An interview with Nancy I. Sanders
Nancy I. Sanders is a prolific writer who, we’re thrilled to announce, has developed a fabulous primary-level writing curriculum for us. Hurrah! We’re on pins and needles as we enter the final stretch of last-minute editing, page layout, and cover design in preparation for an April release of the first in the series: WriteShop Primary Book A. It’s just so exciting! And the timing couldn’t be better, as it coincides with Nancy’s Virtual Book Tour. When we discovered she was hosting her blog tour, we just knew we had to invite her for a visit. So without further ado, let’s meet Nancy!
Q: Nancy, Debbie and I are honored that you chose to write our early elementary curriculum. What first drew you to the idea of WriteShop Primary?
A: When people find out I’m a writer, parents often mention to me that their child struggles with writing. And the next thing they usually ask is, “What can I do to help him?” Parents feel at a loss, especially if they struggled with writing themselves when they were in school. Or they may be anxious about upcoming standardized tests their child must take to test writing ability. When I first heard about WriteShop, I fell in love with the concrete tools and step-by-step directions that prepare the groundwork for older students to become solid writers. I was excited about the possibility of bringing this wonderful and practical program down to the early elementary age to help even pre-writers begin to acquire skills as building blocks that can help them become confident writers throughout their school years.
Q: Who is your target audience?
A: WriteShop Primary is geared specifically to children at the kindergarten level up through the second grade. It is a flexible program, however, that can be adapted to start at any point in those years by adopting a faster or slower pace and by including many of the optional, more challenging activities. It was written with the homeschooling family in mind, taking into account the unique needs and dynamics of a homeschool classroom. Even though I did not homeschool our own children, my two sisters homeschooled theirs, as do many of my friends. My husband is a teacher, and I have written numerous books for Scholastic for use in the K-2 classroom. I felt confident of my knowledge of both the homeschool and traditional school environments to create a solid writing curriculum for early elementary homeschooling families.
Q: What is your philosophy about teaching writing to primary-aged children?
A: At this age, many children are considered “pre-writers” because they’re just learning how to write letters, words, and groups of words. Therefore, the experience of “writing” can be more of an exciting time to “communicate” through a visual medium such as an art project or picture. It’s important for both pre-writers and beginning writers to explain the meaning of their picture and be encouraged to write a letter, word, or group of words on the project according to their ability. Most of all, the writing experience for young children should be fun! Motivation, excitement, and a positive learning environment all help primary-age children build confidence in their writing abilities as they acquire the ability to write.
Q: What are some of the engaging WriteShop Primary activities you use to help develop early writing skills?
A: Creating a file box of story ideas, making portable word banks of vocabulary and spelling words, and assembling stories into books are just some of the activities in WriteShop Primary. Other fun elements include:
- Story webs
- A story bucket organizer
- A “can of words”
- An “editing buddy” or stuffed animal to read his story to as the child develops self-editing skills
Designed to be exciting and fun, all these activities also have a purpose—to provide practical tools for a child to use while completing a writing project so he doesn’t just stare at a blank page. WriteShop Primary is chock full of engaging activities that motivate a child’s desire to write while giving him the skills to do so successfully at his own level of ability.
Q: You’ve included a picture book activity as part of every WriteShop Primary lesson. As the author of a number of children’s picture books, how do you feel books such as D is for Drinking Gourd can be used to help little ones learn to write?
A: D is for Drinking Gourd is an alphabet book. This makes it the perfect springboard for children to launch their own writing project based on the letters of the alphabet. It’s also an inspiring book about the many accomplishments and contributions African Americans have made and continue to make in the history of our nation. The information is new and exciting—it opens up a whole new world for children that they might not have been aware of before. That’s one of the reasons reading picture books is a great tool for teaching writing! It sparks the imagination and creativity of children’s minds and gives them ideas to write about as they explore the mysterious wonder of the great big world they live in. And because a picture book is all about pictures, pre-writers and beginning writers alike understand the value of a picture’s ability to communicate a story. This validates the artwork they themselves create as part of their own writing project.
Q: Along that same line, what is the value of reading to children starting at a young age? How does this help to strengthen their writing skills as they get older?
A: Reading to children is one of the best gifts parents can give. At a young age, it’s a way to build a positive relationship—often sitting side by side on the couch or snuggling on your lap in a comfy rocking chair. It’s a safe experience in a nurturing environment. It teaches children that the world of words is a marvelous place, and that communicating a story involves a wonderful sense of love and trust. The more you expose your children to the world of books and the language of the written word, the more successful they’ll become at writing their own stories as they grow older.
- They’ll hear how a story begins and ends—before they know the structure of a story.
- They’ll feel the conflict and the resolution that takes place within a story—before they learn how to add these ingredients into their own stories.
- They’ll discover characterization and plot and point of view—even before they learn how necessary these elements are in writing.
All this comes through exposure to books and having books read to them when they are young. I don’t think any age is too young to start reading to your children. We read board books and novelty books to our sons from the time they were born. I don’t think any age is too old to read to your children, either. We read books aloud to ours long past the time they could read by themselves. Reading to your children is an experience that can last for many, many years. The benefits and rewards are amazing.