`Writing Box' Helps Kids Enjoy Writing, Aids Reading

By Heather Vogel Frederick, Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, December 14, 1992 | Go to article overview

`Writing Box' Helps Kids Enjoy Writing, Aids Reading


Heather Vogel Frederick, Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


IT'S wet outside, the evening breeze moist with that misty drizzle for which the Pacific Northwest is famous. Inside the Beaverton Public Library, however, nothing can dampen the spirits of a roomful of families who have turned out for a workshop on kids and writing.

Surrounded by children, Sharon Edwards, an animated, dark-haired woman, kneels on the carpet at the front of the room and holds aloft a box. It's unimpressive - a plain, clear-plastic rectangle with a plastic lid.

But as Ms. Edwards decants the contents and the young members of the audience crowd closer, oohing and aahing, it quickly becomes apparent that the commonplace container (officially known as a "Writing Box") is a treasure chest of creativity.

"All children read," Edwards asserts, holding up the first item so parents can see. It's a pencil sharpener with a tiny globe attached. "They read faces, pictures, numbers, and some words," she says. "All of the children here this evening are already writers. And children's creativity is the heart of their learning."

Together with Robert Maloy, a University of Massachusetts professor who is her research and writing partner, Edwards invented the Writing Box, a simple hands-on tool for encouraging literacy in a way.

The idea grew out of Edwards's frustration as an elementary-school teacher with the fact that some children left her classroom at the end of the year able to read, and some didn't. How writing leads to reading

She says that an experiment with "invented spelling," a process-writing technique that encourages children to write phonetically without first learning "book spelling" or grammar, resulted in her very young students being able to "write fluently from their own ideas," something that was naturally reflected in improved reading ability.

Intrigued, Edwards noted that the children who caught on most quickly were those who had been encouraged at home. She mentioned this to Mr. Maloy, adding that she wondered "what would happen if we got writing materials into everyone's home and then talked to parents about the value of letting kids create and invent before they move into conventions."

Maloy suggested they write a grant. The resulting funds provided boxes for Edwards's students for two years. "Then manufacturers donated materials over the next two years," Edwards says.

They have put the fruits of their research, together with instructions for assembling a Writing Box and ideas for its use, into a lively and inspiring new book, "Kids Have All the Write Stuff," (Penguin, $10, paper). Of equal value at home or in the classroom, it's the focus of the activity this evening at the library here.

Edwards holds aloft and then distributes the Writing Box's contents: crayons, a glue stick, colored pencils, transparent tape, a child-size stapler, a ruler with an alphabet template, scented markers ("the scents work better if you keep the caps on," the ever-practical Edwards says to parents with a wink), construction paper, drawing paper, scissors, notebooks in various sizes, and stickers. …

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