Literacy skills are one of the strongest indicators of a child’s future success. The Annie E. Casey Foundation finds that children not reading and writing at proficient levels by fourth grade are four times more likely to drop out of school and to struggle later in life. That same foundation reports that 68% of New Hampshire fourth graders scored below proficient in writing assessments.
It’s important to remember that literacy doesn’t just mean reading. Writing and communications skills are vital to children’s success in school and beyond. Developing early writing skills is critical to helping your child succeed in life. Throughout their academic and professional careers, they will need to clearly express their thoughts in writing, so it’s crucial to help them develop those skills early. Kids who show up to school already strong readers and writers are more likely to succeed. Writing also fosters imagination, creativity, and empathy.
Former Merrimack Valley Literacy Specialist and author of Helping Your Child Become a Successful Writer: A Guide for Parents Bruce Johnson recommends encouraging children to write every day. Whether it’s a story, poem, or journal entry, organizing their thoughts through writing not only helps with academics, but also has social and emotional benefits, as well. Communications skills are key to getting along in the world, and writing is an important part of the equation. Johnson also says that one of the best ways to help your kids develop strong writing skills is encouraging reading. Reading is essential to good writing, and exposing them to many kinds of stories can help them develop their own unique voice, while expanding their awareness of experiences that differ from their own. Find books that meet their interests, and encourage them to try something new. A visit to the library can be a great way to inspire writing. Ask them to imagine their own ending to a story or rewrite it using their words. Ask them to reflect on what books they like. It’s a good idea to keep a journal to stick to the routine of writing something, anything, every day. Ask them to write about their day, what’s on their mind, or a special memory. Have them write a how-to guide of something they love to do. You don’t have to read their journal if they’re not comfortable sharing; it’s OK for this writing to be just for them. If they show interest, you can help turn their stories into bound books, either on your own using a hole punch and yarn/twine, or by using a print center or an online service. Many young writers will feel proud to have their words in a book they can hold in their hands and which you can read together.
Before they’re ready to actually write on their own, asking questions while you read can help encourage imagination and creativity. Ask them to predict what happens next, to make connections in their own lives, and to make up their own stories. Ask them about their day and interests. As they begin to learn how to write, you can help them write the stories down and they can illustrate them. Feel free to get silly! One fun group game is where one person writes down a line and the next person illustrates it, then folds the paper over so the next person can only see the drawing, and they come up with a caption and pass it on to the next person to illustrate, and so on.
Make storytelling and writing part of their regular routine, but try not to make it feel too much like homework. If you show them that reading and writing can be fun, and are things you like to do, they’re more likely to enjoy it and do it often.
Once they are able to write on their own, encourage them to practice writing their letters by helping you write a grocery list or to-do list. Ask them to make a list of house/family rules. Give them a journal or notepad to jot their thoughts down. Ask them to write about one new thing they learned that day.
Is your young writer angling for a later bedtime, a new toy, or something else they want? Ask them to write you a proposal outlining their desire and their arguments for why they should get it. Whether or not they get what they want, it’s a good exercise to encourage persuasive writing and communicate clearly. Regardless of your decision, praise their writing. Encouragement from you is one of the most important pieces of your child learning to write well. Don’t focus too much (at least at first) on grammar or spelling; you can certainly point out mistakes, but you don’t want them to get discouraged or decide that they’re just not a good writer. Remind them that writing is a process, something which you can always improve, and that writers go through many drafts to get to their best work. It’s a good reminder of the importance of hard work and that no one gets it right the first time. Get involved in their process and encourage them to keep at it. Happy writing!
Erika Nichols-Frazer is a writer, editor, and the Communications Manager of the Children’s Literacy Foundation, which serves low-income, at-risk, and rural children in New Hampshire and Vermont. Erika has an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars. She received Noir Nation’s 2019 Golden Fedora fiction prize and has been nominated for a Pushcart prize. Her writing has appeared in HuffPost, Literary Orphans, Lunate, and elsewhere. She writes book reviews for Pens and Words and is a reader for Literary Orphans.