If you give your children lots of pencils and crayons from a young age, and encourage them to hold them correctly, they are likely to make loops and swirls, big and small pictures, and find the whole process enjoyable. As they get a little older, they will probably love to see you write their names, or perhaps a title for their pictures; by the time they are three or four, they may want to imitate you. Some will ask how to write words even before they start reading. Learning to write may be as simple as that.
On the other hand, a child may ask to learn to write ‘properly’; some children do like to learn in a structured way, and it’s important to listen to their needs. There are many pre-writing books with mazes, patterns and puzzles for young children to try – just browse your local WH Smiths for some ideas, and see which ones appeal. If you want to teach your child to write without using workbooks, it’s best to start with lowercase words (with an initial capital) rather than uppercase letters, and help your children to form the letters correctly from the beginning.
Starting to write
Most loops (as in a,c,d,e,g etc) are made anti-clockwise, lines (as in b,i,l,k etc) from top to bottom. It’s not ‘wrong’ to form them in other ways, but if your child wants to learn to write fairly fast, or ‘joined up’, it will be very awkward if they have not learned to form letters in the conventional way. The Letterland series of books have helpful rhymes to teach children the simplest letter formations.
Some children quickly learn to make neat letters, others will find it much more difficult. If your children seem to have difficulties with fine motor skills, make sure they have plenty of crayons to draw with, lego to build with, plasticine or play-dough to knead and other activities to strengthen the fingers. Keep handwriting sessions brief and enjoyable, encourage them to label their drawings, or perhaps write a brief note to a grandparent or friend, but never make writing into a chore.
By the age of six or seven, many children are ready to write legibly, using lines, and may be ready to join up their letters. The Nelson handwriting scheme is used in many British schools and gives simple ways of joining letters, with plenty of practice. If you feel your children need more of a guide than you can give, you could buy the first of these books and help to them follow the instructions, but still keep the sessions brief.
If they are finding no problem in developing a writing style, you might like to find a book of poems or fables which they could copy out and illustrate. In these high-technology days most children will grow up not needing to write very much, but handwriting is a good fine motor skill, and being able to write legibly and reasonably quickly is sometimes important.
Some children write stories almost as soon as they can hold a pen, their imagination flowing and running riot. Encourage such a child! Places you have been, stories you have read, people you meet, may all provide inspiration for a story. If your child does not come up with his own ideas, talk about the kind of book he would like to write and encourage him to get started. If he finds typing easier than writing, then let him use the word processor and help him to see how much easier it is to edit on the computer! There’s no need for a special child-friendly word processor: just set your regular one with large text and a simple font, and show your child how to use it.
For more formal writing styles, you could encourage your child to write letters. It can be fun to spend time on birthday thank-you letters, if you do them together. You can help your child understand how to write for a different audience (Grandma is probably not interested in the same things as a best friend, for instance), how to set out a letter, and how to make it interesting. For variation, you could help him to draft and write more formal letters – perhaps making a complaint, or applying for a free offer on the side of a cereal packet.
If you want to use workbooks for ideas, ‘Reasons for Writing’ is a recommended series. Once your child writes with some confidence, you might want to use one of the many language books used in schools. These books often have short excerpts from literature, with comprehension questions, some quizzes and observation, and ideas for inspiring writing. There is a wide variety available: check your local bookshops for ideas.
A selection of sites that encourage creative writing of all sorts, as well as other English skills, can be found on my English resources page.
If your child does not like writing
There are some children who show no interest in writing at any age. They probably learn to write their name, but may never want to write stories, either by hand or on the computer. They may have little interest in producing neat letters, let alone anything joined up, and consider thankyou letters to be a form of torture. In school, this would be a problem but at home it really doesn’t matter. You don’t need them to write in order to find out if they have learned anything, and they don’t need to do tests or exams. If you worry that they might need to write at some point, you could always play games that encourage simple writing (such as ‘hangman’) or ask for help with your shopping list.
Eventually most children will discover the importance of communicating in this way, if only by mobile phone text messaging, and will be able to produce at least basic information on computers, so long as you leave them to do it in their own time, in their own way. As they grow older, most children develop much better fine motor control anyway, and you may discover that a child who hated the thought of writing at eight or nine can at least jot down notes four or five years later.
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