It’s worrying just about everybody. The writing skills of today’s students, that is. Blame it on the death of letter writing and thank you notes; blame it on emailing and instant messaging; blame it on lack of practice and caring. Whatever you come up with, we’ve got a problem.

Does putting thought to paper come easily to your child, or does it invite arm twisting, gnawed pencils, and piles of crumpled paper? And does it matter? You bet. Says Pennsylvania’s Department of Education, “Writing is an essential skill in most places, where it serves as a means of posing and solving problems, of making reports, and of persuading others to take a particular action.” There’s no getting around it. This is, after all, the Information Age.

First step: bring it home. Don’t just think of writing and the honing of skills as the work of schools and teachers. Keep it close, keep it meaningful, keep it going—and get in the act, too. There’s writing to be done:

1. Message each other frequently by leaving notes on pillows, desks, mirrors, wherever.
2. Make letter writing a habit for all, sending them to friends, relatives, even Santa.
3. Write your autobiography as a gift to your child.
4. Have your child write an annual “Year in Review”–an ongoing record of your lives.
5. On birthdays, give written gifts of family stories and recalled moments.
6. Send postcards to each other—without going anywhere. We all love mail.
7. Make the sending of thank you notes a must for everyone.
8. Keep a family journal, a record of your lives over time—and include captioned photos.
9. Writing letters to the editor keeps the juices flowing.
10. Promote journal writing—and respect privacy.
11. Encourage your child to write and perform skits or puppet shows. Think Popsicle sticks.
12. Contact Student Letter Exchange for pen pals: 516-887-8628;

With all that at-home writing going on—reading, too–skills improve. They have no choice. Meanwhile, back at school, essays and essay tests keep coming, so, to keep up the momentum, share these suggestions with your child:

1. Carry a “writer’s notebook” for capturing interesting observations, bits of noteworthy conversations, cool facts, great quotes, etc.–a gold mine for future writings. Here’s a favorite from mine:

“If life had a sneak preview, would you attend? Would you want to know everything in store?”
~ from a First Health print ad

2. A thesaurus, dictionary, and How to Spell It (for not-sure-how-to-spell words) are a must. So is maintaining a personal dictionary of troublesome words.

3. A word wall of newly encountered words, along with their definitions and parts of speech, builds vocabulary and language skills.

4. Travel logs for recording new sights and experiences bring the journey home and serve as a resource for future assignments.

5. A pad and pencil placed on the bedside table—flashlight, too—is the way to go for recording while-sleeping ideas.

6. “Free writing” for five minutes about a favorite person, place, thing, idea, or event; then switching to something distasteful serves as a super warm-up.

7. “Brainstorm” the topic first by creating a list of associated words and phrase, thus setting the stage for the first draft.