Any pen addict wants to spread the love of pens and inks to others. Being a parent seems like the perfect opportunity: you’ve got a captive and highly impressionable audience, after all.
But of course you shouldn’t just let your three year old loose with your Montblanc 149. And you don’t want a load of pigmented ink on your carpet. And worst of all? You don’t want to put your heart out there only to find that your pride and joy thinks that fountain pens are boring. Ouch.
I’m lucky — my daughter (coming up to age five) has always loved drawing and writing, has great fine motor skills for her age, and is really interested in my hobbies. I bought her her first pen, ooh, probably before she turned four. She now has three pens of her own that she loves using with me at the weekend, which makes my heart burst with pride.
If you’re thinking about trying to get your kids (or nephews and nieces, etc) into fountain pens for the first time, here’s what I’ve found works.
Get them interested with colours and textures
Every kid has strong opinions about colours. Get them to pick out an ink from your collection in their favourite colour to ink up their pen, match an ink to the last film they watched (let’s ink our pens in blue like the sea in Moana!), or ask them to guess what colour’s in a hidden bottle. If you’ve got shimmering inks, bring them out — glitter is an immediate hit.
You can do the same with pens, if your collection is big and bold enough! My daughter loves the different materials and sizes; they’re fun to hold.
Don’t worry about writing at first
Fountain pens are much harder to use than felt tips, especially at first. So don’t compound the feeling of hard work by making them practice handwriting like they’re at school — let them do what’s most fun, namely drawing. Which brings me to my next point…
If you’re like me, the sight of your child scribbling away frantically with one of your pens, pressing down like it’s a biro, causes extreme anxiety. They’ll get ink all over their hands, it’ll smudge, some might get on the table. But if you keep snatching the pen off them, or shout, they’ll get disheartened. The easiest solution?
Buy them their own pens
Beginner pens like the Pilot Kakuno or Lamy Safari are super cheap, light and easy to hold, come in dozens of cool bright colours and have clip-on caps that little hands can put on easily. Most importantly, they have tough steel nibs that are surprisingly difficult for even preschoolers to destroy. You can relax knowing that your collection is going unmolested; they get the pride of ownership.
Take them to a stationery shop and let them choose their favourite colour, or surprise them with a new pen every now and again in a new bright shade to match something they love — maybe it’s yellow like a banana, or blue like Cinderella’s dress.
Let them use your pens
That said, reward them and involve them in your hobby by letting them use your pens — under supervision, of course. It’ll help them start to appreciate different kinds of pens, but most importantly it shows that you trust them and respect them, and that you’re actually sharing a hobby together. If you’ve got a pen that’s extremely delicate or precious — perhaps a vintage pen, or a needlepoint gold nib — just explain that the pen is older than grandma, or that it’s only for adults to use, so it’s off-limits for now. When they’re ready to be trusted with something that precious, it’ll be even more exciting for them.
Show them proper technique
A bit of scribbling is fine at first, but they’ll soon figure out that the nib will tear the paper or that ink won’t flow if they hold it at the wrong angle. That’s when you can take the opportunity to show proper technique. Don’t go overboard, but a few simple rules really work: first, don’t press down hard. Second, lay the pen down (ie, not perpendicular to the page). Third, keep the top of the nib up (ie, don’t roll the pen). This is where the smiley face on the top of the Pilot Kakuno really helps! My daugher still forgets sometimes, but all I have to do is say “remember how we hold a fountain pen?” and she fixes it herself.
Involve them in the process
Kids love being trusted and involved in activities — whether it’s watering the garden or washing up. I know it seems like a Truly Terrible Idea™ to let your child handle an open bottle of ink, but get them involved in all aspects of the hobby if you can. Let them watch when you fill the pens, blot the excess ink off the nib, or rinse a pen under the tap. My daughter laughs when the tap runs blue, and now she tells me off if I don’t seem to be being careful enough with the bottles. Let them fetch kitchen roll or a glass of water, or even carry a sealed bottle to the table.
Focus on the positives
Overall, as with any hobby, you need to feel that you’re achieving something, otherwise you’ll get disheartened and switch off. I’m naturally a highly critical person, so it doesn’t come easily to me to bite my tongue and give encouragement when I see something being done less than perfectly. But that’s what you need to do. And the rewards are more than worth it. When I see my four year old has written a beautifully neat message in a birthday card in fountain pen, I want to run outside and tell the world. I hope that after this early exposure she’ll catch the stationery bug for life, and that it’ll be a hobby that we can share long after she’s grown up and left home.