COVID 19 and My Child’s Education: Part 2
Writing is a bit of a beast to try and tackle in one blog post, but here are some overall tips and thoughts on how to support your developing writer at home (if you wish to do so). Focus on working on skills that your child has learned in school in an interest-led way and focus on incremental growth – taking one step at a time.
There’s SUCH a spectrum within writing development, so to keep it simple and focus on what your child is learning in school – especially if you have a young child. Remember to keep the writing enjoyable – learning usually becomes more enjoyable when it’s connected to a child’s interests and when writing is being produced for an authentic audience or purpose – when children truly view themselves as writers.
Toddlers – Early Primary
At this early age writing is really a combination of so many skills (learning sounds, learning to recognize letters, learning to hold a pencil and so much more!) that all have to come together for a child to learn to write – and there are many different stages of early writing. Your child’s teacher will be working on all of these skills in the classroom, but here are some extra ideas to support the process at home:
Emphasize play and fine motor work to strengthen little hands to prepare them to be able to hold a pencil (this is one of reasons we should limit screen time for young children – so they have more time to play and thereby build the muscles and skills required for writing.) Play in the sand, play with play dough, play with stickers and blocks to build muscle strength in little hands!
Encourage mark making Get those littles making marks. Little children need to be able to draw different lines and shapes in order to write: making marks is one of the first steps towards writing. Encourage mark making by using finger paints, sidewalk chalk, working on an easel, coloring and more!
Encourage art and drawing When an older toddler or preschool aged child has created a piece of art, ask them to tell you about it and you can jot down the child’s ideas and stories! Being able to add detail to artwork as a young child is connected later on to adding details to writing as your child progresses. Label your child’s work and have them dictate to you and you can write it and then read it for your child to hear.
Early – Upper Elementary
To encourage writing at home at this stage, keep writing as interest-led as possible. Again, focus on whatever your child’s teacher is working on at the time to support the learning at home. Children at this age are still moving through different stages of writing and your child’s teacher can best inform you as to how to encourage your child at his or her specific stage – feel free to reach out if you’re uncertain!
One way to motivate a child to write words and early sentences is to create a book of your child’s interests – favorite animals, gemstones, TV show characters… They can draw the picture and then they can write a sentence about it. Or have children write notes to a family member or friend. Make the process authentic and joyful!
As your child progresses and can write short sentences, I would recommend focusing on quality over quantity when at home. When your child writes sentences, ask them to check their work for capital letters to start a sentence and ending punctuation; see if they can identify a subject and a predicate, etc.
Oftentimes the same writing errors can follow children for years through their academic journey. If you’re trying to work with your child at home, use the opportunity to ensure basic quality when it comes to simple sentences, then compound and eventually complex sentences.
Once you can tell that your child’s sentences have improved, focus on paragraphs – writing a topic sentence, then supporting sentences with connecting and transition words.
If your child’s teacher has provided a rubric for their writing, I would have a close look at that and see where your child could improve using that particular criteria – and focus on one area at a time. Look at recent report cards, recent writing samples and feedback that the teacher has given to see which specific skills you can work on at home.
Upper Elementary and Middle School
For children at this level, you want to focus on making sure that they can write using the features required of the particular genre; that they can organize their ideas into cohesive paragraphs; that they are using varied sentence structures and a range of punctuation; and that they are building their writing stamina.
Of course, continued reading is essential. As I shared in our Facebook group the other day: “Vocabulary and coherent sentences can’t be downloaded onto paper unless they’ve first been uploaded to the head – by reading.” – Jim Trelease
For academic purposes, children at this age range will need to know the different types of genres and what’s required for each: fiction writing vs. non-fiction, informational texts, letters, news articles, etc.
At this age, make sure your child is completing their school writing assignments and if you don’t feel like your child is writing enough (for whatever reason) encourage daily or weekly writing. This could look like a journal, it could be freewriting (where you let your child just write at length on a topic without stressing about grammar, spelling, etc. The goal is to write at length on one topic). You can encourage power writing – sustained writing on a random topic for a short period of time – set a 1-5 minute timer and see how much your child can write in that time.
When your child has completed the writing, have a read through, but don’t mark it up with a red pen. Instead, ask questions where you feel the writing is lacking detail or give your feedback as a reader in one area you think your child could have improved the writing. Giving a specific goal helps the child to focus on where they can improve, rather than making them feel defeated.
One assignment I always gave in middle school was an article of the week. I’d find an on-level article of interest for my students (could be from a child’s news website) and then have the students read it carefully, mark it up with their thoughts, and write a response sharing their opinions and thoughts. This task helps to develop reading skills (builds loads of background knowledge) and writing skills as students summarize, reflect and share their opinions in writing. This is something that could easily be done at home to improve both reading and writing skills.
If you’re looking for more practical ways to encourage writing at home, check out this article below from: https://www.naeyc.org/our-work/families/support-writing-home
There are loads of great ideas here for helping children to view themselves as writers from preschool through middle school!
- Display children’s writing in a special place. Hang your child’s work on the refrigerator, a bedroom door, or a cork board; tape it to a bathroom mirror or tile. Or, scan the writing and send it to the grandparents. You will be telling your child that her writing is important and worthy of being shared. She will want to write more and more.
- Write in front of your child and talk about it. Whether writing a shopping list, thank you note, or e-mail; completing an application; or ordering from a catalog, explain what you are doing. Ask him what to add to the list or what to say in the thank you note or e-mail.
- Invite your child to dictate stories. While playing together, encourage your child to tell you a story about where the cars and trucks are going or who lives in the Lego house. Write down exactly what she says. Read it aloud afterward. Suggest that she draw some pictures to illustrate her story.
- Create greeting cards for special occasions. Provide paper and crayons or markers so children can make cards and then “sign” their names when finished. Show them old cards with phrases like “Happy Birthday,” “I Love You,” and “Season’s Greetings” to copy on their cards.
- Create an “office” for your child. Gather different kinds of paper, envelopes, pencils and pens, crayons, stickers, and labels. Place them on a shelf near a desk or table or in a basket your child can carry to a comfortable place for writing. Add interesting and exciting items like address and date books, calendars, or an old computer keyboard.
- Involve your child in writing while running errands. Offer a pad and pencil and suggest your child make a “reverse shopping list”—a list of things you’ve already bought At the bank, give her a blank deposit slip while you fill out yours. These tasks let children write and keep them busy as they learn new skills!
- Put writing materials in several places around the house. Provide pencils, crayons, or markers in coffee cans or baskets, along with a basket of small unlined pads, notebooks, or clipboards with paper. Place these collections in the bathroom, kitchen, or living room. Be sure to remind your child to write on the paper and nowhere else.
- Take it outside! Let your child write or draw with chalk or old paintbrushes and water on sidewalks and fences. Fill a backpack with writing tools and paper to take in the car or while doing errands.
- Encourage all writing efforts. Make writing an everyday part of your children’s lives at home! Remember, those first scribbles are important—they are the first step in learning to write.