are the events you might journal if you were not much a writer? It would have to be something of weight, something of value, even if seemingly negative.


Proud rider on her 1st trip to school via scooter!

From sunny to snowy, inspire writing that spans the width of their energy & emotions. Remember gladness, remember hurting. Draw when frustrated; use writing & pictures to support one another for FULL  communication.


It would be fun to draw a recent snowfall. This was especially memorable, as two minutes after this photo was snapped, my daughter decided she didn’t need mittens & lame plastic baggies simply would not do. (We missed out on the proper time to buy waterproof gloves). Her little hands felt positively frostbitten. There is great material there for writing.

This is your child who may be the weak, shy, or presently, a non-writer. We build this writing bridge with excitement and great energy, focusing on the ideas and words that spring us to the next image and step.

Your job is to ask the questions, i.e. How did it feel when you fell off your bike and rolled onto gravel? What was it like being new in your karate class today? How did that chili pepper taste when you accidentally bit into Aunt Meg’s picante dish?

Help them stretch out their responses with more questions, if need be.

 Ie, “Think what it will DO for your art! Or, “Think how well we will be able to look back and remember and laugh at these memories together!”

We are showing them the power and fun of writing as it engages us. Writing makes moments last. Writing helps shy kids speak and busy kids focus on one powerful thing. It gives value to our children’s experiences.

Can I be selfish? Their pictures & writing will be treasure for me, too! Their experiences make lasting marks in us, too. Save the work, especially when it marks growth.

You’ll have lots to celebrate.