Writing is a big part of our everyday lives. From making a grocery list to creating social media content, we use writing in so many ways.
Learning to write can sound like a hard process. There are so many different aspects to think about. Are we talking about learning to write individual letters? Handwriting? Do we mean the creative process of creating a story or writing an essay? Or maybe we are talking about the process of editing our writing and checking for spelling and grammar mistakes? All of these things make up the process of learning to write. No wonder it can sound overwhelming!
Fortunately, the writing process can be broken down into micro-steps that children can master one at a time. Young children need to start slow, to have many and varying activities to explore writing in playful situations and to have materials readily available to choose writing as a free time activity.
How will I know if my child has reached the South Carolina standards for writing in kindergarten?
My child has learned to print capital and lowercase letters.
My child leaves a space between words when they write a sentence.
My child can capitalize the first letter in a sentence and place a period at the end.
With help from an adult, my child can use drawings, letters, or dictate words to "write" about a topic or give an opinion.
With help from an adult, my child can plan, revise, and edit writings.
With help from an adult, my child can write often on various topics.
With help from an adult, my child can locate letter keys on electronic devices.
Activities and Multimedia:
Let's break down these standards into specific activities that will help your child achieve success in building writing skills and enjoying the process.
Home Writing Center
One of the easiest ways to encourage writing in the kindergarten child is to set up a "writing center" somewhere in your home or classroom. I used a small table and chairs in the corner of my living room for years. I furnished the table with a basket of writing supplies such as varying kinds of paper, pencils, crayons, and even scissors and fun stickers. My children enjoyed sitting at the table to make all kinds of things and unknowingly practiced their fine motor skills while they were having fun. It also helps to suggest ways to incorporate writing while the children are playing. Are they pretending to make supper at the kitchen set? Suggest making a recipe card or a grocery list. Is someone building a city with blocks? Suggest they add road signs and labels on buildings. Building on to activities that children are already engaged in not only strengthens writing skills, it also lets them know that writing is a part of everyday life. It gives them a reason to engage with writing.
One easy and extremely effective way to help your child learn to write letters correctly is to have them trace the letter carefully and repeatedly to build "muscle memory". Muscle memory is when we repeat an action enough times to cement the movement into our brain and muscles so it becomes automatic. It is what we do when we learn to ride a bike. Our muscles learn the process so well that eventually, we do not have to think about peddling and balancing, our body takes over and remembers what to do. We can use this same process with writing. It takes about 160 repetitions of a movement to build muscle memory.
Carefully tracing the letter pattern will help a child memorize the movement and make writing more fluent. The goal is to write the "a" without actually having to consciously repeat each of the steps. But, when starting out, we need to say the letter out loud, consciously put the crayon or pencil to the paper in the proper position, think about the motor pattern (or the way the letter is crafted), and print it correctly.
One potential pitfall of this activity is that some children will rush through it and the marks on the letter will be all over the place, sloppy, and not in the correct position. While some variance is normal and a part of the process, careful instruction and attention to detail on the front end has a huge payoff. I tell my students to work "as slowly as they must, but as quickly as they can" to print the letter correctly. I explain to them about muscle memory and that in order for it to work to their advantage, they must train their muscles carefully. Children are generally more interested in completing the activity using the proper form when it has been explained to them and they understand the purpose of the intentionality.
Here are the steps to rainbow writing.
Rainbow writing can be done many ways. When they have begun to learn the letter, move your rainbow writing to an index card so the letter is smaller and they are sitting at a table to write. Then go even smaller by beginning to practice the letter in isolation on lined paper. By preparing the student with large motor practice first, they will experience more success when moving to the page. The process is the same when learning cursive, as seen here below.
I tell my students to work "as slowly as they must, but as quickly as they can" to print the letter correctly.
Labeling a Drawing as a Form of Writing
Having your child dictate to you what to write is a wonderful precursor for writing their own stories. Their ability to tell a story will come before their ability to write it on paper. This is where you come in as their scribe.
Have your child draw on a piece of paper. This can be a spontaneous attempt on their part, or you can offer "drawing prompts" such as "draw a picture of what you ate for breakfast and then tell me about it". Another great drawing prompt is to read the child a book and have them draw a picture of something that happened. Then they can dictate the picture back to you as seen below.
When your child presents you with the drawing, do not make judgement statements such as, "that is a great tree". Do not presume to know what the child was drawing. Instead, let them dictate to you and you can label their picture in their own words. One word of caution, a child may not want you to write directly on their artistic creation. It is a good idea to explaing the activity before they start so they will know what is coming. Alternatively, you can do the labeling and dictation on an index card instead of directly on the artwork.
Now the child can see the words that they verbally expressed. The words are written in print or cursive depending on what the child is learning to write at the time. Spelling is correct and the child can begin to associate the written word with the idea. Young children usually really enjoy knowing what the word they said looks like in print.
Now it is time for the child to give you a sentence about the drawing. You may want to ask a leading question such as, "I wonder what is happening in your picture?" "Tell me about it." Print out the child's response word for word, if possible. Model the correct spelling and punctuation, but it is fine to print out exactly what they say, even if it contains grammatical errors. This is one way that children can learn to hear a grammatical mistake. If you read it back to them exactly as they said it, they may catch an error. "That doesn't sound quite right." They may want to correct it on their own. If they do, that is fine, but it isn't necessary to push a grammar lesson on the kindergarten child. It is enough for them to dictate and for you to copy down at this stage. One more thing you will want to do is to read the sentence back to them word for word and point at each word as you read it. It also never hurts to say verbally, "I started this sentence with an uppercase letter and ended it with a period." Modeling the correct way to write a sentence is a powerful tool.
Editing a Simple Sentence
When a child has learned to print all of their letters and can read a few words, you can start helping them learn to write a simple sentence.
Start with simple words the child can read on their own. It is essential that you only ask a child to write words they can read and sound out with some degree of ease for this activity. Remember you are asking them to do multiple things at once. They must form the letters, sound out the word to spell it, put the letters together in the proper order, and also remember to capitalize the first word and use a period at the end. This is a lot to think about. When the child is seated with their paper and pencil, dictate the sentence to them slowly. Have them watch your mouth as you slowly and distinctly say the sentence. Have them repeat the sentence to you verbally. Then, and only then, have them start to write the sentence. Let them attempt the sentence without interference from you.
A great way to edit is to use the COPS method. Write out the sticky note as shown in the photo. Once you and your child have memorized what the letters stand for, you can just write "COPS" on the side of their paper or on a sticky note. Go over each item with your child and have them look at their sentence to correct anything that needs work. Let them do it as independently as possible, though you will want to guide them in their first attempts. The COPS method is pretty self-explanatory. Overall appearance or organization is where the child looks at their handwriting and spacing of the letters. Are the words far enough apart? Did they write neatly? If there is a spelling error, say the word again out loud and have the child listen carefully. Are they able to find their mistake? If not, it is perfectly alright to tell them without a fuss. You want this process to stay positive and not become a struggle.
As you go over the sentence with your child, they may not catch a mistake. In the example above, a period is missing. One way to help them see the mistake is to add a box at the end where the punctuation would go. Then have them look a second time, do they see what needs to be corrected now? Let the child check off the items as you complete the process together. The editing process has begun for your young writer!
Check out this quick video to help your child learn how to start keyboarding with their hands in the "home row".
Do you want to explore more SC Education Standards?
Beth Moore, Fellow in the Academy of Orton Gillingham Practitioners and Educators, presents a compilation of lessons and activities as well as the educational philosopies behind them which are designed to build skills needed in order to read, write, and spell.