I think of watching a child learn to mark, scribble, and eventually write as the most magical laboratory ever. If you are like me and have never excelled in science, watching a child develop writing skills makes the science behind their markings beautiful to see. One of my fondest memories is when my daughter grasped a marker for the first time. She immediately put it in her mouth and turned her tongue blue, but she was able to hold it in her hand and make a mess on paper. I could not have been more proud. Today, I want to give you a few tips on how to encourage art and writing skills in young children.
Before beginning a writing/drawing project, first you children need to spend time thinking about what they want to do. Good writers often spend a lot of time thinking, preparing, and researching before starting to write. It might seem like children dawdle; sharpening a pencil, getting colored and white papers ready, getting a dictionary to look up the spelling of a word, etc. My biggest piece of advice: Be patient — this is all very important preparation. (It may not be a one day project for most parents and children simply due to how long it takes to complete all the steps.)
Respond to Children’s Writing
You know how you see teachers writing “great job” or “how did this make you feel” on your child’s piece of writing. Parents at home, the same concept applies to you. You can respond to the ideas your child expresses verbally or take it one step further to do it in writing. This step will make it very clear that you are interested in what the writing conveys. It also tells a child you care “what” the child has written rather than “how” it was written.
If you can ignore minor errors like reversing a letter, a misspelled word, or drawing feet on a fish, you can encourage children to write and draw more thoughts and ideas. They will not be inhibited by mistakes but rather completing ideas. You can always go back and revise/edit they wrote. But if too much time or attention is spent on the errors, you won’t have anything to revise because they will lose the motivation to write.
Praise Children’s Writing
This is the most important part to connect language to writing. No matter how young your child is, ask them “what did you write”. You can answer for them in the beginning and then follow up with your own comments. You are helping them understand that the random marks represent an idea or object even if neither of you understand what it is yet (age 0-2 for most children). Use your imagination to make SPECIFIC comments. If you read a book that day about an airplane, you could point to the crooked line on the page and say “Wow, that looks like the airplane that we saw in the story today.” This is not disingenuous, rather it expresses you feel pride in their work and accomplishments. This encourages them to keep going and take risks as a new writer/artist.
If your child isn’t talking yet, you still need to ask questions and make comments about their “art” and creatively make up answers for them. If they babble or make sound effects, imitate those and say “I love your sphohfgewoinfgs. It is absolutely beautiful.” Do not be afraid of sounding ridiculous, you are doing exactly what you should and anyone who overhears you will understand in a few years when they see your brilliant child achieving wonderful things.
Ask a child questions about their writing/drawing and then heap on the praise. If you want to document their explanations of their drawings/writings, I highly recommend using the app ShowMe. You simply take a picture of their creation and then use voice over to record their thoughts. A great way to document their learning, but also to reflect on their work (and send to grandma if you want).
Avoid Writing for Children
One of my biggest pet peeves is watching parents and even teachers write for a child. This is usually done with the best of intentions, but the result is that I cannot see what they can do independently and neither can they. Children are so much more capable than we as a adults give them credit for. It usually comes down to lack of time when an adult will write for a child. This just means assessing your schedule and adjusting accordingly.
Always make realistic goals with writing. Always have a writing folder to put unfinished work so the pressure is not on completing it right away. For a child, meeting a deadline (teacher or parent given), taking responsibility for the finished product, and feeling a sense of ownership about the drawing/writing piece are HUGELY important in the writing process. Resist the urge to complete or re-write children’s work even when they are little. Trust me, your child’s teacher will love you for it!
When to Help Children with their Writing
Asking your child questions that will help them clarify the details in their stories as they begin to get longer. This will help them learn to organize their thoughts. Reminding them of their writing objective is often will also help. (ex. persuading dad to buy them a new bike)
When your child starts to conventionally read and write instead of scribbling or just strings of shapes and letters, they may try different ways to write and spell. Our job as teachers and parents is to just encourage children at this point. At first, your child may begin to write words the way that they hear them. For example, a child might write “iz” instead of “is”, “frd” instead of “friend”, and “pls” instead of “please.” This actually is a positive step in developing phonemic awareness. The same goes for drawing. When they say “I don’t know how to draw a dog”, tell them to start with a face and build on those skills.
Keep practicing with them, and always model the correct spelling of words when YOU write. The rule of thumb is to resist spelling for them unless you need to. (ex. send a thank you card to someone, sign up sheets, etc.) If the assignment from a teacher requires correct spelling, that is the only time to interfere. If they give them a writing assignment for home, teachers want to see what the child knows by themselves. I promise, no teacher is judging parents when a child comes in with misspelled words.
Practice, Practice, Practice
This is a no-brainer, but easier said than done. Writing and drawing well takes lots of practice, so make it fun so your child is not easily discouraged. Use non-threatening writing practice so when it comes to an actual assignment to write or illustrate, they do not get intimidated. For young children, pretending to write is so incredibly helpful in the future. Here are a few ideas for practicing writing at home:
- Buy order pads and play restaurant. Let your child be the server.
- Encourage your child to create a menu when guests come for dinner.
- Buy matching journals for you and your child, and set aside time to write or draw in them together.
- Keep a bag of markers and colored paper for when you’re in the car, waiting in line at a restaurant, at the doctor’s office, etc.
- Let your child finger paint in the bathtub with shaving cream.
- Buy chalk for drawing on the driveway, sidewalk, etc.
- Put writing supplies in their reading corner so they can make their own books.
- Make lists with your child — errands, items to buy, etc. Let them scribble ideas on your list and encourage them to write their own lists too.
- Have a “mailroom” in the house somewhere. You and your child(ren) can address envelopes, stuff them with drawings, and make deliveries to family members
(make sure they get a return letter)
- Help your child draw a family portrait.
Reading and writing support each other and go hand in hand. The more your child does of each, the better they will be at both. Reading can also give them ideas about writing. They can make a text to world connection and be inspired to write about it. The most successful students are the ones who have ample practice in both reading and writing. For many, reading is easier, and I agree. But making art and writing a regular part of playtime will help them in so many ways. They can solve problems, show independence, discover cause and effect, creatively express their feelings, and so many other life skills.
Showing the power of writing to the little ones in your life will be a life long wonderful skill. Thanks to wonderful and supportive friends of mine who are also teachers, my 5-year-old daughter squeals in delight when she gets a new notepad or diary for a birthday/holiday gift! She even takes her notepads to bed with her. Start them young; it is worth the effort!!!