Literacy is simply defined as the ability to read and write, but these skills are prefaced by the development of oral language and vocabulary. These three skills — oral language, reading, and writing, in that order — are the key to creating literate children.
Writing, then, is the glue that cements the mastery of oral language and reading for the child. All the more important, then, is that children not only learn to write but learn to see themselves as writers. Here are five suggestions to helping children become life-long writers.
When children are asked to write for a specific purpose, not only does it show children that writing is important, it shows them that their opinions are valuable. Some examples are below.
In our daily lives, we do not limit our writing to one medium. We write on computers, in notebooks and on scrap paper. Encourage children to see writing as a multifunction activity by providing them with lined paper, coloured paper, graph paper, notecards, scrap paper, white boards or chalk boards, notebooks, diaries, and online word processing programs. Writing instruments could be pencils, coloured pencils, pens, crayons, markers, highlighters, chalk, paint, computers, typewriters, or even letter stamps and ink. Keeping all child-friendly areas stocked with various writing supplies will encourage spontaneous writing.
Imagine if every paper or piece of writing that you created were marked with corrections, would you want to continue to write? If we are trying to encourage our children to write and write more often, then we need to understand that a child can read words (‘decoding’) before they can write those same words (‘encoding’). Decoding is always easier than encoding, so reading will usually be more advanced than writing, even at further developmental stages. Encourage children to write the sounds they hear and use words around them to help them write what is difficult. If a child is writing a list of cities or attractions to visit, they can use a map, website, or brochure for reference.
If a child creates a piece of writing, but it is only read once and then filed or forgotten, this fails to show that their writing is appreciated and useful. Copy a child-created shopping list to use on the next several trips. Display children’s writing in frames, on a bulletin board, or in other locations. Have the child address and send postcards, thank you cards, and letters. Use a child-created checklist when preparing for an event or trip.
As an adult, do you engage in daily writing? Just as we need to be model readers in front of children, we also need to be model writers. If a child is surrounded by literacy experiences and adults who actively engage in reading and writing, there is a better chance that they will become readers and writers themselves. But try to avoid becoming the ‘writing nag’ — demanding that the child writes in a diary or notebook every day. If encouraged, writing will become a natural part of a child’s daily literacy life.
With some conscious encouragement and the normalising of writing as a valuable everyday activity, you can build the confidence and mastery to help children see themselves not just as someone who can write, but someone who does — and that can make all the difference.
Barbara Wheatley is an educator with 25 years experience as a classroom teacher in grades K-4, a reading specialist in grades K-5, and now as a library media specialist for grades pre-K-7. She is working on her Ed.D. degree at the University of Virginia.