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How to improve your child's early writing skills

Improve Literacy Newsletter

23 May 2008 -- Issue 5

In this issue:

1. Learning to write!
2. Writing exercises and activities
3. Website resources for learning to write
4. Readers' tips
5. The Improve Literacy Website

Hi everyone!

This month we are looking at writing, and in particular what you can do to help boost your child's early writing skills. Writing is the 'other' element in literacy, complementing reading, and it goes without saying that just being able to read is not enough in itself. A child also needs to be able to write.

Until recently the teaching of writing concentrated more on the mechanics - copying letter shapes repeatedly until they were perfect, having neat handwriting, and being able to spell and punctuate your sentences accurately. It then went to the other extreme - spelling, punctuation and grammar were not corrected, and the emphasis was placed on the child's creative imagination.

Today, the generally accepted best practice is to adopt a combination of these two approaches.

2. Here are a few exercises and activities to try with your child to help his or her writing skills:

a. Let your child play with crayons and paper - allow your child to express creativity by providing crayons and paper that she can scribble on. It's a great way to get to know how it feels to hold a writing (or scribbling!) implement. Make sure you buy washable crayons, and be prepared to clean up after her!

b. Pencil practice - When your child's hand is ready to hold a pencil, teach him how to grip it and encourage him to scribble on some paper. Use bigger, soft pencils, as they are easier for small children to hold, and require less pressure to make a mark on the paper.

c. Develop their hand muscles - If your child finds it hard to get used to holding the pencil, it may be because her hand muscles are not sufficiently developed. Playing with squashy toys or playdough, using tweezers (especially in a game like 'Operation'), helping to hang clothes up with clothes pegs, playing with finger puppets... these are all ways that your child can develop her manual dexterity - and her writing skills will benefit as a result.

d. Use fridge magnets to teach the alphabet - create some words with letters on the fridge door and then ask your child to write them down on a sheet of paper. Give him a treat if he gets it right.

e. Get a chalkboard or a whiteboard - you can pick them up at any stationery store or kids' toy shop, they're not expensive, and kids love writing on them. Encourage your child to write friends' names, pets' names and teachers' names on the board. If he or she has a favourite sports team, get them to write out the players' names.

3. Some useful writing resources

Here are a few useful resources for help with writing. We've written a brief critique of each one:

Lett's Hilarious Handwriting book - An engaging revision book for children ages 6-7, based on the UK National Curriculum. Fun and inexpensive, it comes from the well-respected Letts publishing house.

Help for Left-Handed Children website - A useful resource for left-handed children, and parents of left-handed children. Features a great 'Left Handed Writing Equipment' section, as well as gift ideas and educational games.

Literacy Center Play and Learn website - You need to have the Flash plug-in (which you can download from the site) and sound turned on to use this website, but it's a fantastic interactive site designed more for younger children. Has a writing exercise as well as a few reading/alphabet ones.

Writeshop website - A really extensive website full of writing tools and resources. It has an online shop, tools and tips for writing, contests, and articles.

4. Readers' Tips

Alison from Cleveland, Ohio says "My son Jackson reads us all a chapter of his reading book every night before he goes to bed. I then read him a chapter in return as a bedtime story".

Gupta from Manchester, UK says "I buy my 7 year old daughter a teen magazine every week, and she loves to read out the lyrics to her favourite pop songs. She then tries to remember them as she writes them out in a book. She's got her friends doing it too now!"

Emma from Sneem, Ireland says "My little one enjoys reading the names of towns on road signs as we drive along in the car. It's really got him interested in words and names".

Keep sending in any tips that work for you, and we will try to show them in future editions.

5. The Improve Literacy website

Our website provides information and advice to parents about child literacy and ways to motivate children to read. Feel free to spread the word to other parents or people you think might be interested in our articles and newsletter!

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