Baby steps in writing

Most children study 2 languages at the primary school level in Singapore. Besides English language, they  also learn  either Malay, Mandarin or Tamil in school. Having taught at the lower primary level, I found that the biggest hurdle many of them face would be in writing.

During one of the Primary 1 orientation sessions, I had a really cheerful and articulate girl in my class. She spoke really well and had many stories to share about her family and the games she liked. However, I later discovered that this seemingly intelligent girl had a major difficulty -  she couldn't even spell her own name beyond the first alphabet. When she finally learned to string the alphabets of her name together, we still had to overcome the issues she had with writing sentences to form stories that she could so happily tell oratorically.

Writing is a complicated process even for adults. It involves a number of cognitive and metacognitive activities, like brainstorming, planning, outlining, organizing, drafting, and revising. For a young child who barely has the experience to fall back on for ideas in his writing combined with things he needs to be mindful of like grammar rules (tenses), punctuation, spelling to form a structurally sound sentence, writing becomes a very daunting task.

Some of the children I have taught hated writing stories. Part of it stemmed from the fact that they didn't see the relevance of writing in their daily lives beyond fulfilling it as an assignment. Others may have been put off by too many writing enrichment classes or composition practices given at home by well-meaning parents who wanted them to improve.


So how do we introduce writing to our children early without them feeling intimidated or turned off? Make it relevant, easy and fun!

Making it relevant

  • When adults write, there is a clear objective in mind. A letter of commendation or complaint for example, has a targeted reader in mind and a purpose to achieve. Even my most reluctant 12-year old students were excited to write when I told them their letters would be read and replied by their 8 year-old schoolmates.  We can also create something similar at home.
    • Get your children to write to a sibling , a grandparent or even to you to :
      • share about a school trip they've been on earlier that day
      • tell you what made him upset that day
      • show appreciation for something done for him that day
    • Write a reply in response to your child's piece of writing. They always look forward to the replies and this also promotes the importance of being able to read. You may wish to read aloud the reply if your child has reading difficulties.

This creates a non-threatening environment for your child to write. He writes for a purpose and a reader in mind based on a topic he knows well. At the same time, you are also incidentally helping him learn values like being appreciative of others or becoming reflective individuals when you allow him to vent his unhappiness  or share his day's activities through writing.

Making it easy

  • It can be quite a challenge to write when you have no real experience of the topic assigned to you. I can't write very much about how amazing rockets are when I have little knowledge nor first hand experience with them.
    • Share a common activity with your child. It does not have to be a fancy or expensive one. It could be as simple as taking a walk at the park, baking cookies together or a kite flying day out with your child.
      • Once the activity is completed. Spend a little time either making a postcard for each other or a family member who wasn't there. Get your child to write a sentence or two and draw a picture related to what you did. Share what you have also done on your own postcard so that your child does not feel like he was just given an assignment to complete alone.

This shared activity will give you and your child time to bond while building the experience needed for him to fall back on for ideas in his writing. It will be easier for him to write or relate when he has gone through it himself.

Making it fun

  • Writing doesn't have to be always about the 'serious stuff'. It could be something fun too!
    • There are many visual stimulus that can be used as a starting point for fun writing. Be it on a cornflakes box packaging or even a random picture taken off the internet like the one below. You can either get them to list the questions that came to mind when he looked at the picture or simply respond to what he thinks is happening here.


Questions to set your child thinking:

- Why is he holding on to a television set on his lap? Why is it not a flat screen television?

- Why is there a hole in the wall? What happened to that piece of brick? What is in it?

- Is this his home? Who is he waiting for?

The visual stimulus combined with a level of questioning is also a powerful way to encourage your child to think critically. You could also have two children list the questions before exchanging with each other and attempting to answer the questions listed. This will promote a level of perspective taking since some of the questions listed may be those that they may not have thought of.

At this stage when writing is meant to get your child to enjoy the process, you can choose to put the correcting of spelling, grammar or punctuation on hold. Collect and keep these pieces of writing. Then find a different day to do the 'serious stuff' when you reread their writing with them.


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