Help your Child to Developer Good Writing Skills

The write start

Try this: before you read this guide, write down your favourite animal.

Easy? For you yes but for your child? That may be a whole task that takes practice, patients and skill. Picking up your pen, putting it to paper and writing your answer is a quick and simple task for us. For your child, it’s a completely different challenge. You easily put the letters in order, giving little thought to the process from start to finish.

Your child may take ages to even get the right grip on the pen, it may take them ages to decide where on the paper to write and they will be concentrating hard in order to sound the word out to themselves before they write down the answer.

Start at the beginning

Writing is part of your everyday life. Whether that’s putting pen to paper, replying to an email or sending off a quick text message, it is almost an automatic process for us but if you think back, we all had to start somewhere. Your child is starting their journey so it is important to know how to support them so that they are able to learn this basic life skill.

Although this is a basic life skill for many, writing is a complex task when looking at it from a starting point. The skill requires gross and fine motor skills, critical thinking and creativity. The process of writing takes years to master, each new skill that is learnt is then developed and taken to the next level.

Children are fast learners. From early on, your toddler will be interested in pens, pencils, general mark making. Sometimes, this happens on the walls at home, it’s a start! Ideally, this should start on paper! The earlier you teach your child to start making marks with pens, pencils, paint, crayons, the more keen they will be to build on their growing skills and talent. Reading and writing are of course interlinked and your child will soon realise that there is a link between the spoken word, a visual word and the letters you write to make that sound. It is no wonder this is a daunting task for our little ones to undertake.

Your child will start out by making scribbles, lines and whatever wonderful ideas they come up with. This experimental stage is important. Your child is developing daily, their gross motor skills such as standing, walking and reaching for items will develop alongside their fine motor skills such as those used to grip a pen.

Children start writing by scribbling, an activity most toddlers enjoy. To do it, they must develop coordination, allowing them to hold the pencil, stop the paper from moving beneath their hand and still be able to apply enough pressure to make their marks on the paper. Coordination to hold the crayon, keep the paper still, and apply enough pressure to make a mark on the paper.

As their skills improve, they will start to realise that they are not only making marks or creating patterns but they will be able to repeat similar shapes, lines and patterns as they develop their own creative abilities.

Practice makes perfect

At or around preschool age, your child may begin to start practicing to write. It doesn’t take much show them a few letters and how to form them before you’ll start to notice them being included in their scribbles and creative mark making. Your child’s name can be a good place to start. In the beginning, they may only write one or two letters and these are not likely to be in the correct order for some time to come.

As they continue to read and develop, your child will start to understand how to put the letters together in order, forming words that they will eventually learn to sound out. Initially, your child will learn how to put these letters together, using them to label pictures that they draw, see or use in their activities at preschool, school or at home. They will not know much about the difference between capital letters and lower case letters, their spacing will be a work in progress and they will learn through repetition about how to write their name or a word neatly as instructed. As your child learns about sounds and how to make the sounds associated to the letters they are writing, they may invent sounds or letters and this can be an entertaining phase of your child’s journey to writing and spelling with skill!

As with all skills, practice makes perfect. Your child will eventually learn about print, how to write from left to write and the differences between the cases in upper and lower. They will also learn how to write between the lines or neatly in order to show off their best work. Spelling and grammar will come in time but getting the basics right first is the most important part. Don’t expect too much too soon or put too much emphasis on spelling until your child is confident in forming letters and sounding out their words.

As your child gains more control over his or her find motor skills, their writing will naturally become neater and more legible. They will also start to wring their letters and words smaller than they did when they started and once confident, your child will be taught how to write in cursive.

How important is handwriting?

In this day and age, you can easily go for days without picking up a pen yet you have communicated in writing with many people over that period. Texting, emailing, video calling and all other forms of communication technology are available at the click of a mouse or the wiggle of a thumb. Nevertheless, handwriting is an important skill and it is essential that you ensure your child is give the best grounding in this life skill. Research shows that reading and writing develop each other, one reinforces the other so it is just as important to write as it is to read.

Before your child care learn to read, they need to comprehend that letters have particular sounds that they relate to. Once put together, those single sounds, form other sounds. Learning to write letters is the start of the process of understanding the correlation between the letter and the sound it makes.

As your child begins to imitate sounds that letters make, for example, if your child recognises a letter in a sign above a shop, they will begin to say the sound that relates to that letter as they learn. This association is the start of their learning journey. Your child is likely to be taught using a phonetic based teaching method, this allows your child to learn the actual sounds of a letter and how they form words, before tackling the ‘tricky’ letters and words when they’re ready to do so.

As you child grows in confidence and they begin to use a computer or keyboard as part of their learning journey at home, preschool or school, your child will also being to fine tune their motor control allowing them to experiment with their communication skills. Using IT as a means to reinforce skills such as letter and sound identification can be a great alternative to traditional methods. The internet has a wealth of useful tools that incorporate game or interactive style learning platforms. For some children, this may be all it takes to get their attention and boost their interest in learning about letters, sounds and writing, helping them to transform their knowledge of letters into words and later, into reading skills.

Handwriting is so important as children will be required to use it daily at school or preschool. Some children may struggle with the mechanics of handwriting but don’t let them be discouraged. Practice is the key and your praise will also help to motivate them to continue on until they are able to master their skills. Self-esteem can be affected if your child is constantly made to feel as though they are not achieving or are under achieving. Ignore their early errors and instead praise and encourage their attempts and when they get it right, tell them so!

Keep at it

Keep providing your child with daily opportunities to practice their growing set of skills. Writing takes time, patience and effort. Encourage your child to use different tools for writing. Think outside the box to keep them interested and engaged in the activities.

You are not limited simply to pens, crayons, pencils and paint. Why not make a box table, tip a bag of flour onto the surface and show your child how to trace letters into the flour. This is a great way to encourage them through messy play. It is easy to erase and start over and your child will be so involved in the fun they’re having that they will not realise they are learning important skills in the process.

An important part of helping kids develop early literacy skills is giving them chances to practice. As soon as your child is old enough to scribble (as early as 1 year old for some kids) offer some fat, chunky crayons or markers and a big piece of paper and let him or her experiment.

As your child becomes more interested in writing and reading, consider creating an art station. This should be easily accessible to your child so that they can draw, write and create at their leisure. Keep in mind that you may need to supervise these activities so that their efforts remain on the paper. Have plenty of paper (white and coloured varieties) available, different mediums such as pencils, felt tip pens, crayons, paint, brushes and pens available.

If you’re outdoors, you can continue to encourage their interest by giving your child chalk so that they can draw on the pavement or slabs on your pathway or patio. This will ensure that your children don’t lose interest in the activities they’re doing, keeping it fresh and interesting. The more your children practice, the easier and more enjoyable their writing activities will be.

When your child starts school and starts to practice writing at school, find ways to build on those skills at home too. Speak to your child’s teacher about how you can do this without making your child feel as if they’re ‘working’ at their skills. It is important that your child enjoys their activities or they will soon lose interest and it can become a chore for you and a battle for them. As your child enters school and starts practicing writing there, continue to find ways to practice at home too.

You could suggest to your child that they start to write little notes to family and friends, they could start by drawing a picture and signing their name or addressing it to the recipient with your help. Don’t write for your child but show them how to do it and practice with them so that they are supported and learning at the same time. Another idea can be to create a writing journal for your child. You can decide together what the journal will be about and what will be included within it.

You may want to buy some special pencils or crayons, a nice book and spend time with your child making a cover for it. Discuss the idea with your child that their journal is their very own special story book that is ready for them to use each day at a specified time. It should not be a chore and it should not be rushed. If you have a day where things are stressful or time is thin on the ground, leave it for that day and pick it up again the following day when time allows.

You could also suggest activities such as baking together and making a written recipe book. An ideal gift for the other parent or a family member when it’s all done.

What happens if your child continues to struggle?

Try these helpful tips:

Slow and steady wins the race... - Some children struggle when learning to write as they tend to rush through the process. Encourage your child to take their time and create a calm and relaxing environment in which to work at home. Explain to your child about how it takes time and effort to form the letters neatly and properly. Praise them often throughout the process.

Mistakes are part of learning - Writing in pencil and having an eraser at hand will help your child realise that it is OK to make mistakes. They can erase the error in their work and try again.

Practicing is key - When your child first learns to write, it can be useful to find out from your child’s school or teacher how they teach the children to form letters. It can be counter-productive initially to teach your child one way at home and they’re having to change that again at school. Some schools will send home information about letter formation in reception but ask if you’re unsure. Lined paper can help your child to work neatly and within the size limits expected for their age.

Grip is important - The tripod grip is the standard grip used for holding a pen or pencil. The grasp allows the pen or pencil to rest near the base of the thumb, middle finger and index finger. If your child struggle with this grip, try a plastic triangle grip sold widely online or at office supply shops. These promote the correct grip and make it easier for your child to turn their attention to the other writing skills.

Words, words, words - Ensure that you are regularly exposing your child to reading, letters, words and sounds. You should spend some time each day reading to your child and with your child. Use your finger to follow the words on the page so that this reinforces the way the words look and sound. When you’re out and about, look at street signs and advertising boards. Quiz your child or task them with spotting letters or words while you’re out and to keep them entertained.

You can help to encourage and praise your child’s efforts by displaying some of their writing around the house. This helps to remind them of their achievements and it also provides a visual of letters and words to reinforce what they have learnt.

Spotting problems

All children develop at different rates. Your child may draw beautifully but struggle to write, the opposite may be true for their classmate. The key is to keep encouraging your child through positive praise. If however, you feel that there is a problem that is persisting and you are not making much progress, it may be time to have a conversation with your child’s teacher.

It may be that your child needs to be assessed for development skills such as motor skills, vision or hearing. Don’t be worried about it but take steps to ensure that your child is supported early on if they are showing signs of struggling. The earlier the help is put in place, the greater the chance of your child overcoming their challenges.

In some less common cases, problems with reading and writing can signal other issues such as developmental delays or certain learning difficulties. These problems often only come to light once a child is in a structured learning environment where there are set requirements. It may be a matter of the school getting additional support in to help your child or working with you to find the best option to meet your child’s needs.

Some indicators that can suggest learning difficulties may include memory problems, language difficulties, speech problems, visual or hearing problems, neurological disorders or ADHD. These are just a handful of issues that can have an impact you’re a child’s ability to learn alongside their peers. This does not mean that they are unable to learn, it may mean that they need to have support in place to help them to achieve their learning needs in an environment that is best suited to their individual learning requirements.

Children with obvious learning needs identified at birth or early on, will have the support necessary to help them to achieve their full potential. Learning to read and write is an essential skill so putting in the effort early on will help your child to thrive at school and in later life.

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