Helping Young Children Develop Strong Writing Skills
Note: This article was adapted from two articles written by the U.S. Department of Education, and was compiled by Colorín Colorado. The article refers to the child in the female gender, but all activities and suggestions apply to both genders.
Writing is an important part of our daily lives. It is, however, a difficult skill to learn and master. By getting a head start with some simple activities, you can help your child begin to develop her writing skills at an early age. By doing so you will be contributing to her future success as a student and as an adult while teaching her how to express herself.
In this article, we provide some reasons that writing is an important skill for people of all ages, as well as a list of suggestions that will help your child become a stronger writer.
Why is writing important?
Writing is practical.
Every day, we need to write in order to complete our tasks, whether we are filling out a form at the doctor’s office or writing an important letter. These tasks require us to write clearly, and organize information effectively.
Writing is an important element of a student’s education.
Whether students are writing by hand or on the computer, many assignments and exams require students to write short answers or longer essays as a way of assessing what they have learned. As students get older, they will be expected to show more sophisticated writing skills, and to complete more sophisticated tasks through their writing. In addition, many colleges and universities require students to write essays as part of their admissions application.
Writing can be an important element of an employee’s job.
Employees in many kinds of jobs are required to write on a daily basis. Perhaps they are taking phone messages and doing administrative work, or writing research reports and newspaper articles. Whatever the task, their ability to do their job well may depend on their ability to write. Many job applicants also must submit a resumé and a letter of application when applying to a new job.
Writing is an important form of communication.
Writing letters and emails is a common way of keeping in touch with our friends, relatives, and professional colleagues. Writing is frequently the final stage in communication when we want to leave no room for doubt, which is why we write and sign contracts, leases, and treaties when we make important decisions.
Writing can be an important outlet.
Many people find writing to be therapeutic, and a helpful way to express feelings that cannot be expressed so easily by speaking.
What Can You Do?
It’s important to remember that writing can be as difficult a subject to teach and assess as it is to learn. Many students have trouble writing with clarity, coherence, and organization, and this can discourage them from writing if they feel frustrated.
That’s where parent involvement can make a big difference. Encouraging your child to develop strong writing skills at a young age, and to become a better writer as she gets older, can have a lifelong positive impact on her writing, and may make writing an easier and more enjoyable process for her
To get you started, the Department of Education offers a number of ideas of things you can do help your child become a stronger writer. While many of these ideas apply to younger children, they can be adapted for older children as well. To learn more about ways to support your children if they continue to struggle with writing in middle and high school, read Tips for Parents of Struggling Adolescent Writers.
Ideas for Parents: How to Help Your Child Become a Stronger Writer
- Pencils, crayons, or markers
- Yarn or ribbon
- Writing paper or notebook
- Cardboard or heavy paper
- Construction paper
- Safety scissors
Before getting started
Provide a place
It’s important for your child to have a good place to write, such as a desk or table with a smooth, flat surface. It’s also crucial to have good lighting.
Provide the materials
Provide plenty of paper (lined and unlined) and things to write with, including pencils, pens, and crayons.
Talk with your child as much as possible about her ideas and impressions, and encourage her to describe people and events to you.
Activities for young children
Encourage the child to draw and to discuss her drawings
Ask your child questions about her drawings such as:
“What is the boy doing?”
“Does the house look like ours?”
“Can you tell a story about this picture?”
Show an interest in, and ask questions about, the things your child says, draws, and may try to write.
Ask your child to tell you simple stories as you write them down
Copy the story as your child tells it, without making changes. Ask her to clarify anything you don’t understand.
Encourage your child to write her name
Practice writing her name with her, and point out the letters in her name when you see them in other places (on signs, in stores, etc.). She may start by only writing the first few letters of her name, but soon the rest will follow.
There are numerous games and puzzles that help children with spelling while increasing their vocabulary. Some of these may include crossword puzzles, word games, anagrams, and cryptograms designed especially for children. Flash cards are fun to use too, and they’re easy to make at home.
Turn your child’s writing into books
Paste her drawings and writings on pieces of construction paper. For each book, make a cover out of heavier paper or cardboard, and add special art, a title, and her name as author. Punch holes in the pages and cover, and bind the book together with yarn or ribbon.
Make sure your child sees you writing
She will learn about writing by watching you write. Talk with her about your writing so that she begins to understand why writing is important and the many ways it can be used.
Encourage your child to write, even if she’s scribbling
Give your child opportunities to practice writing by helping her sign birthday cards, write stories, and make lists.
As your child gets older, write together
Have your child help you with the writing you do, including writing letters, shopping lists, and messages.
Encourage your child to take notes on trips or outings, and to describe what she saw. This could include a description of nature walks, a boat ride, a car trip, or other events that lend themselves to note-taking.
If your child likes a particular song, suggest that she learn the words by writing them down. Also encourage copying favorite poems or quotations from books and plays.
Encourage your child to read her stories out loud
As your child gets older, ask her to share her stories with you. Listen carefully without interrupting, and give her positive feedback about her ideas and her writing!
Hang a family message board in the kitchen
Offer to write notes there for your child. Be sure that she finds notes left there for her.
Help your child write letters and emails to relatives and friends
These may include thank you notes or just a special note to say hello. Be sure to send your child a letter or card once in awhile too so that she is reminded of how special it is to get a letter in the mail. Consider finding a pen pal for your child.
Encourage keeping a journal
This is excellent writing practice as well as a good outlet for venting feelings. Encourage your child to write about things that happen at home and school, about people she likes or dislikes and why, and about things she wants to remember and do. If she wants to share the journal with you, read the entries and discuss them together.
Things to remember
Help your child spend time thinking about a writing project or exercise. Good writers often spend a lot of time thinking, preparing, and researching before starting to write. Your child may dawdle, sharpen a pencil, get papers ready, or look up the spelling of a word. Be patient — this may all be part of her preparation.
Respond to your child’s writing
Respond to the ideas your child expresses verbally or in writing. Make it clear that you are interested in what the writing conveys, which means focusing on “what” the child has written rather than “how” it was written. It’s usually wise to ignore minor errors, particularly at the stage when your child is just getting ideas together.
Praise your child’s writing
Take a positive approach and find good things to say about your child’s writing. Is it accurate? Descriptive? Original? Creative? Thoughtful? Interesting?
Avoid writing for your child
Don’t write a paper for your child that will be turned in as her work, and don’t rewrite your child’s work. Meeting a writing deadline, taking responsibility for the finished product, and feeling ownership of it are also important parts of the writing process.
Help your child with her writing as she gets older
Ask your child questions that will help her clarify the details of her stories and assignments as they get longer, and help her organize her thoughts. Talk about the objective of what she is writing.
Provide your child with spelling help when she’s ready for it
When your child is just learning how to read and write, she may try different ways to write and spell. Our job is to encourage our children’s writing so they will enjoy putting their thoughts and ideas on paper. At first, your child may begin to write words the way that she hears them. For example, she might write “haf” instead of “have”, “frn” instead of “friend”, and “Frd” instead of “Fred.” This actually is a positive step in developing her phonemic awareness. Keep practicing with her, and model the correct spelling of words when you write. As your child gets older and begins to ask more questions about letters and spelling, provide her with the help she needs.
Practice, practice, practice
Writing well takes lots of practice, so make sure your child doesn’t get discouraged too easily. It’s not easy! Give her plenty of opportunities to practice so that she has the opportunity to improve.
Reading and writing support each other. The more your child does of each, the better she will be at both. Reading can also stimulate your child to write about her own family or school life. If your child has a particular favorite story or author, ask her why she thinks that story or that person’s writing is special.
As you read and write more with your child, you will be building an important foundation, and taking steps that will help your child to become a better reader, writer, and student. Your efforts now will make a difference — and it may be just the difference that your child needs to succeed!