By Daniella Dautrich
In many ways, writing is like cooking or decorating: the key elements are variety, beauty, organization, and harmony.
Stop and take a good look around your home. Savor the aroma of rich stew simmering on the stove, and admire the colorful pillows piled on the sofa. The keys to teaching and practicing fantastic writing might be hiding right under your nose.
Writing Is like Cooking: It’s All about Variety
Whether we’re planning weekly menus or a special holiday feast, variety is the magic word. We try to alternate hot and cold dishes. We aim to please our family’s palates by pairing blander, starchy items with spicier foods. We excite the taste buds with sweet and savory combinations while serving a variety of colors for the sake of beauty and nutrition. And, of course, we include different textures—few people can stand an all-squishy diet of oatmeal, yogurt, mashed potatoes, and Jell-O!
Writing is a lot like cooking. A colorful sentence or crisp new word can increase the flavor of any composition.
A well-planned paragraph displays a wide range of sentence structures. Clearly, adverbs, present participles, and past participles used as sentence-starters can lend an aura of spice and surprise. Beginning sentences with prepositions adds interest and appeal. Short sentences add punch.
The next time you serve a new dish for lunch or dinner, ask your kids to describe it in as many ways as possible. How many adjectives can they come up with?
Explain one step of the preparation/cooking process to them. Challenge them to rephrase what you told them in several different ways. Can they explain it back to you using both short and long sentences?
Writing Is like Decorating: Embrace the Limits
Writing can also be compared to decorating. I like to think of decorating as the art of embracing limitations. The size and purpose of a room—as well as the family budget—present limits. Within these boundaries, we aim for organization, balance, and harmony.
We choose colors to create the desired mood. If you want a relaxing bathroom, you might choose creams or blues, but probably not bright orange. If you want an energetic, cheerful kitchen, you might opt for green or yellow curtains, but probably not a black floor or gray walls.
Writing demands similar judgment calls. Consider the scope and purpose of a paragraph. Is it organized around one topic? If a particular sentence doesn’t belong, take it out. Over-eager children sometimes clutter their writing with too many thoughts. Encourage your son or daughter to remove a few ideas, saving them for new paragraphs later.
Teach your kids to “decorate” their writing to suit the mood. If they’re writing about a serious topic, silly stories and examples probably don’t belong. If they’re writing to a casual audience, keep the flowery words to a minimum.
The next time you edit a piece of your child’s writing, look for an idea, phrase, or sentence that just doesn’t seem to belong. Prompt your child: “Wouldn’t this be a great topic for another paper?”
Keep the atmosphere light rather than critical by asking your child to look around the room: “Is there something in here, like a knick-knack or a picture on the wall, that doesn’t quite belong? Can you think of a better place in the house where we could put it?” Similarly, if a shelf or tabletop looks especially bare, talk about ways an interesting photo, pretty candle, or other decorative detail might make the space more complete.
If it’s all the same to you, make your child’s day by taking her suggestions!
If you love cooking and decorating, let your hobbies and expertise influence the way you teach writing. Your enthusiasm will spill over to your children, and maybe—just maybe—they’ll never see writing the same way again.