In the final episode of this series, I’ll share some activities that you can do at home to develop children’s writing skills.
Children need materials, space, age-appropriate expectations, and meaningful activities to develop an interest in writing.
Do you have different materials for children to use for their writing and drawing? When Children can access materials easily, they are more inclined to engage in writing activities of their own accord.
Put together a writing toolbox. Include markers, pencils, chalks and crayons, sticky notes, paper, and small chalkboards or slates. Those diaries we get at the beginning of the year make great journals for kids. Add a child’s scissors, different kinds of paper clips, envelopes, and tape.
Put together an art toolbox. Include ribbons, gift wrapping paper, tissue paper, empty boxes to wrap gifts, paper punches, glitter, and sequins. Add different paints and paintbrushes. It is easy to incorporate writing into children’s art activities. Using different materials helps children develop the fine motor control needed to hold a pencil and write.
The Writing Space:
Set aside a space for your children to write, If you have the room for it. Otherwise, use the dining table. Their feet must rest on a flat surface instead of dangling in mid-air. Another option is to use a traditional floor writing desk if your children like to sit on the floor. If you don’t have one, use a box to give the raised flat surface. In India, it is common for children to sit on the floor and bend down to write. That is a challenging posture to maintain for long periods. Find a way to ensure a more stable trunk position.
Encourage your children to scribble, draw and write. The outcome will depend on their developmental stage. The lines may not be perfect, the letter sizes may vary, and the spelling may not be correct. As much as we want our children to write beautifully, remember that learning to write is a process. Acknowledge their work without constantly correcting it.
Model good writing practices. Let your children see you write—shopping lists, letters to the editor, a message to your friend, and emails to family members. When they know that you express yourself in your writing, they understand that it is a purposeful activity.
Here are some suggestions for meaningful writing activities:
- Trace the first letter in their name on their backs.
- Let them trace the initial letter in your family members’ names with their fingers. You can have them trace the letters on sandpaper or sand trays. If you are concerned that your toddler may eat the sand, try rice flour or rava. Both these have a coarse texture and are perfectly safe if eaten.
- Set aside a time when you and your child write side by side–even if all they do is scribble.
- When your child brings a scribble or a drawing to you, attribute meaning to the child’s work.
“Oh, is that a birthday card for didi?” or
“Can you tell me what is happening in your picture?”
Don’t worry if the picture or the writing doesn’t look like anything the child describes.
- When you send birthday cards, emails, or invitations to special events, ask your child to write their name, even if it is only a scribble or random lines.
- Read to your toddler. Choose books with bright illustrations and fewer words. When you read, point and follow the words. This teaches them the left to right progression, an essential step in print awareness. Play with the words—stretch and emphasize sounds…ssssun, balllllll, dooooooog. Use your voice to highlight rhymes—tall, ball.
For three and four-year-olds
- Use real-life experiences as writing opportunities. Take a picture when you go to the beach, the zoo, or a family wedding. Ask your child to say something about what is happening in the image, and write it down.
- Have children create a poster after watching a film or a favourite cartoon show. They can write the film title and their name.
- Pretend to run a restaurant over the weekend. Create a menu together. Your child can pretend to be a waiter and write down others’ breakfast orders.
- Ask children to write cards or emails to family members for their birthdays.
- Have your children help you wrap presents for birthdays and other special occasions. They can copy the birthday message and the names on the labels.
- Choose a colourful section of the newspaper or magazine ads and circle the initial letters of family members’ names.
- Young children love to draw. When your children draw, encourage them to label their drawings. You can either help them sound the letters in the words as they write or write down what they say for them to copy.
- Read books, in particular repetitive and rhyming books. Play with the sounds in words.
Kids in UKG can do all of the above and more.
- Have your child copy their favourite songs or stories. My then five-year-old saw her older siblings write stories, and she chose to copy the lyrics of songs from cartoon shows.
- Hang a dry erase board or a notepad on the wall to set up a space where adults and children can leave messages for each other.
- Give the diaries or planners you get every New Year for your child to use as a journal. They can write one sentence a day and illustrate it.
- Children can write their own picture books. Have them draw and write the relevant description under the illustration. Clip the papers together to make a book. Drawing helps them think about the details they want to include in their writing.
- Read to your children every day. Reading reinforces their understanding of letter-sound relationships, which is also necessary for learning to spell. Reading also increases children’s vocabulary and exposes them to many writing styles. Children who know many words are better able to write using their own words.
A word of caution here. At this stage, children will not spell words correctly. They may write ‘bot’ for boat or ‘gl’ for girl. This is not a cause for concern. It is a crucial stage in learning to spell called inventive spelling. So please do not ask your kids to write the words five times to memorize the spelling! When they practice writing independently, let them segment words to identify the correct letters.
While children need to form the letters correctly, remember that handwriting improves with practice. Allow your kids to retain the sense of enjoyment in being able to express themselves through writing.
Your hands may be forced because the school sends the worksheets for homework. What do you do then? Well, provide children with plenty of other opportunities to write what they want. If they see that writing can be fun, they’ll be less resistant to finish those worksheets.