Encouraging Young Learners to Write: A guide for parents (Part 1)
I stare at the picture, a jumble of shapes and lines that come together to make three very un-proportional people. The “writing” below was a series of random letters or almost letters in no particular order. I looked to the young author, a blonde spitfire who often held the classes attention (and yes my heart). We will call him Brody. I asked: “Can you read this to me?”
“YES!” He said excitedly. Brody pointed at each nonsensical phrase “reading” one word at a time. “I remember when my dad came home and he’d been going a really really long time. I was so happy. I miss my dad.”
As his teacher, I had known something was bothering him. He was not his usually goofy and happy self. He had come in the classroom with his head hung low. I had asked him early if he was feeling okay, to which he responded in very adult fashion “I’m fine.” Writing gave him an outlet to communicate how he was feeling appropriately.
Today Brody will serve as the inspiration for this post.
Learning to write is an important part of developing personal literacy skills. However, as a parent, it can be difficult to know how children develop writing skills as well as how to encourage these skills at an early age. So from my classroom to your hands, here is a breakdown of how children develop writing skills, how to give feedback to encourage and challenge them. Using these methods young children can learn how to use writing as a creative outlet even prior to being school age.
Stages of writing development
First I think it is important to know about how writing begins in young learners. Their brain is deciding what skills are most effective for communicating. This is where we come in. As parents, we have the opportunity to use positive feedback and praise to help young children gain an understanding of what means are effective and what ones are not.
Here are some examples:
Children using scribbling are beginning to pretend to write.
Next stage involves the appearance of letters. Children are beginning to mimic environmental print (words and letters they see on a day to day basis).
Children begin this stage when they start to recognize that we read and write from left to right and in rows. This is a huge transition in their writing and should be celebrated.
The more children read and write, the more they begin to pick up on patterns, like how we separate words. A young child who wrote this might say it says “Today was fun.” But the important thing to recognize is that they understanding writing conventions by representing each word with a series of letters and starting to use spaces.
As children begin to understand that sounds each have their own letter they begin to try to use the correct sound. It may not be spelled correctly, but this is the last stage before they are fully writing sentences. This is an achievement. It is in this stage that children need a lot of phonics support (See additional link at bottom of article for games and ideas to help children develop those early reading skills).
How to give FEEDBACK that will HELP!
In the story at the beginning of this article, notice how I did not ask the student, “What does this say?”
Children are highly perceptive little people. Our phrasing can communicate positive and negative messages. For example, “What does this say?” points out to the child that they did not write a real sentence. Instead asking, “Can you read it to me?” gives the child recognition as a reader and as a writer, letting them know how smart we think they are.
Here are some feedback ideas for each stage:
- “Can you draw a picture that goes with this story?”
- “Great job, will you read it to me?”
- “I love when you write under your drawing to tell a story!”
Appearance of letters:
- “I see you used some of the letters you learned this week, Great job!”
- “ I like how you are using the letter A.”
- “You did such a nice job writing that H.”
- “Look at this part where you wrote all the letters in a line!”
- “You writing looks like the stories we read!”
- “I see an M and a D and a P, I love that you are writing letters!”
Formation of words
- “I see you are using spaces between your letters to make words”
- “You are such a good writer!”
- “I see there are is a written word for every word you read, great job!”
Formation of words using Sounds
- “I love reading your writing”
- “Look! D-o-g spells dog, you are so smart!”
- “ I like how I can see you using the sounds you know”
- “Thank you so much for writing this for me to read”
***It is important to know that young writers transition in and out and back to stages frequently! Every learner is different!***
Here are some ideas of things not to say:
- “Look you wrote real letters this time!”- this implies that the other writings were not real or bad in some way.
- “I see you spelled dog right!” – even though you may be trying to give this a positive feedback, children often hear “only dog is spelled right, the rest are bad.”
- “Remember you know how to do it the right way”- as kids develop, they move back and forth between writing stages. Be patient and find something positive to reinforce about what they are doing. Do not hold young learners rigidly accountable for what they have learned, they forget. Encourage them with where they are at and challenge them by showing them the next day how you write.
How to model writing:
Let’s say you wanted to show a young child how to write across the line or in a row. Before they write, show them. It is important to do it before they write, so they do not view it as a correction. Model thinking about what you want to write, talk about it first, and then demonstrate writing it using letters all in a row (like in letter chaining), but always write with proper spacing and spelling words correctly. These are not learning targets yet for your young learner, however good examples should always be set from the beginning.
As you write, point out that you are using letters (don’t discuss spelling or sounds as the child is not ready for that yet). Focus on the one skill you are trying to teach. Great teachers teach one thing at a time. “I am going to write the letters I know all across this line because that is the way we read.” Show a book how letters are written all in a line as an example. Then let it be the child’s turn to try. Praise whatever level they are at. Writing can be scary, so they need to feel secure in trying.
Repeat this mini lesson often.
This is the conclusion of part 1 of the Encouraging Young Children to Write-blog post, Part two: How to Use Writing as a Creative Outlet for Kids, will be available Monday September 5th (Link Here Coming Soon).
Additional resources: Early Reading Support games and other ideas (CLICK HERE)
How are your child/children doing with writing? What obstacle do you need help with?
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Guest Writer: Dani Wilson