slice of life · writing

A Piece of Self-Initiated Writing (in three acts)

I was surrounded by three jackets, three pairs of socks, and three pairs of shoes. I reached out to Ari, in an attempt to wrangle him into his jacket, when Isabelle called out, “I want to write a letter to Casey.”

“C’mon in here!” I called back.

“Help me spell Casey,” Isabelle shouted back.

“I’m not going to yell back and forth with you,” I responded trying to catch Ari as he toddled away from me. “Come in here and I’ll help you.”

A minute later, Isabelle appeared with green construction paper, a pencil, and a flair pen.

“What do you have so far?” I asked grabbing my socks and shoes in an attempt to ready myself.

“C-a-s,” she replied.

“What do you think comes next?” I asked.

“E?” Isabelle said.

“Yes and then something else, but it’s silent,” I replied.

“Y?” Isabelle responded.

“Yes! You know that y’s sometimes don’t make the /y/ sound and make the long e sound. Excellent!” I said.

Isabelle finished writing her cousin’s name on the paper. Then, I asked the question which led to our first argument. “What are you planning to write in your letter?”

“Dear Casey. Love, Isabelle.”

I waited. I expected something more. I got nothing else.

“You can’t mail your three-and-a-half-year-old cousin a letter that only says “Dear Casey. Love, Isabelle.” You have to tell her something. You should write about what’s been happening in your life. Maybe you could ask her some questions and one of her parents can help her write a letter back to you.

{Argument #1 erupted.}

Once everyone was calm and had their coats and shoes on, I told Isabelle, “I’m taking your clipboard, the construction paper, your pencil, and your pen in the car. You can rehearse what you want to say with me and then you can write it. Okay?”

“Fine,” she muttered.

As I buckled Ari into the car, I said, “Think about what you might want to tell Casey in a letter for a minute. I’ll ask you what you’re thinking about when we pull out of the driveway.”

“Okay,” she said, a bit more chipper.

As we drove away, I asked Isabelle, “What could you tell your cousin about?”

“I don’t know,” she replied.

{This continued, in a civilized way, for a couple minutes.}

Finally, Isabelle decided she wanted to tell her cousin about math games she plays in school and a birthday party she went to over the weekend.

“Those are great ideas. Practice saying them aloud before you write them. Tell me what you’ll write first.”

Isabelle wrote in the air. At first, she only gave me a word or a phrase. I encouraged her to have a complete thought. Once she did, I helped her stretch out the words she didn’t know how to spell so she could approximate the spelling.

I picked up a cup of coffee and helped her with the final sentence on the first page. “Friend,” I said slowly.

“F-r-e-d,” Isabelle replied.

“That’s Fred, honey. Fred is someone’s name. What do you hear before the /d/ in friend?” I asked.

{Argument #2 erupted.}

Once Isabelle calmed down and realized there was an n before the d, she erased her pencil mark and attempted the word again. I kept driving.

Isabelle’s letter to Casey.

After Isabelle signed her name, she decided to trace over her pencil marks with a black flair pen. Everything was quiet for a while. Eventually, she handed the clipboard to me as I was driving. I set it aside and looked at it once I parked the car.

I glowed. I complimented. I asked her “On a scale of 1 – 10, with 1 being the easiest thing you’ve ever written and 10 being the hardest thing you’ve ever written, where would you put this?”

“A two,” she replied.

Then why did you have to give me such a hard time?!??!!

“A two? Well, that’s great. And it didn’t take you long to write it once you figured out what you wanted to say, right?”

“Right,” Isabelle said.

“I’m sure Casey is going to love getting this letter from you,” I said.

I reread it and noticed one of the sentences said ‘We ply gas with a freind.’ I spoke up, “I noticed you wrote gas instead of games. But on the second page, you included the m in games. I think you should add the letter m so Casey knows what you play.

{Argument #3 erupted.}

Once Isabelle realized that it didn’t make sense to write gas instead of games, I taught her, “Many writers often forget to add letters, words, or phrases when they write. One thing they fix-up their writing before showing it to someone is to use a caret, which is an upside down v, to help them insert the missing letters or words. When they add whatever is missing, it makes it easier for the reader to understand. If I help you make the caret, will you add the missing letters?”

“Yeah, okay,” she said begrudgingly.

So I did.

And then she did.

It took three small arguments to help Isabelle produce a letter that consisted of more than four words for her cousin. However, she created a piece of self-initiated writing, which thrilled me since writing isn’t her go-to downtime activity.

That being said, may I mention how hard it is to be a parent and an educator!!??!

slice of life_individual


18 thoughts on “A Piece of Self-Initiated Writing (in three acts)

  1. Oh, what a morning! I’m always amazed at your patience, and I love the way you taught Isabelle how to use the caret. I’m sure Casey will love the letter.

    1. You’re kind, Ramona. I felt anything but patient on the inside. (At the time, I felt like a cheap mom who refused to indulge her child by sending a four-letter piece of construction paper.) However, I’m glad I grabbed the clipboard and took it with us. I didn’t want to let her abandon the letter because she didn’t like the fact that I was going to make her write more than four words.

  2. I think Isabelle discovered what many writers know, one of the hardest things to do is device what you want to say. I love how you guided her but the decisions were all hers.

  3. It is SO hard. Isabelle’s writing is fantastic and all your strategies and patience. I’ve been trying to help Alex to take more chances with his writing. If he doesn’t know how to spell something, he won’t try. I’ve been trying to show him that approximations are totally appropriate and it’s better to write and not spell everything correct than to NOT write. Enjoyed this slice of your busy morning getting Isabelle off to school as she composed her letter to Casey!

  4. I am still single & childless at 52. I can’t imagine what it is like to work with children all day and go home to your own at night. I know you love them, a lot, and I salute those of you who can manage both.

  5. Enjoyed this immensely, Stacey. Not only for its glimpses into this intersection of parenting and teaching, but also as a slice of effective storytelling via dialogue — arguments redacted 🙂

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