Tips on teaching writing skills in early years

Tips on teaching writing skills in early years

Before anything, you must see things from the child’s perspective, get in their mind set and put yourself in their place to get the ideal point of view. Figuring out how children see the world will certainly help you to help them learn.

A few pointers on how it can help:

  • Try to enjoy childhood as much as the children do, get involved and have fun!
  • Be aware of emotions, both your own mood and the children’s moods can change dramatically so understand when this happens and be ready to adapt and mend situations.
  • Never forget that children are children and they each learn at their own pace, a skilled 5 year old arrives from a past of gradual improvements and from learning smaller, bite-size skills at each age is normal.
  • Don’t expect perfection in yourself. Everyone does something wrong from time to time, helping the children to understand mistakes and apologies is also a huge part of childhood.

Starting to write

Moving more specifically into the area of writing, it is one of the skills that many of us take for granted especially now that we are moving into a more technologically advanced world. As adults, we still use handwriting for many everyday tasks such as making shopping lists or jotting notes. For children though, writing is still a skill they know nothing about yet must learn ready to begin their school years. As I mentioned earlier, it is a skill that will be developed gradually and children will start their learning journey by “making marks”, not by producing letters and words. Just as they do with food at a very young age, children are not making a mess, they are in fact making marks. The most noticeable sign of mark-making is the drawing of large circles or lines, often dismissed as scribble, it is actually an important on the writing journey and the children are attempting new things to see what happens.

Finding meaning from shapes

Children will learn the meaning of these shapes and marks as they move through the early writing journey. You will be able to notice the subtle changes simply by listening to what the children are saying when they experiment with crayons, paper, paint and pens.

Shape making

Children are keen to use new skills and as a blend of writing and drawing, mark-making leads them to differentiate between the two as they reach an age of around three to four years old. In a repetition learning style, children may move towards copying or acting out ‘writing’ situations, for instance they may attempt to add items to a shopping list written by an adult, rather than just making marks over the original list. This shows that the children do understand the value of adult writing skills, they would like to learn to do it in the same way that we take for granted.

From first words to confident writing

First written words are hopefully coming in around the age of four, this is a fantastic breakthrough age and the first word is usually their own name. Obviously, this has huge importance to the life they will lead and the sooner they begin to recognise their own name, written or spoken, the more respondent they will become. Mark-making will become the odd letter here and there and will soon develop into a full name, it will not always be in the correct order and won’t always be easily legible, but it will be there nonetheless. You should always encourage the children to sign their drawings and sign any cards that go around for birthdays and other occasions. To simplify it, writing is the recognition of a collection of shapes and reading can really help the children to put meaning and sound to those shapes.

Advancing children’s writing

Learning to write takes many years, whilst we know this from experience, we don’t always remember it. Patience and support are key to the journey for each child, correcting too often or too much negative feedback can be off-putting for the learners. Constant praise and accolades for effort are encouraged as this will drive the children on to continue to practise the art of writing. On a more practical level, it is incredibly important to keep your class stocked on paper, crayons, felt tips and pencils – more often than not if you can stand the messy aftermath, then paint! Mark-making outdoors is a great way to get the children in a comfortable environment for expressing themselves, chalk on pavements or walls is great fun for them (and you!).

Handwriting, not to be confused with writing, is the art of physically using pens, crayons and pencils to put words on to a surface. Developing muscle memory and hand-eye co-ordination are hugely effective in learning to write, it is beneficial to play games of catch and do movement/dancing games that use their fingers, hands, shoulders and arms. The reason for this is that children will begin to write in a large font, so it will be easier for them to begin to control the arms and shoulders to make their shapes and words. When children run, twist, climb and jump they are automatically building the muscles that they will need for more advanced, intricate writing techniques. There are lots of things in everyday life to help children learn hand-eye co-ordination, it can stretch as far as hand washing, mopping up spills, pouring drinks, eating food or even putting on/folding clothes.

Some common worries

Parents will have some worries, as will teachers, because learning to write correctly is an integral part of any child’s life. It is good to take a step back and recognise that the issues that arise are simply part of the process and they will in time be filtered out, it just takes support and patience. Pencil grip is often one of the first issues, children tend to develop strange grips because they are desperately seeking a way to improve control of their movements. This grip will normally improve and settle naturally over time, it does become difficult to change a child’s grip later on in life so it’s often best to leave it if that particular grip works. Back-to-front letters can be an early worry, children will rely on memory to write letters, so early on they will reverse them or even miss them until they become proficient readers and can properly differentiate between letters and begin to spell words. Spotted left-handed children can be a worry, this usually becomes apparent around the age of three but before that the child will find it easier to write on a slope and will benefit from larger scale mark-making. Try to keep an eye out for other activities where the child uses one hand more than the other if they don’t seem to be using a certain hand by three years old. Don’t worry about children that don’t seem to be interested, it’s all about making the activity of writing and mark-making more fun for them all, get creative and take them outside to make a mess! Ultimately, we all know that children learn at different speeds so creating a comfortable environment with lots of energy, positivity and fun can help them on their journey to becoming proficient writers by the time they reach school.

Have you had any joy with teaching creative writing to younger pupils? Share your comments below.

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