Writing is a complicated process that involves many, many skills yet we expect young children to become writers without giving it too much thought. We also know that parental involvement is crucial in supporting children gain the skills they need to become readers and writers. So how can we help young children to become confident writers enabling them to find their own voice and become successful communicators?
There are 4 stages of writing that have are clear and are backed up by various research such as Temple, Nathan, Temple 2012. These are:
- Drawing and making marks (scribbling). During this stage the child does not see the difference between their marks and their pictures. They do not connect their marks to meanings. They may give names to their pictures -“Mummy” but will happily paint or scribble over the top of their picture. This is from about the age of 18 months until the child is about 3. Children at this young age will often hold their crayon or pen in a fist grip.
- At this stage children begin to give meanings to their marks. They will begin to pick up letters that are familiar to them; these are often the letters in their names. They don’t always associate sounds with the letters but they may know their name. e.g that is an ‘a’ and its in my name. This usually happens at about the age of 4 depending upon the child. The correct pencil grip may not have been developed.
- Beginning sounds. Inventive spelling occurs at this age and children must be allowed to just write and not be too worried about the correct spellings. Children will write what they hear so ‘cat’ may be written as ‘ct’. This often occurs at the age of 5 but can be later depending upon the child. At this stage it is important to ensure that the child is holding their pencil correctly using the tripod grip as bad habits can form.
- Children add middle and ending sounds to make plausible spelt words. They will begin to add spacing to their sentences and have some awareness of commonly spelt words and simple punctuation. This often occurs by the age of 6 or 7 but some children may develop this stage earlier or later depending upon maturity.
Scaffolding and supporting each stage can help children become more confident in their writing skills. There are many muscles involved with every stage of writing so developing strength in these muscles is essential to ensure young children become successful writers.
5 easy activities for building those muscles!
Young children need to develop the muscles in their shoulders, arms, hands and fingers before writing becomes comfortable for them. You know how your hand hurts when you have been writing for ages? Children get these feelings quickly when they write so it’s important to try activities that will help this. Try writing using your non dominant hand and you will quickly see what our children have to put up with!
My favourites are:
- Play dough. I love play dough! I use it all the time in the classroom because children love it too. Ask your child to make ‘worms’ by rolling the play dough between their hands and the table. Try rolling the dough into balls in between their fingers or hands. Think about the muscles this is helping.
2. Play with hoops outside. Spin the hoop on your arm. This is super fun but is actually strengthening the muscles in your child’s arms and shoulders too.
3. Play with beads or small toys such as Polly Pockets. The clothes of Polly Pocket are so tricky to put on aren’t they? But they are great for strengthening little fingers! Threading beads are also great for this too.
4. Painting at an Easel. This is a great activity that develops the shoulder and arm muscles. Holding a paintbrush at this angle and whooshing it across the paper trying to put the paint where your brain wants it to go is skillful! Watch young children paint at an easel and they often are having to really concentrate. Encourage children to reach across the page as this helps to develop ‘crossing the midline’ ie being able to use your right hand on the left hand side of your body. We want to develop a dominant hand as this is crucial for writing development. The children who find writing tricky often have 2 mediocre hands because they haven’t developed a strong dominant hand (and it can be right or left of course). You can also see children later on turning their paper sideways to compensate for their lack of dominant hand strength.
5. Lego. Children learn so much from Lego but have you tried putting those tiny pieces together? Tricky! I did not play with Lego as a child but love it as a parent/teacher! It is excellent for the development of the muscles in the fingers.
I hope this is useful. Do get in touch if you want to know more.