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Written and spoken language are related but distinct disciplines. Just because a child is witty and articulate in speech does not necessarily mean that gift will translate to prose. That is the reason English and grammar are continuously taught from an early age through the end of college. Mastering the pen takes years, but here are several common mistakes that you as parents can watch for in your children’s writing.

The most common mistake I find as a writing tutor is the use of redundant words. As a general rule, if you can write it with fewer words, the results are easier to read and comprehend. Here’s an example.

“I said hi to the young child.” A child, by definition, is young. You can simply say, “I said hi to the child.” It’s like de-cluttering your house. You have to ask yourself if you really need that word in there. See if you can spot the redundant words in the following examples.

“The old octogenarian walked slowly toward me.”
“The dead zombie rose from his grave.”
“I nearly went broke purchasing the expensive Ferrari.”

Following this line of reasoning, entire sentences may need to be shortened for clarity. Again, ask yourself if there is a simpler way to state what you are trying to say.

“As we reached the train station after a very long protracted ride, I began to notice that I hadn’t eaten in several hours, and my stomach was beginning to make its hunger known through groans and hunger pangs.”

Couldn’t we just say the following?

“As our train ride ended, I was becoming increasingly hungry.” This second sentence basically conveys the same information. Maybe we have lost a little color (groans and hunger pangs), but we have gained far more in clarity. One danger with overly wordy sentences is that you will lose the attention of the reader. Don’t make the reader work to understand what you as the writer are trying to say. State it clearly and concisely.

This last section will cover word choice. Often, children will use the most common verb, adverb, or adjective when they could benefit from the use of more colorful word choices. Consider the following sentence.
“She spoke to us.”

Blah. We know the word spoke connotes some form of communication, but it is a very bland word. Depending on the situation, why not say she “berated” us. Or she “informed” us. Those words come wrapped with color and emotion. With so many wonderful words at our disposal, why not use a word that has more personality.
I chose these mistakes because they are both common and easy to fix. Writing can and should be a fun subject for your children. With a few adjustments, your child can be just as witty in his or her writing as they are in speech.

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