There is a big difference between the definition of a writer and the definition of an author. A writer makes lists, scribbles down notes, composes letters to friends and completes many other tasks—all with pencil in hand. An author, on the other hand, creates stories and poems to share with the world.
In order to encourage your child to become an author, it is important to understand and acknowledge her current level of emergent writing. Children move through the following writing stages at varying rates:
- Drawing (creating visual representations)
- Scribbling (using scribbles to record messages)
- Letter Strings (stringing letters together to form pretend words, i.e., “LTYSUI”)
- Invented or phonetic spelling (beginning to connect letters to sounds, i.e., “tuth” for “tooth”)
- Transitional spelling (mixture of invented and conventional spelling, i.e., “the duk crost the street”)
- Conventional writing (majority of words spelled conventionally)
Provide A Writing Space and Materials
To set the stage for young authors, it is important to provide appropriate space and materials for your child to freely write. I have found that although my children have a writing desk in their bedrooms and in their playroom, they often end up at the writing table beside my kitchen because they want to be where the action is! It is also important to rotate materials often to inspire your young author. For example, you can fold 3-4 pieces of plain white paper and staple them along the side to create a small book one week and then provide colorful journals the following week. Replacing writing supplies often will also get your child excited about creating stories.
Introduce the Concept of Storytelling
In addition to providing space and materials to write, it is important to play an active role in helping your child understand the concept of storytelling. To do this, you can read to your child often and discuss the characters and plot of the story as you read. You can also take turns telling your own favorite stories to your child. My children love extending bedtime by asking me to make up just one more story about the mole in our garden. Some good writing prompts for young authors when creating their own first books are:
- Topics they know a lot about (i.e., soccer, field trips, fishing)
- Favorite places they have been (i.e., Grandma’s house, Disney World)
- What is occurring in a family photograph (i.e., roller coaster ride)
Encourage Stories That Include a Beginning, Middle and End
As children begin to create their stories, you can help them further develop their ideas by asking them what happened in the beginning, middle and end of their stories. You may even encourage them to plan their story ideas on a graphic organizer like the one below before starting to write. By asking them to focus on the timeline of their story, they are able to move beyond only describing favorite topics to telling a story that has a setting, characters and a plot.
Keep in mind that young authors will use a mixture of pictures and emergent forms of writing to tell their stories. In each writing stage, children can create meaningful stories when given the right tools and encouragement. When your child’s stories are complete, ask her to “read” them to you. The reading may be a bit different each time through, but the message will be the same. Her words and pictures will say “I’m an author! Thanks for encouraging me.”