“My child does not like writing!” ……
I can’t say how many times I’ve heard this from a parent or teacher. There are several reasons a child might not enjoy writing. Could it be that his/her fine motor skills are not strong enough to maintain the pencil grip necessary for writing? He/she could prefer more active forms of learning. Or, if the writing process takes too long, the child may get restless which can lead to frustration.
Whatever the reason, I find that encouraging children to write freely is one way to begin a positive relationship with this art. What is writing freely? It is simply allowing children to write scribbles, letters, words, or a mix of all without fear of forming the letters correctly or using ‘adult’ spelling. There is definitely a place for handwriting, conventions, and spelling instruction. I feel very strongly about the need for practicing those skills. However, if we want children to enjoy recording their ideas, thoughts, feelings, and choose to write, we must nurture this skill with encouragement focused on the child’s effort and applaud the creativity.
My new favorite book to introduce children to writing is, A Squiggly Story by Andrew Larson and Mike Lowery. This is a fantastic book to help young children realize that learning to write doesn’t have to start out perfect, but all ideas are special and can be molded into a cool story. The main character admires his sister’s ability to write stories. He wants to write too. So, his sister shows him how a story simply starts with one letter and one word. It can be whatever the author wants it to be. The book shows children that writing can be difficult and the letters or words don’t always look the way we want them to, but with a lot of perseverance, anyone can write a story.
I love this quote from the book, “It’s your story. You’re the BOSS.“
So, how can you encourage a love for writing?? I use what is called, ‘Kid Writing’, to help my own children and students I work with write about any topic they choose. Here’s a brief description:
1. Have the child draw a picture of something he/she is interested in.
2. Next, the child can tell you what the story will be about and then begin writing word by word or sentence by sentence. For each word that poses trouble, you say the word and stretch out the sounds for the child. For example, if the troublesome word is ‘dress’, you say /d/ /r/ /e/ /s/. Sometimes with the dr- blend, children will hear /j-r/, so make sure to separate those sounds. The child then writes dres (Don’t worry about the -ss spelling for writing freely.) Tell him/her to write the sounds heard. Encourage spacing between words if the child seems ready for that.
3. Reread each sentence to the child for clarification.
4. As the adult, you then ‘underwrite’, literally write the words the child tells you using correct conventions and spelling under his/her words.
This style of writing, writing phonetically, is immensely helpful with later spelling. If children can hear and break up the sounds in syllables and words at an early age, they will be more successful spellers!
Take a look at these examples. The underwriting has all of the correct spelling and conventions, but allows children to focus on their ideas. This can be done with four years old children and older. Even squiggly lines count as writing!
Another way to do allow children to write freely, is to record what they write on another piece of paper or by video/audio. If the child does not want any other writing on their work, you would want to have them dictate to you and record that on another piece of paper which then is attached to their writing.
Sometimes I like to make my own materials for literacy practice, but the writing journals below, produced by Lakeshore, are a perfect resource to use. I like that there are two options, one for a younger child with fewer lines on the page and larger spaces between lines, and one I would use for first or second grade. I keep my own children’s journals in our car bag for any time that one of them has to wait for an appointment or class. They love looking back at their work to see their progress.
If you would prefer to make your own book, you can download the pdf below-left. The grey and white lines make it easier to underwrite. You would have the child write in the grey lines and the adult underwrites in the white lines.
Writing does not have to be a hair pulling or grey-ing experience! Giving children more freedom and praising their efforts will help them develop confidence and a love for writing too!