Vibrant Writing Karen Andreola “My child needs greater incentive to write.” “I have a difficult time getting two sentences out of her.” “I’m looking for a wider range of opportunities for my student.” “Writing seems too laborious a task for my son.” Perhaps one of the above comments mirrors your experience and that’s why you are curious to read this article. Parents have asked me, “How do I get my child to write?” “With narration,” I reply. Then I briefly explain Miss Charlotte Mason’s method of narration. I encourage home teachers to read aloud to their children, and then to request that the children tell, in their own words, what was just read to them. It’s that simple. “At the heart of writing is the ability to tell—the ability to narrate,” I share with them. Narration From Books “If we would believe it, composition is as natural as jumping and running to children who have been allowed due use of books.”—Charlotte Mason Books of quality (fiction and nonfiction) will be the main source of a young child’s composition. By putting what he has read (or what has been read to him) in his own words, he is learning, from the authors of these books, how to use words. For instance, in his narration the child will naturally borrow an interesting “turn of phrase” from an author. Without even being conscious of it, the child learns from authors how to use words. He is developing writing skills (a talent for using words) as he practices narrating. Wonderful arrays of good books are available from which a child can narrate. Creative Narration With all this reading and retelling going on, it isn’t difficult to switch gears to make for the occasional creative narration. By creative narration I mean creative telling rather than retelling. While a child’s “imagination muscles” do develop by narrating from books, these and other intellectual abilities also grow as they are used in a more playful way with creative narration (or creative writing). What Happens Next? I have discovered the best way to prompt a child to narrate creatively. It is by giving him a story starter. Instead of expecting a child to compose “from scratch” by supplying him with only a topic, a task even the average adult finds daunting, we can kindle in him a keenness to write by using a story starter. An unfinished story is meant to draw him into a colorful situation. He is plunged into a predicament that holds him in suspense. Upon the invitation, “What happens next?” the child then springs forth to enhance and embellish the story as much as he wants. A New Level of Vibrancy When I read from Charlotte Mason’s magazine an old article that spoke highly of story starters, I was intrigued. Reading about the success of teacher Raymond Ward’s experiments in using exciting and suspenseful story starters in his classroom, I couldn’t resist experimenting with my children. His claims seemed incredible. But I gave it a try. Their first story starter was a description of a wild and angry dog that was loose, roaming the neighborhood and needed capturing. No pencil biting, no head scratching, no wiggling in their seats. My children focused on finishing the story while the wheels of their imaginations turned. They wrote with descriptive phrases and vocabulary unlike anything that they had written before. My experiment worked and I was quite pleased. Writing With Feeling The advantage of an exciting story starter is that it emboldens children to write with feeling. Calmer starters have a “cause and effect” that is less momentous. Whether the exciting kind of story starter is used or the calmer kind, creative writing is primarily about focusing on content. Let the first draft be as rough as necessary as the children express their ideas and impressions. Once their interest is sparked they will write with feeling. They will write boldly and with less restraint than they may be used to. Why Fiction? “A person’s worldview almost always shows through in his creative output.”—Francis Schaeffer Facts in homeschool are important. Fiction teaches too. Good fiction shows us what virtue looks like. It is a mix of kind gestures and heroic deeds. It may be a small act of bravery, such as visiting someone in the hospital, or a larger act in serving the war effort. Fiction teaches by intangibles. Characters in the story act out the intangibles, such as friendship, forgiveness, patience, gratitude, resourcefulness and responsibility, admiration and respect, love. Fiction enlightens us by helping us develop a moral imagination that enables us to put ourselves “in his place.” Using story starters can foster a positive attitude toward writing in general. As a student’s newfound confidence slowly grows it will carry over to other writing aspects of schoolwork—the more factual kind. This article has blossomed out of the many pleasures and rewards I have found in teaching my children at home using good books, narration, and also creative narration from story starters. I’ve chosen to share it with you because I believe your children, too, can write more boldly and with feeling. Give story starters a try and I believe you will find your children writing in ways they’ve never written before. Home educators know Karen Andreola by her groundbreaking book A Charlotte Mason Companion. Karen taught her three children through high school--studying with them all the many wonderful things her own education was missing. The entire Andreola family writes product reviews for Christian Book Distributors. Knitting mittens and sweaters and cross-stitching historic samplers are activities enjoyed in Karen’s leisure. For encouraging ideas, visit her blog: www.momentswithmotherculture.blogspot.com. Editor’s Note: Story Starters by Karen Andreola is full of exciting stories with large illustrations that draw children (of a wide range of ages) into the setting and action (realistic fiction): www.homeschoolhighlights.com/books/storystarters.shtml. Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the February 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.