One of my lecturers who taught us early childhood said that giving very young children a pencil to write will not help them. In fact, it will be bad for them. I don’t know to what extent it is true, or whether it is supported by studies, but over time, it somehow resonated with me.
I realized that it’s never a good idea to expect your kids to do a certain task without having built on their fundamental skills. By jumping straight to making them hold a pencil to copy things, they will less likely be able to do so.
So if your kids are younger than four, teaching them how to write is not quite just throwing a piece of paper and pencil for them to copy letters. There are a lot of activities that you can do before you hand them a pencil. It does not involve tasks which require rigorous practices and endless pages of worksheets for them to complete.
Understanding the science behind early writing
Writing is not merely writing symbols and lines. It carries a message that can be understood by others. Thus, writing goes hand in hand with reading skills. Learning one helps in the learning of the other.
Holding a piece of writing material such as a pencil, and being able to maneuver it to make lines and patterns with control require 2 skills.
Fine motor skills– This is where your child is able to control their smaller muscles such as those on the wrist, hands, and fingers which are essential in writing.
Eye-hand coordination– This is the ability to coordinate the information received by the eye, to control the movement of the hands at the same time.
In helping your child develop writing skills, you can do the following activities below which focuses on these two skills.
Activities to develop Pre-writing skills
Most of these are activities can be done even with toddlers!
Cutting with a pair of scissors
Modeling with play dough
Peeling and pasting stickers
The list can go on an on and there are a ton of ideas you can find everywhere.
Understanding the process
In helping your child develop certain skills, it’s never a good idea to rush the process. Learning to write comes in stages.
To put things to perspective, here are the 6 categories of writing. Note that they may not go in order as children tend to combine these to represent their ideas.
3. Letter-like forms and symbols
4. Random letters and letter strings
5. Invented spelling
6. Writing with conventional spelling
Your child will make mistakes in writing and spelling. While it is good it correct mistakes, I believe that it is also important to know when to correct them. For example, in categories 1 to 4, I hope that you can agree that there are no mistakes. The importance is not in the spellings or letterforms, rather, it is in the process itself.
As for the final 2 categories, I believe it is important to acknowledge their efforts before correcting them without making a huge deal out of it. After all, they are utilizing their phonics skills to create those wrong spellings, which is already a huge breakthrough!
The first tools for writing
When choosing the first writing materials for your kids, find those which are chunky and in jumbo size for easy gripping. The easier it is for them to grip, the more control they will have.
Fun writing activities
Writing is mainly a tool to express ideas to print. Developing early writing skills should be purposeful for your child and never a chore. Ditch the endless worksheet of writing pages. (Okay, maybe you can still use them once in a while when they are okay with it. Yes, a mind that is able to learn is one which is capable, and willing.)
Here are some suggestions instead:
Making greeting cards
Writing a letter to a friend
Keeping a journal
Making a book
Making a shopping list
Copying a favorite book
Conclusion- Finding the right approach
In my approach to developing writing skills, there is minimal “teaching” and learning should never be a chore. How do we achieve that? Firstly, by creating the right environment; one which is full of resources such as printed materials, and also writing tools. Next, by being available for your kids when they need you. For example, if they need you to spell something, help them. Insya’Allah, they will effortlessly learn how to write.
Sulzby, E. (1990). Assessment of emergent writing and children’s language while
writing. In L.M. Morrow & J.K. Smith (Eds.), Assessment for instruction in early literacy
(pp. 83-108). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
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