5 Ways Writing Instructions for Kids Differs from the Grown-up Version
Writing activities for different audiences gets easier the more you do it. Likewise, there are a few big ideas to keep in front of you as when you shift to writing for kids. Here's my top five ways writing instructions for kids differs from writing for older audiences.
Likewise, writing for kids means that you must know what reading level your writing needs to targets. Teachers look for activities that align with their curriculum. If you have a great step-by-step craft project, teachers will use it if it meets their needs. Educators have very specific needs, too. Reading level is a big one. For example, say you have a great project-based learning game on the life cycle of butterflies. Your game rules are going to need to be written at a beginning reading level. Why? Early elementary is where students learn about the life cycle. Also, your DIY with household recyclables is going to need to be at a middle grade reading level. Why? Middle school students spend time learning how human actions impact the environment.
Besides that, vocabulary matters. When writing work instructions for grown-up audiences, the rule of thumb is to write at a sixth grade level or lower. Ok. Do you know which words are at a sixth grade reading level? Hmm. Most writers do not. Let's say, you have a great geography craft DIY puzzle for 2nd graders. Here's your sample steps.
Cut out the continent pieces.
Eh, no. In this example, continent, assemble and Pangea are all vocabulary words above the 2nd grade reading level. They 4th grade words. Now, you have a choice. Edit your steps using 2nd grade vocab or ramp up the DIY to interest 4th graders. How do you know a word's reading level? Educators have put together reference reference books and vocab lists for writers. (Note: I recommend "Children's Writer Word Book." It identifies the grade level for you.)
Besides that, reader experience with work instructions is at different levels when it comes to kids and grown-ups. Kids are at the beginning of their DIY journeys. Grown-ups have experiences they bring with them. For example, the following steps need different levels of support based on the know-how the reader brings with them.
Bring 4-6 quarts of water to a boil. Add salt to taste. Add pasta to boiling water.
For authentic al dente pasta, boil for 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. For more tender pasta, boil an additional minute.
Drain well and serve immediately with your favorite sauce.
Now, the experienced reader may or may not measure 4-6 quarts of water into a pot. They may just fill the pot to the spot just under the handle. They may subscribe to the just cover the pasta by 1/2" school of thought. Meanwhile, the inexperienced reader has questions. Likewise, writing work instructions for kids means the writer has to explain those how-to's first. Besides that, writing recipes for kids is an entire series. More on that later. Let's talk about more important matters.
What about reader safety? Grown-up readers know more about using dangerous appliances and tools than kids do. Therefore, grown-ups need less discussions upfront about basic safe practices. Still, kids need to know how to protect themselves from harm when following DIY instructional steps. Kids need warning, cautions and notes! (Grown-ups do, too. Whether they like them or not.) Good work instructions keep readers safe. Stove burners are hot. Boiling water burns. Good DIY activity instructions explain a bit more than telling the child to go ask a parent before they fire up the glue gun.
Voice and Tone
Likewise, the voice and tone differs when writing activities for kids and DIY for grown-ups. Still, the entire point of the writing is to do a task. Recipes are telling readers how to make tasty bites. Crafts are guiding readers through step-by-step creation of a desired object. The writing should be clear. The word choice apt. The tone supportive and confident. The tone should convey that the author knows what they are doing. The reader should feel confident in trusting the author to guide them to the end.
In conclusion, writing work instructions for kids differs from writing for grown-ups. Still, writing DIY How-to's is the same for both audiences. Kids and grown-ups trust the author to guide readers through the steps to complete the project. Both kids and grown-ups trust that the author will keep readers safe through the last step on the page.