Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Sticker Storytelling

Roughly two weeks into my home schooling journey with my son, I have discovered what is easily the skill with which he struggles most: writing. He has no problem with writing in terms of ideas; he has been telling stories - both repeating ones he's heard and creating stories of his own - since he was able to talk. Give him a character or a topic and he'll happily spin a wild yarn for you. But the act of getting those words onto paper is brutally difficult for him. Holding the marker, forming the letters, keeping the words from falling off the page...you'd think I was asking him to create life.

So I've been searching the internet, reading home schooling and kindergarten teacher blogs, and looking through books to find some creative ideas of how to help make writing practice more interesting and less frustrating for him. Writing in a tray of pudding, or jello or Kool-Aid powder, or sand, or shaving cream; and writing on a chalkboard or dry erase board seemed like great suggestions, but he wasn't terribly enthusiastic. I tried making letter flashcards that he could copy. I made dotted outlines he could trace. I read an article written by a kindergarten teacher who has her students draw a picture and then write a few words about it daily, and I laughed (a little enviously). I couldn't imagine how long it would be before my son would be interested in writing an entire sentence, never mind doing it every single day. But then, I had a sticker epiphany.

My son is moody about drawing pictures: some days he'd draw robots and space aliens all day long, but other days he has zero interest. But I've yet to offer him stickers and be turned down. So this morning, when his little sister was playing with stickers and he asked to make a sticker picture, I was struck with inspiration. I told him he could make a sticker picture, but afterwards he had to tell me a story about it and then we would work together to write one sentence about it. He considered that for a moment, then apparently decided that his love for stickers outweighed his hate of writing, and took me up on it.

I let him choose 10 stickers to put on a piece of construction paper. The Melissa and Doug sticker book we were using has literally hundreds of stickers with a different theme for each page: farm animals, jungle animals, ballerinas, fairies, princes and princesses, bugs and butterflies and flowers, a tea party, and paper dolls (did I mention it was his sister's sticker book?). He flipped right to the prince and princess page and chose a unicorn, a princess, a tiara, several sceptres, a palace, a rainbow, a flower, and several hearts. He carefully put them on the page, layering stickers on top of each other to create a sceptre topped with a flower and a rainbow and another topped with a heart. He studied his artwork carefully for several minutes and then, without any prompting from me, began to tell me all about the princess who lived in the beautiful castle and who had a pet pony (he hasn't much use for unicorns) who used his magic to make the princess special sceptres. After much discussion (and several reminders that the shorter the sentence he chose, the less he would have to write), he came up with this manageable sentence: "The princess has a pony."

I braced myself and got out my pack of flashcards. I reminded him that the beginning of a sentence starts with a capital letter, and together we figured out what letter the word "The" starts with (starting with a diphthong was not my best decision). I laid out the appropriate flashcard, went over where each line starts and the order to make them in, and handed him a crayon with bated breath.

To my surprise, he started to hold the crayon in his fist then corrected his grip without my saying a word, then drew a huge - but surprisingly neat - capital T. I laid out the lowercase h flashcard, and stopped him when he began to make a capital H instead. He corrected it but then got all upset that the mistake made the h look like there was a capital A in the middle of it. But I reassured him that this was just practice and it was okay if there were mistakes, and he soon settled down and kept going. We carefully repeated each word to figure out what sound and what letter came next. Letter by painstaking letter, words began to form on the page. All we could fit on the front of the page was "The prince" so we continued on the back with "ss has a pony." (Technically, it says "has a pony. ss" since he doesn't always remember to start at the top of a new page.) He ran out of steam halfway through so I wrote "a pony" for him, but at least he was willing to tell me which letters to write.



It's just a start, but it gives me hope that someday he will experience the joys of writing that I feel every time I put words to paper. I want him to feel the same thrill that I do at being able to express my thoughts and feelings through words. Even if he doesn't end up being a writer, I want him to be a good communicator. Because he has so much to say!!!

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