Many parents feel intimidated when it comes to teaching writing. One easy way to help the process along is to teach children to think like writers. Why? A writer’s mental processes and habits teach us to think about the way others will react to our work.

With the exception of personal writing, like journals, study or research notes, etc., our writing is out there for others to see. Considering this angle offers students insight into how others see and hear what they write, offering valuable perspective. The following tips can raise children’s awareness by clarifying goals and enabling them to polish their words.

Consider the Audience

Ask your children to think about who their readers are. Will they be adults? Teens? Children? This consideration refines how writers approach a topic. A story or essay for young readers will be different than one for adults. Encourage students to consider what their readers want to know, and based on skill level, what their readers are able to digest. Targeting the audience dictates research, content level, and word choices. It can help our young writers put themselves in the readers’ shoes, offering insight into how and what to write.

Illustrate this point by showing them a science or history book for young children. Then show them a book on the same topic for teens or adults. Ask them to list the differences, such as vocabulary, use of illustrations, how extensively the subject is covered, etc. Take it a step further and ask what elements might appeal to each age group.

You might also have them compare and contrast stories, poetry, songs, or games—children’s versus adults’. Ask them what differences they see. Discuss plot, vocabulary, rhyming words, music, and/or rules, and why these pieces or activities are popular with different age levels.

Be Observant

Writers get their ideas by watching the world around them, from simple things like brushing one’s teeth to the complex, such as how electricity works. Not only do writers cultivate their imaginations, they consider things from various angles to generate ideas.

For example, they might look at a sponge and consider its many uses. The sponge helps clean a kitchen counter, but it also can be an artist’s tool, making imprints or designs with different paint colors. A small wooden block might be a child’s plaything or an adult’s solution to level a wobbly picnic table.

Help sharpen your children’s observational and critical-thinking skills by initiating dialogue about everyday sights, sounds, routines, and other happenings. It doesn’t require long and involved activities to cultivate these skills. Young children might describe characteristics and differences between shapes, animals, or seasons. Older children might look at a picture for a set time, such as thirty seconds, and when time is up, tell you what they remember about it.

One activity that appeals to all ages is called bricolage, which in French means to “use items that are on hand.” Assemble a few items, like a bobby pin, paper clip, and spoon. Ask children to consider how each item could be used other than its main purpose. For example, can the bobby pin open a padlock and help someone escape? Might the paper clip be used to repair a car’s engine, one that’s needed to rescue lost travelers? Could the spoon be used to dig a garden or underground tunnel? Set a timer for one to two minutes and see how many ideas they can jot down. Compare ideas when time is up.

Don’t push it—keep it interesting and low pressure. Children’s minds need room to breathe. The goal is to get them thinking, making creativity and general observation a daily habit.

Develop Self-Editing Skills

Writers, of course, must edit their work. This skill applies more to older students, and although it might not rank high on their to-do lists, it’s a useful skill that will serve them well into adulthood. Cultivating good self-editing habits helps streamline the writing process.

This important skill is not cultivated overnight. It develops over time and eventually becomes a habit. Start small, so as not to overwhelm children and discourage creativity. It can be as simple as reviewing capitalization and discussing necessary adjustments. As age and ability dictate, create a checklist your children can use to review their work before submitting it to you. The list might include checking capitalization, punctuation, and spelling. For older children, include questions that cover content, such as: Do the sentences in the paragraph relate to each other? Does the content support the thesis statement? Does this topic’s point progress from beginning to end? Does the conclusion summarize the overall theme?

Remind older students not to solely depend on spell check. Never assume that it catches everything. It doesn’t. It often misses the writer’s intent, confusing words or missing homophones like to, too, and two.

Encourage students to print their work as well. There’s a difference between reading words on a computer screen and reading them on an actual page. Have your children read the printed pages aloud, slowly. The ear is a great editor, catching errors and rough spots the eyes miss.

As you use these tips to encourage your children, offer kind, constructive feedback. It’s just as important for them to know what they did right as it is for them to know what needs improvement.

Teaching children to think like a writer helps them slow down and consider the process from another perspective. It not only aids in the development of writing but of critical-thinking skills as well. Over time it will enhance communication skills, building character and preparing children for life in the adult world.  

Karen and Jeff Lange homeschooled their three children through grade twelve. In addition to being a homeschool consultant, Karen is the author of Write for Life and Homeschool Co-ops 101. Her days are filled with freelance writing and editing, helping with her grandson's homeschool co-op, and teaching online writing classes for homeschooled teens. Visit the Homeschool Online Writing Co-op at