6 Ways to Support Beginning Writers
My experiences in early childhood education has taught me many things over the course of my career. One of those things is that our youngest writers must be developed before they are expected to start writing. If you have little ones or early elementary kiddos who have already begun their writing journey, these are some ways to support them in their development.
1. Strengthening fine motor muscles
This is the foundation for writing. If those little finger muscles are weak, your writer will struggle to grip their writing utensil for a sustained period of time. If you have an older writer that avoids writing because they complain that it hurts, it probably does! You can help them work out these tiny muscles by:
- playing with Legos
- spooning beans, marbles, or other small objects around the house
- picking up small objects with kitchen tongs
- sticker books
… and so much more! And I am sorry to say, the pincer movement that many of our kids have mastered using tablets just won’t do the trick. They need activities that work ALL of their finger muscles.
2. Understand that scribbling IS writing
The earliest forms of writing is scribbling and learning how to form lines. This pre-writing practice is essential for learning how to form letters. Let your child practice moving their writing utensil all over the page freely so they can build muscle memory in forming those straight and curved lines.
3. Understand that drawing pictures IS writing
Pictures communicate meaning and help little ones get their ideas onto the page. Here are some potential next steps:
- encourage your writer to add more details to their picture
- encourage your writer to label their pictures
- once they have labels, encourage them to add more words and build a sentence
- this may look like a string of letters at first – that is ok!
- planning sentences aloud and counting how many words they hear is a helpful strategy
- don’t hesitate to pull out a favorite book to use as an example
- if your writer struggles to add details, encourage them to revisit their sketch for inspiration and help them tell more
4. Don’t get hung up on spelling
This is a biggie that has more impact than people realize so I am going to park here for a minute. I know that spelling was drilled into us as kids, but sometimes we find ourselves over emphasizing that every word needs to be spelled perfectly. Spelling and conventions are only a part of writing, and many experts would argue they are definitely NOT the most important part. “Inventive spelling” is an early childhood term that basically means writers write the sounds they hear. This is a very important stage of development and helps them in reading as well. You can help them hear the sounds by stretching them out and saying them slowly. Writers may only hear the beginning sound of the word first, great! Then they will hear the beginning and ending sounds. Then they may hear all of the consonants. Often times, the vowels (or the “glue” that holds words together) come last. Celebrate each time your child hears and adds more and more sounds to their words and try to refrain from telling them its “wrong” or spelling it for them. If you only focus on spelling words perfectly, it will likely lead to dependent writers who have a hard time pushing through tricky words because they think it has to be perfect before they can move on. Teaching them to revise, edit, and use their resources to help them spell will come later!
5. Turn writing into books!
Writing is for readers, that is why we write! Kids LOVE to make books. As a teacher, this was a game changer for me and my students. This helped them to truly see themselves as writers. This can be as simple as adding a cover, back, and stapling it together.
6. Compliment, ask questions, and celebrate
When your child is writing, at whatever stage, I would challenge you to let the first thing you say be a compliment. Even if it is, “Wow, you filled up the page!” or “I love watching you write”. The more specific the compliment the better, but anything positive is great. Ask them about their writing and prompt them to tell you about it. At that point, you have opened a door to give feedback that will likely be heard and received. Try to pick one thing to work on (even if your mind sees a hundred things to fix) and then celebrate when you see your child grow as a writer.
Writing is a vulnerable act. You are putting a piece of yourself out there and there are many critics. But we also know, writing is powerful and has been a tool for change. Instead of being one of the critics, be an encourager who fosters a confident, fearless, and independent writer. Who knows? Maybe your writer will one day write something that can change the world.