The Writing’s on the Wall: Teaching a Child Who Hates Writing

Boy did I touch a nerve in this month’s family seminar when talking about boys and writing assignments – not the creativity, but simply the mechanics of the process. SO MANY wrote to me about this particular issue, that I had to provide you all with my thoughts and some feedback. The emails typically went something like this:

“My son HATES to write – anything. Anything involving a pencil and paper is a fight. Everything is an argument. Help! What should I do?”

Struggling writerFirst of all, I feel your pain with regard to your child and his writing. (I am sure some of you with daughters are struggling, but all of my correspondents on the issue were moms of boys.) Small motor skills, especially for boys, are late in developing, and sometimes difficult to cultivate. I have endured years of grousing!

My first suggestion to you all is to consider your child’s age. Motor skills for boys are sometimes late in developing. They will get there eventually, but don’t make this the mountain you want to take regardless of the cost.

Much of my advice is from my own experiences – but first a disclaimer – duh, duh, duh! We do need to have legible writing skills. We, as homeschool parents MUST CONTINUE TO TEACH THOSE SKILLS. Those of you saying, “My child does everything on the computer/iPad/you fill in the device,” must recognize that even as technologically sophisticated as our society now is, AP subject tests, SATs and ACTS ALL require written content, done on the spot, in a time constraint. So you cannot duck it – but you can mitigate the fallout in the meantime. We all have to write sometime.

(And we still need to be able to READ things that are handwritten or all of our historical documents in their original form will be lost to us.)

I am not above frank bribery. I have been known to reward with everything from money to chocolate (Start small so you don’t lose the farm!). Recognize too that this (writing) is a muscle – it must be exercised. I spent a good deal of time wondering how in the heck boys could play Legos for hours and then howl when you asked them to construct one sentence that contained a subject AND a verb!

But, when I go back to my own developmental psychology roots, the answer becomes a little clearer. Much of the Right Brain – Left Brain theory has been debunked in the past several years, but at its root, there is still some truth. To keep the explanation simple, those right-brainers are playing Legos easily because they are in the creative, nuanced side of the equation. No rules. Creativity … But shove a pencil in their hands and they now have to translate that creative thought into IDEAS ON PAPER? Omigosh – explosion! You would think that nuclear fission just occurred on the floor in your den!

That is when I go back to my idea of bribery. “Give me five good sentences, that contain nouns with adjectives and verbs with adverbs, and I will remove the thumb screws.”

The younger the student, the less I would ask, but I would ask. For instance, “On this worksheet, you answer the even ones in your own handwriting, and I will allow you to dictate the odd answers to me.” You can gradually up the ante. Keep the early, messy assignments, and show your children their progress. They will probably be as surprised as you are!


Calvert includes handwriting as part of the second grade writing and spelling course.

Through the last 20 years, I have been through it all with regard to handwriting – my eldest son’s handwriting was SO abysmal that we told him he would either have to become a pharmacist or a doctor so someone could read what he wrote. Now, as a college graduate, he has astonishingly beautiful handwriting, and actually majored in graphics and typography. If you had told me that 15 years ago, when we were hammer and tongs on a daily basis, I would have sworn you’d been in the cooking sherry.

My middle son needed more than a year of occupational therapy to be able to write his name. He is 14 now, and his handwriting is legible – not the beautiful scrollwork of a typical Calvert kid, but it gets the job done – and I am delighted because I know how far we have come. See, THAT is one of the gifts of homeschooling: you know the road because you walked it!

My youngest son, age 8, has beautiful handwriting – after three years of Tasmanian devil fighting. He would not choose a hand in Kindergarten, so we chose for him – and long story short, we chose wrong! So after enduring a year of dreadful behavior, we had to re-teach him to use his other hand. The tears that year were copious – from both of us. But fortunately, we look back now and laugh (which is the hallmark of a homeschool parent – bear in mind that phrase “this too shall pass” applies to almost everything in schooling).

So there you have my long answer, and thanks for asking. Keep persevering. He (or she) will need those skills. Sometimes the best weapons in a homeschool mom’s arsenal are a thick skin and a persistent attitude!


Gretchen Roe is the Calvert Community Liaison and has been homeschooling for 20 years. She has used and continues to use the Calvert curriculum to educate her 6 children.

Gretchen hosts a variety of free webinars. She offers Calvert Online Information Sessions once a week as well as family seminars on topics ranging from dealing with digital addiction to kick-starting a new school year.