At age three or four, children all around the world show a natural impulse to mimic the writing they see. When this impulse strikes, children will write anywhere, much to our chagrin. How can you help channel and sustain this impulse, especially as your child comes up against the challenges of learning spelling, grammar, and composition?
Writing reinforces learning to read and reading helps develop writing skills. Some children even learn to read through writing. There are three basic parts to writing:
- thinking about and planning what to write (story mapping, etc.)
- the actual writing
- re-reading and fixing (editing)
Here are some handy hints of what you can do at home that will help.
- Encourage your child’s drawing and acknowledge his work. After all, writing evolved from pictures into symbols. In the western world, it evolved from cuneiform to hieroglyphics to the alphabet letter-sound system.
- Encourage your child to label or write about his drawings. Rather than telling him how a word is spelled, ask him how he thinks the word would be spelled. Help him to say the word and stretch it out to hear the sounds. This reinforces his learning. And when necessary, just tell him how it’s spelled.
- As he thinks about what to write, take notes and feed back to him what he told you (story, essay, etc.). Separating the ideas from the writing makes it easier to think through what he wants to say. Rather than letting him copy what you wrote, read back to him a bit of a sentence at a time for writing it down. Remind him of spelling rules, etc. as needed.
- In the early stages, “phonetic” spelling (writing the sounds he hears), will empower your child to write on his own. He won’t have to wait for someone to tell him the correct or “dictionary spelling.” “Wuns up on a tim” (once upon a time) may look like this, but will gradually come closer to correct spelling. Over time, your child will learn the spelling patterns, rules and exceptions to the rules. He will memorizes the many words that have to be “burned into the brain,” perhaps as many as 40 times before they become automatic.
- Extend his writing by asking him questions for adding more detail. Remind him to answer the “5 Ws plus How” (who, what, where, when, why, and how). This covers the characters or topic, setting, author’s purpose, problem and solution.
- Have your child read back to you what he’s written. If you’ve written it for him, ask him to read it with you as you point at the words. Reading his own work, he will probably catch some mistakes and may decide to change a bit of what he wrote.
- Let him know what you appreciate about his writing, such as description, plot, ending, etc. These are precious pieces that happen only at a particular age.
- Model writing yourself, while talking out loud about your process, whether it’s a grocery list, letter, or email to a friend. Hmmm, I think I’ll say….or I could say…”