Parents asked questions on developing early writing skills in children under five during a training session on the topic hosted by Beverley Craggs at the British Council's Early Childhood Education Centre. Here are some of her responses:
What are appropriate writing tools for young children to use?
Short, fat pencils or crayons are the easiest tools for little fingers to manipulate. Try to avoid adult pens which take a lot of skill to control. You may want to give your child recycled paper initially as a budding young artist uses masses of the stuff.
When should children start to write?
It is important for children to make marks from an early age, such as scribbling on a large piece of paper with a chubby crayon, simply for the joy of making marks. This develops fine motor skills and hand/eye co-ordination in an age-appropriate way.
More formal writing activities need to be purposeful and appropriate for the child's general physical development. For instance, a three or four-year-old may be interested in attempting to write their name or at least some of the letters in it as this means something to them, but copying a random list of words is not purposeful.
Emergent spelling and more complex writing will develop as the child develops physically and can be encouraged by a wide exposure to the written word and introducing tasks that require writing such as sending a postcard to grandma or signing a birthday card.
What is mark making and how is it different from writing?
Mark making is simply putting pen to paper and seeing what happens - its purpose is to develop creativity and an understanding of the skills needed to write. Writing is somewhat more complex in that it requires not only the physical and phonetic skills but an understanding of the concept that the written word conveys meaning.
What can I do to encourage my child to write?
Provide interesting and appropriate materials and a stress-free environment in which your child can experiment. Value and display early efforts (remember, scribbling is to writing what baby talk is to speaking) and do not push children to form letters or correct mistakes. Model writing tasks for your child, let them see you write a shopping list (later, as interest grows, perhaps you can write it together). Most of all, provide purposeful and realistic opportunities.
How can I encourage older children to write stories?
Firstly by talking to them and developing their imagination - reading lots of stories to them helps. Ask children to predict the ending to stories or make up alternative endings. Do lots and lots of this before you ask them to put pen to paper.
When children first start to write stories of more than one or two sentences ask them to tell it to you first. This allows them to practise the order of events and check that the sequence makes sense. You may be asked to help. You could even try writing the story between you.
Remember to keep praising your child and focus on the story itself and how it flows, rather than the quality of the writing, spelling and grammar within it.