It isn’t easy to know what to say when you young child shows you his latest writing piece. It might be a letter, a list, or a comic. Young children might show you a picture with some scribbles and an elementary aged child may have several sentences or several pages depending on her interest in writing. With young kids we are often comfortable praising their efforts when they start writing. Then our response to our kid’s writing changes after they turn six-years-old. Around that time, we start to expect perfect writing conventions and spelling.
Over Thanksgiving break, my son and his cousin worked together to write songs and a mini graphic story. They were very excited to show the family their work. One of the adults commented on the story and pointed out the misspelled words. It was meant with the best intentions so they could have correctly spelled words in the story. We all want our kids to be good spellers and writers, but after receiving the feedback, one of the boys didn’t want to continue writing. He chose to focus on making the pictures. The boys are seven- and eight-years-old, of course their writing contains misspelled words, especially since they were using interesting and funny words in their story. What can we say to encourage kids while also helping them become better writers?
Respond with Encouragement
If we want our kids to be good writers and spellers then they need to practice writing playfully when they are young and continue to do so throughout the elementary grades. My son and his cousin had fun with the writing process. The idea for writing a story came from them and it was a form of play. They spent time deciding on the funny characters and the story line. It is hard to remember that for elementary aged kids their “work” and learning is still based on play.
When we share our work with others, we are looking for feedback. We want to know whether the message of the work comes through. The boys wanted to share their funny story with us and make us laugh. Kids want someone to look at their writing thoughtfully and to provide them with feedback.
When your child shows you her work you can use the following three steps to respond to her writing.
1.Look at the writing piece together and say:
“Tell me about your writing.”
“Read me your story.”
“Tell me about the picture.” (young children draw to tell a story)
2. Provide Feedback
Look at the writing piece with your child. Tell them what you see that is positive about their writing piece. Start with concrete positive feedback.
“I notice that…
- “ you spent a lot of time working on this.”
- “ you are using punctuation marks.”
- “the characters have funny names, tell me more about them.”
- “you used a lot of detail.”
- “you are using interesting vocabulary in your story.”
3. Teaching Point (maybe?)
Writing has different purposes. Sometimes a writing piece does require a teaching point and sometimes your child just wants to share his funny poem with you. It really is up to you to know your child and whether he is looking to fix any errors in that moment. The cousins weren’t looking to correct spelling, they were interested in sharing their funny story. The goal at that moment is to encourage them to keep writing, develop their storyline and to keep having fun writing. If your child is working on assignment or you are working together on a specific writing skill then pick 1 or 2 teaching points and help her make corrections. I think it is also important to note that learning to write takes effort.
Young kids require developed fine motor skills and muscle strength in order to write with ease. If they are choosing to write for fun then we have to find a way to encourage them because writing is difficult work for young hands. We can take time to look at their writing thoughtfully and provide positive comments.
- Is it a homework assignment? Then pick 1 or 2 items to work on together. “Let’s check over the spelling and grammar. Why don’t you read what your wrote slowly.”
- Is it a card for grandma? Love it and ask them to sign their name.
- Is it a funny story he wrote with his cousin? Enjoy it and appreciate the time they spent working on it.
Writing sentences with sight words for a homework assignment.
Responding with Encouragement
- Leads to more writing & practice leads to better writing
- Allows the child to enjoy sharing his work with others
- Allows mistakes to be seen as part of the writing process
- Allows the child to see herself as a writer
“The Desire to Write Grows with Writing.”