Steve Henderson, Steve Henderson Fine Art
While our children are still in the nest and under our protection, writing for real life enables them to launch out and explore new opportunities for their writing skills. This is Golden Opportunity, a painting by Steve Henderson.

One of my son’s favorite — yet unanswerable — questions through the years had to do with algebra and higher math.

“When will I ever use this?” he asked. “And if I never use it, why do I have to learn it?”

I never did come up with a good answer for that one, having successfully made it to seasoned adulthood without dredging up my high school trigonometry.

But I did understand his frustration over devoting time and mental energy to a task for which he saw no purpose.

We have been discussing the challenge of teaching our children to write ("Home-schooling? Yes, you can teach your child to write," and "The more you practice, the better you get"), and this third and last article in the series addresses some real-life subject matter we can set before our students.

Too frequently, we expect our children to write to no purpose — the two-page, five-page or 10-page research paper being the primary examples, and really, the main reason we insist upon their completing these projects in high school is because they will be expected to do so in college. How many of us, since our college days, have completed a research paper?

This isn’t to say that it doesn’t have its purposes — organization, understanding of subject matter, citation, the ability to understand and avoid plagiarism — but our children’s writing time can also include more pertinent activities that they will actually use in their later, adult lives:

  • Writing letters — personal or business
  • Crafting emails (this is more difficult than it sounds)
  • Telling, in written form, a story
  • Providing clear, easy to follow instructions (how many of us who have purchased a “some assembly required” item have longed, achingly, for comprehensive, and comprehensible, directions?)
  • Poetry and creative writing (not every child is interested in these areas, but those who are should have the opportunity to explore them. Your child may never play the piano well, but the music in his soul could come out through his writing)
  • Describing the results of a science experiment
  • Expressing an opinion on a political, historical or societal subject (the Letters to the Editor section of the paper remains many people’s favorite)
  • Blogging (done with care and under the supervision of an adult — what goes out into the digital universe stays there. But if your child is a teenager, this is a good time to explore, together, how he can express himself to the blogging community while maintaining his, and his family's, privacy)
When you think of all the real functions that writing can fulfill in everyday life, all of a sudden you can see how a child can spend 15 minutes to an hour daily (depending upon the child’s age) doing them. And the more a child writes — and writes for a purpose — the better he becomes at it. And the better he becomes at it, the more willing he is to do it (one hopes). Comment on this story

It’s almost my mantra, but the primary purpose of writing is to express ourselves, and everybody — regardless of age — has something to say. When our children believe that what they spend their time putting to paper or screen is actually being read and absorbed, they gain in confidence and ability. When enough time goes by, 1st grade segues into middle school, then middle school into their junior year of high school, and all that practice and hard work results in a person who can write.

The author of this article has published "Grammar Despair: Quick, simple solutions to problems like, 'Do I say him and me or he and I?'" to help people write and teach writing with confidence.

Carolyn Henderson is a freelance author and writer of the lifestyle column, This Woman Writes ( She is also the manager of Steve Henderson Fine Art (