Teaching Writing to Children

As soon as they are able to, young children love to make marks on paper or any other handy surface around the house. Writing and drawing seem to be almost as much a part of natural development as walking and talking. It is important for children’s development as writers to have their teachers and parents take their work seriously as this teaches them that writing  is about making meaning.  They will be  eager to demonstrate to everyone that they have discovered a new way to communicate.

When children observe the adults around them write notes, lists, and stories, they want to write, too. Early writing is oftentimes labeled “scribble writing” and is considered by educational researchers to be a legitimate form of emergent writing. The first conscious attempts children make to write letters are usually the first letters of their names. To an adult, the attempts may only vaguely resemble a letter, but these are moments to cherish and celebrate! Ask them to share the message with you, and they are likely to “read” you a story.

As a parent or teacher it’s important not to stress correct or precise letter formation too soon. A focus on penmanship will send the false message that being able to “write” like an adult on the lines is more important than being able to communicate in writing.  This can create feelings of inadequacy related to writing, and children may begin to view writing as “hard.”  Tracing letters on lined paper requires fine motor skills and coordination that are still developing. We don’t want children to learn that penmanship practice is the same as writing. We want them to learn that writing is a fun way to express themselves! It is critically important to accept where children are developmentally and then gently guide their letter formation and pencil holding.

It’s very easy to encourage children to communicate their stories and messages through writing. All you need is a little patience, paper and writing utensils, and they will do the rest. Here are a few quick tips on creating a positive writing environment for your little one.

  • Keep paper everywhere.  When you do, children can practice writing as well as listening, speaking, and reading while playing office, house, school, or restaurant.
  • Read, read, read! Children become accustomed to seeing pictures and text together in children’s books when reading is part of their daily routine.  You’re likely to notice that when they draw a picture, they will want to add letters or a series of marks that imitate the text they have seen in their books.
  • Children also love to imitate what their parents do.  If they see you make lists or write letters, they will too.  When they ask how to write a letter, demonstrate the way to form the letter and point out how you hold your pencil.  It’s also helpful to have them mimic your motions and to practice forming letters in the air or on the palms of their hands.
  •  If you write emails, don’t be surprised if they ask to email a relative or friend. Using a word processor for children can make it much easier for them to communicate in writing because they don’t have to worry about letter formation or to continue when they run out of space at the end of a line.
  • Don’t get hung up on the mechanics–let them experiment and play. Encourage them to use what they know about sounds and letters to write the words they want to include in their stories.

Remember, young writers do not become better writers when they are worried about their handwriting or spelling skills. Learning to write is a process that takes time and lots of practice. The more they write and read their stories to others, the more confident and fluent they become as writers. They also become more proficient in forming letters and remembering standard spellings. All you have to do is provide frequent opportunities for them to write and be a responsive, encouraging audience as they share their creations with you.

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