Writing is an essential life skill, and practising at home can be fun for your child – really! (I’m not just saying that because I’m a teacher.) Naturally, one of the best ways to encourage writing is to reinforce the connection between reading and writing. The most important thing parents can do to support young writers is share relaxing, enjoyable read-aloud time, says Regie Routman, an education expert who works with teachers to support literacy instruction throughout Canada and the U.S. “Read aloud wonderful picture books, as well as great fiction and nonfiction books,” Regie suggests. “Just savour the time together and the language and illustrations. Talk about the books without trying to teach.” She also points out the importance of keeping a home library, and showing your kids you value reading by letting them stay up a bit later to read.
Here are some ways to encourage your budding writer.
Ensure kids have easy access to basics like paper and pencils, and get creative with other items, like postcards made from old greeting cards. When giving gifts or putting together loot bags, consider novelty writing items like notebooks and coloured pens. The dollar store has a great selection, and the impact of these goodies will last much longer than candy or cheap toys.
“Show your child how you use writing to communicate, such as notes, to-do lists, get-well wishes and birthday greetings,” says Regie. She points out that social media counts, too, and may be the top means of communication for many parents. Talk to your child about how you email, tweet and blog.
Games are a fun way to build literacy skills. The Junior versions of Scrabble and Boggle help with spelling and vocabulary, and Rory’s Story Cubes promote oral storytelling – a great base for writing. Great apps are out there as well, such as StoryMaker (which is my seven year old’s favourite).
Kids are motivated by authentic tasks, so suggest they write for real purposes and real audiences: a letter to someone who might reply, a menu for a party, a song to perform, a poster to display or a poem to be given as a gift.
Parents often fret about perfectly formed letters and correctly spelled words. While we always want kids to take their time and do their best work, their ideas are just as important –maybe even more important – as the mechanics. Letter reversals and inventive spelling are extremely common during the first few years of school. If kids are encouraged to give their best effort when writing (without too much correction or criticism) natural improvement and growth will be seen in these areas. While workbooks for printing can be helpful in very small doses (especially if your child loves them, which mine did) it’s more important to be writing for fun and getting ideas on paper in order to foster a lifelong love of writing.
A love of writing begins with books. Here are a few of our current faves.
Walk on The Wild Side by Nicholas Oldland. Kids Can Press. $17
Stanley at School by Linda Bailey. Kids Can Press. $19
Butterfly Park by Elly MacKay. Running Press. $21
Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, November/December 2015.