Summer Writing Assignments for Kids: Persuasive Argument and Credo Statement

You may recall that I am a mean ogre of a mom who is making her son write and practice spelling and punctuation this summer. Boo. Hiss. 🙂

Actually, it is going remarkably well, so I thought I’d share two more assignments we’ve done:

(1) Persuasive argument. Okay, so I figured that this one had to be about something he really cared about, so I asked him for each person in his family what would he like to persuade them to do. Then he chose the one that he cared most about. Turns out that he chose to write to his grandmother to ask her to come visit while I am in Europe. I felt a little weird about him writing such a letter to my mother-in-law, but it was the essay he most wanted to write. She’s a nice lady, and I figured she would understand that it wasn’t intended as a pressure tactic.

Anyway, the really interesting lesson for my son was in distinguishing between reader-based and writer-based prose. His first draft was a scattered list of about twenty things, about half of which really had nothing to do with his grandmother. So we sat down after he completed this rough draft and with each point, I asked him, is this something that will persuade Grandma to come? Is this something she will care about? Is there a better example of what might appeal to her? And with merely that sort of questioning, he came up with a multi-faceted argument with some impressive reasons as to why she should come for a visit.

We are still waiting to hear if she will be able to make it, and while it would be lovely if she could, of course, we know it’s not easy to make a cross-country trek like that. What is exciting to me, though, is how much he learned from this writing assignment. Writing for a specific audience is really important!

(2) Credo Statement: Earlier this week my son attended a friend’s Vacation Bible School for two mornings. He was a bit miserable, to be honest. Not only did he feel lonely and left out (he’s an introvert by nature), but he found the evangelical Christian message troubling. I was very surprised by his reaction on that count. He is more highly developed in his theological positions than I had realized! So I talked with our friend and explained that my son didn’t want to attend any more. She was gracious and loving, as always. I appreciated how she made us feel okay about backing out of that. Usually my motto is finish what you start, but in this case, it became clear to me that my son had some real disagreements, so I wanted to honor his values and ideals. Ah…what better way to honor his beliefs and ideals than… to make him write about his own beliefs in a personal credo statement?!

At our Unitarian Universalist church, the kids participate in a Coming of Age ceremony the year they first enter high school. They run a church service at the end of the year and each youth reads a credo statement that they wrote, explaining what they believe. So I figured my son could write such a statement, too, and when he’s in ninth grade, he could compare how his views have changed.

The thing about this assignment is that it can be really difficult to write about such an abstract topic as religion. So I asked him to write a narrative first about his experience at Vacation Bible School and then to explain what he himself believes. I did have to help him come up with his brainstorming list on the second part by asking him questions. But again, he showed a lot of independence in knowing what he believed and didn’t believe. He felt comfortable saying that for some points he just wasn’t sure, too.

As for the audience for this piece of writing, I didn’t want to get into that in the very beginning because the first draft is difficult enough. But I just asked him who he wants to share this with, and he said our friend the evangelical Christian, who also happens to be her church’s Religious Education Director. Since she was running the Vacation Bible School, I guess he figures it would be good to share his experience and beliefs with her.

I’m glad he’s chosen this recipient since we will get another opportunity to work on the whole audience thing. In the argumentative essay for his grandma, he had an audience who would naturally look on his essay with more favorable eyes. In the credo statement, he has a loving reader who also happens to be a “skeptical audience,” i.e., a reader who disagrees with much of what he says. So it will be great for him to revise his first draft with our friend in mind. He will have to explain a lot of concepts that he uses in his essay, concepts that he knows by heart from our UU church but that need explaining for an evangelical. And he will have to watch his tone and be careful not to stereotype or over-generalize evangelicals, too. He even just proposed that he could include suggestions for Vacation Bible School for future years.

I’m psyched! What a great learning opportunity for him. And very interesting for me to get to see what he thinks and feels. He surprises me every day as he learns and grows. I like who he is becoming!

9 Responses

  1. That all sounds really great. I’m sure he’s learning lots and may even be having fun with this 🙂

  2. Well, at least he’s having fun when it’s over each day!!! Seriously, there’s something to the idea that we appreciate our freedom more when it comes at a price. He is so happy and feels so good about himself when he completes his work cycle and is free to run with the pack of neighborhood kids in the afternoon. He may sometimes think he wants to be free all the time, but every summer he gets bored by mid-July. This year it’ll be different. And hopefully when school starts again, he’ll be able to hit the ground running. 🙂

  3. I would have been so excited to have you as a mom. My mom made fun of me for “always having my nose in a book”. Sigh.

  4. Ah, well, but the grass is always greener, right? If we rebel against our parents, then maybe it’s good your mom was like that — helped make you the articulate and imaginative writer that you are today! My son will probably become a green grocer. Not that there’s anything wrong with green grocers. 🙂

  5. […] of Writing, part 2 Posted on June 30, 2008 by writinggb Just found out that my son’s letter to his grandmother “worked.” Nana is coming to visit for a week while I’m away in Scandinavia. As my […]

  6. Wow. He should be a fantastic writer…sounds like he is already. I must be on my third child (yup, just checked…I am). We’re happy if we can get him to read for 20 minutes a day in the summer! lol

  7. Ah, well, you know how only children get TOO much attention. May help them academically, but all that scrutiny!! Besides, I can’t get my boy to wipe the jelly off his face after breakfast to save his life. LOL

  8. This is so great! It says a lot about the religious upbringing he’s had that he can stand so strong in what he believes. His faith will take him a long way.

  9. Ladybeams: I sure hope so. Religion is important, I think, for us all. Ours just happens to be pretty open, a religion that does not require belief in God, for instance. I’m glad my son feels that this is an important part of his identity.

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