Entering the world of writing should be exciting and fulfilling. To wield the power of words, making imagination and thoughts concrete is an empowering experience. And how satisfying to know that once a story is written, the words on the page are there to be revisited and enjoyed as many times as you want.
All these positive experiences that clarify thought and build self-awareness can come from the act of writing. Yet for some children the entry into the world of writing is a difficult process fraught with anxiety.
There are a number of reasons for this anxiety. The most common ones are:
• Writing demands physical skills, without which the process is slow, tiresome and discouraging.
• Unlike speech, errors and untidiness are visible in writing.
• Writing demands multi-tasking cognitively, linguistically and physically – a process that can be exhausting and difficult is one isn’t ready.
• Writing is often associated with work and the child has very little control over how much or what to write.
The good news is that it is so easy to turn this around and make writing exciting, fun and very satisfying. All we need to do is recognize and support all the stages of writing, and provide lots of encouragement and praise. In short, let your child play with writing and enjoy her efforts at expressing herself in print. To help you do this, here are some of the key conditions that turn writing into a positive developmental activity:
• Physical mastery of writing readiness skills
Children with strong fine-motor skills and hand-eye coordination find it easier to rise to the cognitive challenges of writing because they do not stumble over the basic physical demands of the task. It is very important therefore, for children to engage in as many enjoyable physical tasks as possible that give them opportunities to develop these skills.
Art & craft activities are the best means of doing this. Art involves cutting, pasting, tracing, threading, sticking, painting, colouring – all activities that require close focusing, hand-eye coordination and the use of fine motor muscles.
• Composing skills through art and story-telling
What goes on when a child decides to ‘make a picture’? Try an experiment yourself. Take a blank sheet of paper and tell yourself to ‘draw something’ You will soon realize just how demanding such a task is. You make many decisions – choosing the colours, thinking of what to draw, deciding what to draw first, where on the paper to place it.
When a child draws these types of decisions actively engage her in developing composition and coherence skills. She has to have ideas, maybe linking them into a coherent picture. She must sequence the different elements of her picture. So well before a child actually writes single words, ‘messing about’ on paper has her making compositions, a powerful developmental process!
This process is all the more powerful if drawings come out of or lead to, a story. If after listening to a story, or engaging in dramatic play, a child draws her experience of the story, or if she makes a picture and then tells a story about it, she experiences the power of self-expression. She experiences the dynamic connection between writing, imaginative experience and communication. For young children, this is a powerfully motivating experience. So the more you talk about the pictures and scribbles your child makes the more you deepen this process.
• Seeing the physical output of the imagination and thoughts
When a child is new to writing, it is a slow and often tiresome process. Her little hands cannot form letters fast enough, nor is her early and still developing knowledge of spelling and writing conventions strong enough to keep up with the speed of her imagination and thoughts.
So what happens? Most of the time, children are not inclined to write very much, daunted by the mechanics of the process.
Remove the mechanical obstacles and watch the amazing results! Simply by becoming the child’s scribe and writing the story as she tells it, you free her thinking and composing process. She can follow where imagination leads, and choose just the words she wants (because you are going to spell them!!) The stories she creates are richer in vocabulary, sentence structure variation and often quite sophisticated. Recording stories you and your child make up together is also a wonderful way to help your child see the outcome of her creative, communication process. Children take total ownership of their stories if they are scribed for them, often taking great pains in illustrating them and returning again and again to read them. This is one of the best ways to develop thinking, writing, reading motivation.
• Involvement in daily writing activities
If your child only experiences the writing process in work contexts, she will have very little writing motivation. She needs to see you use writing to get things done, to communicate, to have fun. Include your child in making shopping lists, writing postcards, letters and greeting cards to friends and family, in putting scrapbooks together. Let her be totally free to choose to write or draw whenever she wants to. Only then will writing motivation develop.
• Reading as a stimulus for writing
A child immersed in a print-rich environment with strong reading habits usually has no problems with writing motivation. Since children develop reading earlier than writing, immersion in print familiarizes them with print conventions, visual skills like left to right scanning, focusing and staying on task, as well as cognitive skills like sequencing, logic and story structure. And of course reading gives them a bank of rich words and structures to use and the imaginative stimulation that motivates the creation of their own poems, stories and pictures. The more these skills are developed in reading, the stronger the motivation, readiness and ease of mastery when they begin exploring writing.
• Error irrelevant writing exploration
At some point of their writing process, there will be a need to consider accuracy and neatness. However, for the most part, especially as children first begin exploring the writing process, they should be able to do so freely, inventing words they do not yet
know the spelling of, and composing freely with no rules of right and wrong. When children scribble and ‘mess about’ on paper, they are really exploring how letters and words are created and how they work to communicate meaning. The more children are allowed freedom and safety to explore this, the stronger their mastery of accuracy later in the development process.
What many children like especially when they are aware of the existence of spelling and writing conventions is to be given help in transforming their writing into ‘polished’ pieces. Celebrate your child’s writing and help her make a fair copy which she can then decorate and proudly place in a scrapbook. This not only builds motivation, but helps her learn conventions of writing and spelling. She is much more motivated to learn the spelling of words she has used and is interested in, rather than words from a ‘spelling list’ that often have nothing to do with her.
Three Terrific Things to Try
If you are really busy and want to know just 3 things you could do, here’s what we recommend:
Start a family scrapbook – some large sheets of coloured construction paper, a camera that is always handy and you’re all set to help your child build a scrapbook of memorable moments that she can caption. Snap pictures of daily events. When you paste them on sheets of coloured paper, talk about the pictures with your child and help her write captions. After some time, bind the pages together for a wonderful scrapbook that you and your child can re-visit. The added bonus here is that you are also reinforcing reading skills.
Make writing easy – ensure there is writing paper, art paper, pencils, crayons, and other art material all within easy reach of your child. Get a set of table-tidy drawers so art and writing materials can be kept tidy and always available. This will encourage your child to explore expressing herself in print without the off-putting tasks of having to ask for paper, find a pencil, wonder if there are enough colours … all of which makes writing seem like too much trouble.
Be positive about writing – enjoy your child’s efforts at writing and drawing. Praise her efforts and celebrate her expression. Pin her work up. A child who sees her efforts welcomed and celebrated is powerfully motivated to keep on writing, drawing and developing her linguistic and communication skills.