As parents you can support your child significantly with their writing skills by doing simple activities at home. It takes time and practise for children to learn letter formation and be able to write words and sentences independently.
Every child is develops at their own pace but most children are not ready to start formal writing with a pencil or pen until at least three and a half years of age. However, there are many informal ways of developing your child's hand eye coordination and fine motor control in preparation for writing. These include providing simple and then more complex jigsaws and puzzles, painting and chalking activities, and perhaps exploring beads and bead strings for threading. Once your child is starting to draw and paint pictures they maybe ready to start engaging in activities which specifically focus on developing their tripod grip.
In order for your child to start learning to write they firstly need to learn how to hold a pencil correctly. This skill takes time to master so it can prove helpful to use a triangular pencil with a special pencil grip to begin with. Firstly, demonstrate to your child how they should hold their pencil and give them time to practise. You may decide to provide a range of coloured paper or felt tip pens for your child to refine this skill in exciting and new ways. Drawing is something they may really enjoy to begin with.
Once your child is able to hold a pencil, you can begin by teaching them how to write their name. Start by practising in informal ways such as using a paintbrush to make marks in a tray of paint, sand, glitter or shaving foam. Allow your child to explore the tripod grip and practise holding a paintbrush correctly first. Encourage your child to try holding felt pens, crayons and pencil colours, by providing them with a colouring book or coloured paper. Give them time to explore and develop their fine motor control and coordination. Model the correct way to hold pens and pencils so your child becomes use to using the tripod grip. You could remind them by explaining they need to use 'Tommy thumb, Peter pointer and Toby tall' when holding their pencil. It maybe helpful to use a mini whiteboard with wipeable marker pens or a small chalk board before progressing to more formal pen and paper methods. Children like to feel they can erase mistakes easily and this makes learning to write less stressful and pressurised. Your child can also develop their pencil control using numbers and alphabet stencils. This process takes some time, so don't expect your child to master this skill overnight!
Once your child is showing confidence with the tripod grip and has some degree of control when using writing implements, you could begin introducing them to writing. You child needs to show interest and be ready for this stage. The first step is for you to write in pen (a yellow fine line felt-tip is ideal) whilst your child tries tracing over each letter with their pencil. Explain to your child how each letter is formed i.e. where they should start and finish. Once they are able to trace over your writing, let them try tracing over others words and then progress onto writing their name independently. Children gain a great deal of self esteem and confidence by being able to write and recognise their own name before starting school. They will feels so proud at being able to write their name on the paintings even if only some letters are legible to begin with.
The easiest way to teach letter formation and letter sounds is through following the steps below and using the Jolly Phonics Workbooks: Books 1-7.
Once your child is confident with holding a pencil and has some degree of control and coordination they can begin learning letter formation skills.
The initial step is to ensure your child is able to recognise and then write the 42 letter sounds in the Jolly Phonics scheme. Some sounds are written with two letter such as 'ee' and 'or', referred to as diagraphs. The easiest way to teach letter formation is through fun and practical ways which engage your child. You may choose to introduce one or two letter sounds each day or one a week depending on the ability and age of your child. Remember to make sure you reinforce each letter sound everyday before introducing the new letter. Develop letter formation through plenty of practise using informal fun methods such as mark making with fingers or a paintbrush in trays of coloured sand, glitter, paint or shaving foam. Children love using their fingers to practise letter formation and the experience is far more sensory and visual. Ask your child to say the sound, write it and then sing the accompanying song. Each of the Jolly Phonics letter sounds has a Jolly Song to accompany it, with actions to aid memory.
Tip- A lovely way to teach letter formation is using Brightly Coloured Chunky Chalks on an outdoor patio area. Paintbrushes and water are also lots of fun on a sunny day, and young children love watching their writing disappear in the sunshine! Add a few drops of food colouring and some glitter for a sparkle!
The letter sounds are divided up into seven sets, so it is best to focus on one set of letters at a time i.e. the first set being 's a t i p n' therefore letter sounds are not introduced in alphabetical order. The letters are taught in specific sets with the first set 's, a, t, i, p, n', chosen because it allows a child to make more three letter words with these letters than any other six letters. Once your child is able to read and write the first set of letters, they can progress to word building and reading using these letters. Magnetic letters are ideal for the initial stage of word building and blending as the child can rearrange the letters easily on a magnetic board.
Work with your child and think of as many words as you can using the first set of Jolly Phonics* letters 's, a, t, i, p, n'. If they need prompting to think of a word, sound out the word clearly emphasising and elongating each letter sound clearly e.g s-a -t. An ideal way to develop word blending and building is through using large Magnetic Wooden Letters. Children get to learnt the shape of the letters and can hold them. Give your child a set of letters from the Jolly phonics scheme and let them try making as many words as they can. You may have to initially say a CVC word slowly and then help your child to find the correct letters. All children will need different amounts of help and time with this activity.
Encourage your child to say each letter sound and then read the word as this will develop their skills of blending and segmenting sounds, necessary for both reading and writing. Once your child is confident with word building encourage them to try writing down the words so they become more confident with independent writing e.g. sat, pat, pan, pin, tin, tip. It would be easiest if they had their own Magnetic Whiteboard and pen , so any mistakes can easily be erased. Children can get frustrated if introduced to more formal methods of recording before they are ready, so learning to write needs to be practical and fun for your child.
When your child is competent with writing the first set of Jolly Phonics letter sounds move on to the next set of letter sounds ensuring you recap previous learning each session. There are seven sets of Jolly Phonics letter sounds. Complete Step 2 with each set of letter sounds, until your child is familiar with all seven sets of the Jolly Phonics letters. To develop writing you might choose to use Stencils which are a fun and easy way to develop writing and recognition of simple words. You could help your child practise writing and building the words from the Jolly Phonics Read and See: Basic Words books.
Once your child has learnt the letter sounds and is confident with identifying and writing the letters you can move on to teaching the tricky words identified by the Jolly Phonics scheme. You could start with teaching a tricky word every two days and helping your child to read and write it correctly. Tricky words will need to be taught if your child is to read successfully as not all words can be decoded by sounding out. The spelling of tricky words needs to be taught, so it is best to take time and learn these slowly. Tricky Words Magnets are a lovely way to reinforce these new words daily. You could add a new tricky word to your fridge each week!
The seven sets of Jolly Phonics* letter sounds are normally taught in this order, focusing on one set at a time.
1) s, a, t, i, p, n
2) ck, e, h, r, m, d
3) g, o, u , l , f , b
4) ai, j, oa, ie, ee, or
5) z, w, ng, v, oo, oo
6) y, x, ch, sh, th, th
7) qu, ou, oi, ue, er, ar
* Jolly Phonics is a reading and writing scheme which was developed by Sue Lloyd and Sara Wernham.
Diary writing is an ideal way to develop your child's interest in literacy, especially if they have the chance to choose their own special diary with you! By providing your child with a diary, they can begin to record daily events and write their own sentences. You may decide to sit with your child each day and write their diary together, or if time does not permit, once a week. This way you give your child the opportunity to explore writing themselves but also give them the guidance and support they need to progress. Writing for a purpose is powerful; keeping a record of their daily life and activities is interesting and meaningful to a child. When your child is writing encourage them to sound out words and think about the letter sounds that make up each word. Provide them with a list of tricky words to help them with their diary writing and develop confidence.
For younger children and those with little or no writing experience, it would be best to start with a picture diary for each day, with perhaps you modelling writing by scribing a key word or sentence underneath your child's picture. If your child has a good tripod grip they may be able to trace over your word or sentence. As they become more competent your child could write a word independently to accompany their picture. Older children who are able to sound out words could be encouraged to write a sentence. This can then lead onto independent diary writing which slowly improves as your child becomes more confident with sentence structure.
A simple way to develop your child's writing in a meaningful context is to encourage them to help you write the weekly shopping list. This is a purposeful context for writing and allows your child to see the importance of writing skills for everyday life. Encourage your child to sound out words as accurately as they can. Only correct your child if the word is not phonetically plausible and you are unable to read it, otherwise you may find your child looses confidence if they are continually corrected. You may decide to teach your child one new word a week, so they are learning how to spell more complex words correctly. When you go shopping encourage your child to read out the items on their list.
You may ask your child to write a list of the children in their class in preparation for a party. Let your child write the invitations too, so they become familiar with different purposes and formats of writing. You may wish to use a copy of the alphabet for your child to refer to if unsure of letter formation or capital letters. Talk about simple features of an invitation such as where their friend's name should be written, where their name is written, and where to write their contact number. Remember to explain that names of people and places always start with a capital letter.
Being able to create and write stories is an essential skill which children need to develop. It will give them confidence in their abilities and develop not just their literacy skills but also their imagination and creativity.
Story writing should be introduced slowly to begin with. Perhaps by reading a story to your child and then pausing half way through and asking them to talk to you about what might happen next. When they have gathered their ideas, give them the opportunity to record them in picture form or a story map as this will aid memory once they begin writing. The next stage is to help them write down their ideas and continue the story themselves. Offer them guidance on how they might start and help them to sound out more difficult words. The first attempt at this will be challenging so even if your child only completes a sentence give them praise and show enthusiasm for what they have achieved. To improve their reading ask your child to read back their story.
When your child is able to continue stories they have had read to them, start introducing the features of good story writing. Emphasis the need for capital letters at the start of their sentences and full stops at the end. Talk about how stories have a beginning, middle and end, and discuss what might happen in each part of a story. Try and ensure they incorporate this structure into their future story writing. As your child becomes more competent encourage them to make up their own stories. You may decide to provide photos or visual prompts to help your child think of a setting and scenario for their story. They could also illustrate the main parts of their story.
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