To Write or Not to Write?

Introduction
Why encourage children to write? What is the fuss about writing? Writing is a skill as it allows children to dictate their ideas and expressing their thoughts and feelings on paper. At the same time, there are millions of jobs today which people use writing to convey information as part of their work. Hence it is important to encourage children to write and to enjoy the process of writing.
There are several stages of writing which include scribbling, drawing, linear markings, letterlike-form and conventional writing. Young children are not encouraged to write till they have gained knowledge or understandings of convention writing and reading, have developed fine motor skills to control the formation of letters, and know how to read and master the mechanics of writing. However, research has found that children actually write before they have achieved the tasks mentioned. Daily experiences at home and in school have helped them realize the importance and usefulness of writing. Therefore in this essay, we will be looking at ways how parents can encourage writing at home for children aged 5 to 6 years old.
Development

Ensure a variety of writing supplies

Ensure a variety of writing supplies is readily available at the writing center as an inviting workplace can provide stimulation and inspiration. Furthermore, children are motivated to write more often if a variety of tools is available for them to experiment with. These tools are also props for pretend play whereby the children engage in play experiences which enhance the writing process. They can pretend to be a waiter taking down orders customers’ orders and even create menu and recipes. Despite they may not spell the words correctly or write in sentences, they can write one-word label or draw pictures. When they see themselves as waiters and enjoy the process, the more they will practice writing.
Children should have a child-size writing desk and chair where they can write comfortably. Provide a variety of writing papers and tools such as crayons, watercolour markers, chalks, markers, pen, pencils, envelopes, junk mail, scissor and glue, for their drawing and scribbling. Make sure that these supplies are regularly available and well organized so that they will not have to go round looking for supplies when they want to pen down their thoughts and ideas. It is also important that parents be part of their writing process and hence do spend time writing with your children. Give them a special box for keeping these supplies and allow them to bring the box anywhere they go so that they can write anywhere at anytime. At the same time, make writing an enjoyable process such as encouraging them to design book covers for the story they have read or written. During writing, children are free to write on their own, draw, use their own language or to find words in other books to complete the covers. Then laminate the finished products and bind them together. After which, leave them at the reading center or post them on the wall.
Never force your child to write

It is important not to force children to write or practice to write words they do not understand. Do not insist on conventional spelling too as it will not encourage writing nor produce good writers. In fact, this makes writing process an unpleasant experience and they will not appreciate writing. It is important for parents to allow their children to write at their own pace and at their own way. Research has found that children who experienced little success in writing were those who were often force to write within a time period. Although they knew the importance of writing, the thought writing evokes negative feelings within them.
At the same time, regardless the level the children are at, parents should value and encourage each and every attempt they make without criticism of the end product. Instead of criticizing, parents should demonstrate and model conventional writing and expose the children to print. We should bear in mind that the more the children write; the more they understand what they are writing as they try to relate what they see in books. Hence, it is important to allow children to create and test their own theories in writing without criticism. It is essential to create opportunities for children to write as it increases the likelihood of them reproducing the words they have seen or heard.
Create a language-rich environment at home

Children learn in both formal and informal settings. A language-rich environment helps foster skills needed for reading and writing. This exposes the children to words that help them in their reading and also stimulate their interest in writing as children observe and model what they see around them. It also allows them to make connection between prints and spoken words. At the same time it enhances children’s vocabulary development and enables them to learn more about the features and sounds of the letters. A language-rich environment should be well-organized and surrounded with graphic and written symbols aid children’s literacy growth.
Set up and surround the writing area with charts on songs, rhymes and chants, labels and signs as this expose the children to letters, words and numbers. Large charts or labels allow them to see and it also encourages them to read again and again. It allows them to make connection between the words and meanings which they can use in writing. Parents can create a family bulletin board whereby they post notes or quotes to cheer their children on, post special events, special photos letters or timetable to keep them on the track. Sing songs and recite rhymes as children learnt about rhyming words in songs, such as Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and B-I-N-G-O. At the same time, chanting helps them to anticipate what comes or happens next. This makes the learning process fun and enjoyable. As part of creating a language-rich environment, set up writing and reading centers with delightful age and developmentally appropriate books for children to read as reading allow children to make connections between words and meanings. The more they are exposed to print, the more they are aware of them and this helps them to build on their sight vocabulary and word recognition skills.
Offer your child a journal

Journal is a tool and an outlet for children to jot down their emotions and ideas. It is the first step to writing and it helps to build up children’s confident. It does not matter if the child is drawing, scribbling or writing as what matters most is the process they are going through. We can urge children to write but never force them if they do not want to. Do not instill the feeling that it is a chore to write. Encourages them to write it before bedtime, when they feel bored or they are upset over an event.
Encourage children to write, draw or cut out pictures that interest or have special meaning to them. Get them to illustrate and provide them with a list of high frequency words which serve as a clutch and then discard it as they have memorized the spelling. Allow them to carry the book around with them so that they can jot, keep or paste any things that interest them. While writing, do encourage them to give details or descriptions of their ideas or stories. For example, encourage them to give details of sight, smell and tastes if they write about their favourite food. At the same time, assure them that they can write anything in the book and you will not read if they do not like it.
Use daily activities as a platform for literacy behaviour

Children observe and model adult’s behaviour which often serves as a platform for learning. Observing what the parents are writing allows children to learn the many arbitrary conventions of writing language such as learn the space between words, punctuations, capital letters and left-to-right sequence. Parents can involve the children in making a family journal or scrapbooks whereby the children can draw or write captions. Alternatively, parents can read them the signs, recipes when cooking or even shopping list and labels when shopping or traveling as these help to form their speech. These activities allow children to learn the importance, the function and value of writing. It also helps to develop and build up their confidence in writing when they are included and involved in real writing activities. More importantly, communication with the children as it is an important block in the development of literacy as through conversation, children being to understand words and meaning. The more parents write at home, the more the children see, the more they are able to appreciate the value of writing.
Parents can create opportunities to allow children to observe purposeful writing by involving children when they are writing shopping lists or a list of things to do. At the same time, read aloud the items or tasks before writing them down and get the children to figure out the items or tasks by giving them the first letter as you make the task or shopping list. Parents can even involve the children when planning for a party, decorating and sending out invitation cards and when you are writing letters to friends or relatives. It will be great if parents can provide children with a small box of writing tools and writing materials which they can bring along with them anywhere they go. This allows them to write or copy down prints that may interest them. Even during a car ride, point out to the different road signs and objects they see along the way. Parents can also involve them by cutting out discount coupons as it shows children the different labels, words and numbers. Parents can choose to write down the children’s ideas for them as this allows the children to focus on the creative, composing aspects of writing instead of being overwhelmed by the thoughts of having it to write down words on the paper. Through these activities, parents are assisting children’s growth in all areas of language arts: speaking, writing and reading. As parents, it is important to scaffold the children’s learning by supplying them what they are lacking.
Read aloud

Writing and reading are intertwined as writing involves reading. Reading is one of the ways to encourage children to write. Reading allows children to talk about the story, retell and create new story, and to understand the relationship between real life and fantasy. It is essential for parents to spend some time reading stories aloud to and with the children. This is known as “shared reading”. Shared and repeated readings allow children to enjoy reading, enrich their language, and foster listening and comprehension skills. More importantly, allow them to become familiar and recognize the words which help them in writing.
Parents can read to their children by visiting the library at least once a week to borrow age appropriate books. We encourage parents to choose books with enlarged print so that the children can see what are being read to them and may begin to appreciate reading. While reading, focus on the sounds and part of the language, ask open-ended questions, define vocabulary words, and allow them to express their ideas and thoughts help to improve their vocabulary. Get them to write down their ideas or thoughts in their journal or as a form of drawing. Encourage them to talk about the drawings or read aloud what they have written in their journal as they feel proud to read their work. Although parents may not decipher the children’s writing, children understand what they are writing and can read what they have written. They take pride in sharing their work in front of their family members. Do compliment or praise the children for their work but bear in mind that some children rather keep their writing private. Hence it is important for parents to be sensitive and respect their decision.
Allow room for errors/mistakes

Children create their own spelling which make some sense to them. This is the beginning of writing process whereby they begin to understand the relationship between letters and sounds as they construct words based on the sounds. Children adopt the trial-and-error approach to put down their thoughts and ideas in words as they experiment with written words. At the same time, it is important for parents to understand the various writing stages. Preschools begin writing through drawing or scribbling where are important pre-writing activities as these activities develop and enhance coordination and fine motor skills. They may be able to write letter-like units as they illustrate their pictures. As they progress through kindergarten, they write by using “invented spelling”, or spell words by sounding out the letters based on their understanding between sounds and words before moving on to conventional spellings for words. Hence instead of correcting them, as parents, why not appreciate and rejoice in the small steps that the children are embarking on. Parents have to bear in mind that criticism will only shake their confidence and they may label themselves as failure. To them, writing may then be perceived as form of humiliation.
Parent can create a list of vocabulary with the children which they will encounter frequently. At the same time, respond warmly to their mistakes and ask open-ended questions like, “Tell me what you have written”. When parents respond warmly and positively, children will learn that writing is worthwhile. Not forgetting to give the children freedom to write so that they will not feel constrain to express their ideas. Do not worry about punctuation, spacing or spelling. Give them encouragements like, “Your ideas are great!” More importantly, adequate time must be given so as to allow them to focus on the content of writing.
Give Praises

Praises increases the children’s confidence, self-worth and self-esteem. It makes them feel more valued and helps to reinforce their good behaviour. Praise them for the efforts they have put in instead of their intelligence as research conducted by Professor Carole Dweck has found that children who were praised for their efforts were less likely to feel disheartened if they did not do well as compared to those who were praised for their intelligence. Praising their efforts convey the message that it is worthwhile to write after all. These children with positive self-worth and self-esteem treat themselves and others better and get discourage less easily. They will enjoy writing and their skills will bloom when you, as parents, begin to appreciate their writing.
There are two types of praises: praise for ‘being’ and praise for ‘doing’. Praise for ‘being’ praises the child for who he or she is and this praise can be used any time. Praise for ‘doing’ praises the child for something he or she has done and this helps to reinforce the good behaviour. Be specific and avoid negative comments when praising your child. Praises such as “Good job’, “Well done’ are non specific and hence less effective. Take a positive approach and always think of something good or nice to say what they have written. It may be a descriptive word they used, a short sentence they have constructed or even neat handwriting. An example of specific praise, ‘You did a good job in descriptive the cat’ or ‘I’m really pleased to see you trying so hard.’ Besides being specific, praise your child appropriately. You do not praise your child if he writes his name on the table. Hence it is important that parents catch the child being good. Be sincere about the praises by demonstrating enthusiasm such making eye contact on the child’s level, a smile or offer a hug to back up the praises. Lastly, do respect their work as the more you respect them, the more likely they will share it with you again the next time they write something.
Engage in games to make writing fun

Use games to instill a passion for writing and serves as a form of motivation. Parents can make writing fun by creating opportunities to engage play that incorporate literacy tools such as computer games and dramatic play. Games and puzzles also help to expand children’s vocabulary and make writing more effortlessly. Some of the games include ‘Day in the Life’ whereby the child pick an object he uses, sees or carries every day and write a few sentences or story about it. Parents can expand children’s vocabulary through poetry puzzler whereby both the parents and the children write down five fun words in a list. Exchange the lists and write a poem, chant or rhymes containing the listed words. Other word games include hangman, anagrams, cryptograms, crossword puzzles, spy decoder and word search especially for children.
Conclusion

Every child goes through a unique process of making connections between print and the world. Hence it is important to recognize the need and importance of authentic literacy experience with the children. Moreover, writing well requires clear thinking, sufficient time, interest and practice. Therefore parents should not deprive children on literacy-socialization experiences at home. In fact, parents play an important role in the child’s language development as language and learning begins at home. Encouragements and experiences at home allow children to internalize their understanding of their language, to make relationship between print and the world they live in, to test their theories and hypothesis, and to instill a love for writing. There are many ways to encourage children’s writing and we have looked at not only ways to encourage writing, but ways to respond to their writing. When they write, they do need our encouragement, praises, respect and affirmation, not criticism. At the same time, children learnt as they venture and explore their surroundings. Hence parents’ support and demonstration of literacy events play an essential role for children. As parents, continue to encourage children to write regularly so as to equip them with a lifelong skill and to become a lifelong writer!
By Dawn Choy
References
  Encouraging Young Writers. Retrieved January 20, 2008, from http://rif.org/parents/articles/encouragingyoungwriters.mspx
  
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  Heisner, J. (2005). Telling Stories with Blocks: Encouraging Language in the Block Centre. Early Childhood Research and Practice, 7(2). Retrieved January 27, 2008, from http://ecrp.uiuc.edu/v7n2/heisner.html
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  Learning to Read and Write: Developmentally Appropriate Practices for Young Children. In Young Children, July 1998, 53(4): 30-46. Retrieved January 27, 2008 from http://www.naeyc.org/about/positions/pdf/PSREAD98.PDF#xml=http://naeychq.naeyc.org/texis/search/pdfhi.txt?query=writing&pr=naeyc&prox=sentence&rorder=750&rprox=500&rdfreq=1000&rwfreq=1000&rlead=1000&sufs=2&order=r&cq=&id=4522568c8
  Maehr, J. (1989). “Right! Young Children Can Write!”. Extensions: Newsletter of High/Scope Curriculum, 4(3). Retrieved January 27, 2008, from http://ceep.crc.uiuc.edu/eecearchive/digests/1991/maehr91.html
  Maehr, J, (1991). Encouraging Young Children Write. Retrieved January 20, 2008, from http://www.ericdigests.org/pre-9218/encouraging.htm
  Richards, R.G. (2004). The Writing Road: Reinvigorate Your Students’ Enthusiasm for Writing. Retrieved January 27, 2008, fromhttp://www.readingrockets.org/article/5608
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