“You can make anything by writing.” – C.S. Lewis, Writer and Author
As adults, we write for a reason: to write a letter, to make a list, to leave a note, to communicate with a friend in a letter or e-mail or to create a story. Children learn to write most easily when they write with purpose too, rather than being told what they should write about.
Like all other things, learning to write is a process. When children realize that writing communicates meaning, they begin to experiment with it and usually start by using scribbles on a page. From there they start to use symbols that look like letters and then use real letters, although they may go back and forth using real letters and their own symbols. These are exciting first steps because it shows that children are aware of a difference between drawing and writing and you can support them by asking what the writing says.
Over time, as children are exposed to examples of writing in their environment and in the books you read with them, they gradually incorporate the use of punctuation and conventional spelling as they pick up “mistakes” in their own writing and rewrite words or letters. While they start out writing mainly to record and communicate messages, as you keep reading with them you will notice that they begin to write their own simple stories.
As we continued to explore how a child develops these skills, we had an opportunity to ask Allison Willson, Senior Director of Curriculum and Innovation at Stratford School, questions about how children are learning to write in school and below we’d like to share her expertise.
How do children learn to write, focusing on the act of writing itself and not physical handwriting? To learn the skills to write stories, early learners must not only learn to handle a writing tool, but also learn how to generate ideas (brainstorm), elaborate upon their ideas and learn to sequence and connect them together. Young writers learn to develop these skills over time through play, storytelling, writing practice and in modeled conversations with adults or older peers.
When should children start learning to write? Writing is a complex skill that develops over time. Though your toddler won’t yet have the ability to write stories, they can certainly engage in experiences that support future reading and writing. Fine motor control and drawing are young children’s first steps toward writing. They will then progress to scribbles meant to mimic handwriting before reaching conventional writing and spelling. You can encourage your budding author to draw pictures that depict stories, their feelings and/or observations of their world.
What does current research say about teaching kids to write and what teaching practices are currently used in schools? Current research suggests that to write stories, young children must learn not only to handle a pencil or other writing device, but also to generate ideas, elaborate upon them and sequence and connect them coherently. Children develop these skills through scaffolded play, storytelling, writing practice and in conversations – particularly with adults and older children. Knowing what we know about how children acquire these skills, early childhood classrooms should provide frequent opportunities for writing practice throughout the day through play and practice. (e.g., “Let’s create a list for our grocery store today.”).
Explain the link between reading and writing. Reading and writing support each other. The more your child does both, the stronger their overall literacy skills will be. At an early age, children thrive on modeled behaviors. The act of listening to stories, poems and other texts provides opportunities for our little ones to experience the writing process. By orally retelling stories, drawing or acting out read-alouds, young children understand narrative or story structure (beginning, middle and end) which they then can apply to their own stories. We often encourage children to retell the stories in their own words or extend this learning by encouraging our young authors to reimagine the ending.
How can parents help children learn to write at home? Model. Writing is practical and an incredibly important part of our daily lives. Model for your child ways in which you use writing (e.g., “Let’s create a list for your birthday party! What will we need and who should we invite?”).
Provide Time and Space for Drawing and Discussion. Drawing allows little ones to develop their fine motor skills while also expressing their thoughts and feelings. Ask your child questions about their drawings, for example: “What is the boy/girl doing?”, “Does the house look like ours?”, “Can you tell a story about this picture?”, or “What might be a different ending if you had a chance to rewrite the story?”. You can also write their responses directly on their artwork.
Read Together. Reading and writing go hand in hand. As one muscle is built, the other is strengthened. As you read together, you can also talk about what the author did that was so effective, such as: “How did the writing make your child feel?” or “What words or phrases made you feel that way?”
Involve Everyone. Invite family members to be a part of your child’s writing journey. Send and receive cards from loved ones near or far. You can also send your child a letter or card once in a while too, so that he/she is reminded of how special they are! Create a family message board in the heart of your home to give and receive notes to the members of your family.
Encourage Inventive Spelling. As your child develops phonological awareness, encourage him/her to do their best to write words on their own based on the sound spelling.
Praise the Process. Give specific praise as your child grows in their literacy development.
Like any skill, the more time and energy put into it, the better the result. So, make writing skill development part of your family’s mission by encouraging them to talk about everything they’re interested in — and then have them write it down. Make the process fun for them and they will foster a love for writing from an early age on into adulthood.If you are interested in learning more about Stratford School, or scheduling a personalized tour, visit us online at www.stratfordschools.com.