Helping with Writing
There are many elements involved in learning to write. However, most of these elements fall under one of two major headings- how to write and what to write. Whilst your children will do a lot of English based activities with us at Warwick Road – phonics, handwriting, reading, learning features of different text types and so on – there are still many ways in which parents can help.
How to Write
The Beginnings -Mark Making
Early on, children begin to learn the mechanics of writing. From their very earliest days, they’re learning the motor skills necessary to develop the fine control that they’ll eventually use as writers. But, before your child begins to write, they need to learn how to control their muscles for large movements. Make sure that they are physically active and play games that involve co-ordination, for example throwing and catching balls.
Your child then needs to develop their muscles with smaller movements. Give them plenty of opportunities to enjoy finger activities, for example playing with pegs and cutting up paper, which develop hand-eye co-ordination.
Children need a lot of practise to master the fine motor skills needed to write clearly. Mark making is essential to develop the control needed, so it’s really important to give them the opportunity to use mark making equipment as soon as they’re ready. Initially, your child will make large shapes. But they don’t all have to be on paper; let your children practise drawing letters in sand, water or paint, or use white boards or blackboards. They can also make letters using playdough, pastry or shaving foam. Pattern and colouring books can be fun to do and allow children to practise mark-making.
Make sure that they’ve always got a variety of pencils, crayons and so on, and – just as importantly, something to write on (not the furniture!). Good quality, appealing paper, notebooks, pens and pencils will help make them enthusiastic about making marks on the page and help form a habit that will grow with them. Most often the first thing children do with their new pencils and crayons, is to scribble– and that’s fine. It may look messy at first, but it will really help them to learn how to control their finger muscles. As they master the skills, they’ll need to learn to make clockwise and anticlockwise movements to prepare them for letter formation. Gradually scale down the size of the instruments your child uses when writing until they can handle pencil and paper.
When they first use a pencil, they should begin by following lines and patterns to improve their control. Then they can move onto letters.
As children develop the motor skills needed to write, they also learn letter formations and later, handwriting. Typically, a child will follow these steps in their journey to becoming a writer:
1. Readiness for handwriting; gross and fine motor skills leading to pattern and letter formation (3-5yrs)
2.Beginning to join letters (5-7yrs)
3. Securing the joins between letters (5-9yrs)
4. Practising speed and fluency (7-9yrs)
5. Presentational Skills (10-11yrs)
We use the Nelson handwriting scheme at Warwick Road. Although it’s a very comprehensive scheme, some of the key points are listed here:
- Letters that end at the top join horizontally: f o r v w
- Letters that end at the bottom join diagonally: a c d e h i k l m n u t s
- Letters that are traditionally not joined: b j p g q y z x. These are not joined because they end in the opposite direction (to the left) to the direction of writing (to the right).
- The letters g and y can be looped, but these letters end to the left so it is therefore more consistent for them not to be joined. Children who loop these letters often then contrive other unsuitable loops, such as for the letter s.
- Capital letters should not be huge. They should be no higher than ascenders.
- Letters should not have a lead in stroke.
It’s also important to develop a good writing position. If you’re going learn to write neatly, you’ll need to be sitting down with a surface to work on, such as a desk or a table. When children are writing, encourage a good ‘anchored’ sitting position. Their writing arm elbow should be tucked in at the side and their spare hand should hold the paper or book.
Children begin by learning phonics and from there, spelling. For more information about phonics, see the separate ‘Phonics’ tab.
The National Curriculum prescribes what spellings children should learn in each year group. You can see the appendix of spellings here. You’re likely to find that your child regularly brings home spelling lists to learn. You can help by offering to test them!
Spelling doesn’t have to be dull, though. Even from being very small, games can liven up and boost children’s grasp of spelling. For example, play ‘I Spy’ – it’s a good way of showing that every word begins with a letter. ‘Hangman’ is another game that children enjoy playing and encourages use of sounds and spellings. For the slightly older child, games like Scrabble and Boggle have been around for a long time, and with good reason. When played with an adult, or an older sibling or cousin, they’re a brilliant way to improve your spelling power. Make sure you have a dictionary handy to settle any disputes, though!
Also, those children with access to tablets or smartphones will be able to use a lot of apps to help with their spelling progress. A good site (UK sites are essential for spelling) for finding lots of free apps can be found here. *
*Please note that we’re not responsible for the content of any external websites. The apps I’ve looked at are all appropriate for children, but please use your discretion and check any apps you download, before letting your children use them.
What to Write
Go out and do things!
Whilst children are learning the finer points of handwriting, spelling and so on, there is another aspect of writing, which is equally important – composition. As they go through school, children will learn to write in a variety of different styles; stories, reports, recounts, letters, biographies, debates and so on.
The most important thing that any writer can have before they can master these skills, is experience –otherwise, there’s nothing to write about! This is one of the reasons we encourage educational visits. But in addition to school activities, it helps children massively in many areas, to go out regularly with their families, see things and do things. Visits to Eureka or Chester Zoo are always fun, if sometimes a little pricey for the whole family. But other days out- the National Railway Museum in York, the West Yorkshire Sculpture Park in West Bretton, or just a good old-fashioned walk in the woods- cost little or nothing and will provide superb stimulus for writing as well as lots of good memories.
The basis of good writing is good talk. Before you can write a sentence, you need to be able to think of it and you need to be able to say it. So, when you visit places, encourage your child to talk about they’ve done, seen, heard, smelled, tasted, touched. Don’t forget to talk about what they liked or didn’t like, how they felt and encourage questions about what they’ve done. Correct spoken grammar as far as possible, as you do so, but use lots of praise, to encourage them to share their experiences in as much detail as possible. Children might want to keep a diary to record their experiences – but even if they don’t write immediately, the day will come on which they will be called upon to write – for example, a story or a report –and their memories of the day, coupled with the language they used to talk about it, will provide fuel for plenty of imaginative writing.
Be a Writing Role Model
We sometimes underestimate how often we’re called upon to use our writing skills, as adults. Parents and family are amongst the most important role models in our lives, so they will learn a lot, simply by seeing you write. It doesn’t have to be a large piece of writing; notes, cards or letters to friends or relatives, a shopping list –or, if you’re so inclined, an article for a magazine or maybe a story or poem for them to enjoy. Talk about what you’re doing (and why!) and let your children see that you are not perfect - making changes and editing what you write is a natural part of writing.
Finding Opportunities to Write
Then, help your children find their own opportunities to write.
- Let them write their own Eid cards, thank you letters, cards or e-mails to friends or relatives, invitations to a party, or a list of things they need to take on holiday.
- If you’re travelling – especially to another country – buy postcards for them to write and send to family and friends. Keeping a diary of travels is also a good idea, as well as being a valuable memory.
- Let children write a small part of your shopping list –they can be responsible for carrying their list and finding those items when you go to the supermarket.
- Help your child write a letter to your child’s favourite author. Correspondence can often be sent to an author’s publisher (whose details can be obtained on the Web) who will pass it on. Whilst it’s impossible to guarantee and answer, many successful authors have staff who will send a letter back.
- For the really ambitious, there are many writing competitions to enter, such as the BBC’s ‘500 Words’ competition which runs annually in January and February. There are a lot of really good writing tips for children on this site, which are accessible all year round. You can get on the site here.
Above all, take an interest – praise their efforts and let them know that you’re proud of their achievements. Although writing can be fun, it’s not an easy thing to do! Focus on a word they spelt correctly, neat handwriting, a good describing word or good use of punctuation. Remember, it is difficult to get everything right when you are learning!