Mr. Smoke didn’t have much to do in that dusty little town of McCord, Saskatchewan in the middle of The Great Depression, so he read to little Vera Lockhart. He came to serve as the principal of the school and boarded with my family. He brought with him lots of books. The only book we had, that I can remember, was Hurlburt’s Story of the Bible. The influence of the hours Mr. Smoke and I spent together over his many books has had a significant influence on who I have become.

My mother told me that I was saying poetry at the Christmas Concert when I was only four years old. His coaching must have made me feel like an expert at saying poems before an audience! I credit my love of learning and public speaking to this introduction to academia so early in my life. Who knows?

We become self-motivated by seeing ourselves capable of doing something valued by others. And children are no exception. One of the best things we can give them is in-depth exposure to a topic or an activity, so they can see themselves as experts. Parents and teachers must find ways to help children gain expertise in small areas and then look for opportunities that allow them to share their expertise with others in their own simple ways.

Confidence building is the key to success. The trick is to assure children that we believe in them until they have had the time and experience to believe in themselves. They must be kept from any hint that they will not become successful readers and writers.

Childhood is a fragile time. Confidence is a flame that can be extinguished by a little puff of doubt. Reading and writing involve risk-taking and beginners must see themselves as successful before they are capable. They must be invited from the beginning to behave like readers and writers. If we made the effort to enable every child to feel like an expert, what a huge a confidence builder it would be.

In my book, Simply Write! Personal and Family Writing, I show how to make two and three year old children into authors. I wish I would have thought of it when my grandchildren were that age. I would have a treasure trove of books that traced their progress in learning language. When children label themselves as authors, it has a life-long effect on their love of reading and writing and on their ability to become incredibly good at both. You can order Simply Write! at

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