Do You Want Your Young Child to Write? Tips for Encouraging Literacy Skills

Learning to read and write is a process.  Your children will not write before they are developmentally ready.  They have to develop fine motor skills, language acquisition skills, strengthen brain connections, understand symbolism and more.  While it isn’t a realistic expectation that 2 year olds will read and write or that 4 year olds will master letter formation or blending sounds, there are things we can do to encourage children to pick up crayons, markers, paint brushes and eventually pens or pencils.                 
  • Children need to see their most important adults writing with pens and pencils.  Put down the smartphone, tablet and laptop.  You are the children’s role model.  They will want to do what they see adults doing. If they do not see us writing with pens or pencils, why would they ever want to do that? Use pen and paper to handwrite a shopping list while your children are in the room.  Write your to-do list. Find ways to make writing with a pen or pencil a more visible activity when children are present.
  • Celebrate every effort.  If a young child picks up a pencil and scribbles, show that doing so is valued.  It may not look like much to you yet, but it is the beginning of a lifetime of writing.  It takes time for children to be able to successfully master tracing lines, tracing letters, writing over dotted letters and writing independently.  It all starts with mastering the fine motor skills and movements that it takes to scribble.  Every step of the way – every effort – needs to met with positive, non-judgmental recognition.
  • Make writing fun.  We all embrace trying new things when we find them to be enjoyable.  Remember tic-tac-toe?  Bring that back.  Remember dot-to-dot and mazes?  They make simple ones that you can do with your children.  Some of my favorite toys that encouraged the pre-writing skills were Etch-a-Sketch, Invisible Ink books and magic slates (you would write, lift the plastic and it would be erased).  If you can’t find those oldies but goodies, get a dry erase board.  Children love to erase it.  Of course, in order to have something to erase, they have to write!
  • Encourage their dramatic play.  When children are pretending, they transform into storytellers.  They enter a world just like that of the fiction writer.  They are taken out of their everyday routine and transported to a new place where their imagination is dominant.  They hone language skills when they pretend and strengthen the brain connections for storytelling thinking.  They become symbols of other people – their loved ones, teachers, superheroes, princesses.  They learn that one thing can stand for another.  That will eventually help them to understand that a letter stands for a sound and words are symbols for objects in the world.  Dramatic play is the most important part of their day for so many reasons, including pre-literacy skill building.
  • It isn't only about pens and pencils. Remember that painting, playing with Play Doh, coloring and other forms of art / sculpture develop the fine motor muscles and brain development pathways needed to write.  We shouldn’t shrug off these activities as less important or apart from literacy activities.  They do help children to get ready for more time with pencils and pens. 

Be patient.  Writers were not built in a day in the past and they aren’t now.  We can change our educational systems but that does not change the fact that mastery of writing is a process.  We are a very product driven society and are used to instant gratification.  I can instantly find facts (and fiction) on my smartphone.  I can instant message, make instant coffee and have instant photos.  There is nothing instant about the development needed to be a reader or a writer.  Typically developing children will write.  Honestly.  I promise.  They will get there. 


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