There are many things we can do to encourage writing skills in a young child. Writing should be fun and you need to make sure that it is relevant to the age, development level and interest. When children are young, they love to try to write their own names as well as the names of family members and even pets.
A fun way to help start an interest in writing is to let the child draw a picture and you help to label the objects and people. Encourage the child to tell you what is happening in their picture and decide together what to call objects. Letting children “make up” their own writing should be encouraged.
It doesn’t matter what the letters look like. At this stage you are just letting them have fun and experiment with making marks on the page. Once they have identified some of the letters in their names, encourage them to find the same letters on shop names, advertisements, newspapers, street names and so on.
Before a child is able to form letters correctly on a page, there are many skills they need to master first. These include fine-motor skills, coordination and movement. Activities that encourage these skills include cutting and tearing paper, picking up and arranging objects such as blocks, threading beads or spaghetti on a string, and rolling, pinching and cutting clay or playdough.
Children should be encouraged to scribble, make loops and doodle using a variety of materials – thick chubby wax crayons, thin pencils, finger paint, sand, glitter glue, chalk, etc. Writing doesn’t only happen with pens on paper.
Let them experiment using different surfaces, including paper, cardboard boxes, newspaper, even outside (with washable substances) on bricks and in the sandpit. You can draw the letters of their names on a page and let the child trace them or tear and stick pieces of paper over the lines.
Using glue, you can write their names and let them stick pieces of macaroni along the lines. They can make letters by rolling ‘snakes’ using clay or playdough, using a wet paintbrush outside on concrete to paint large letters, or you can write a very large letter on the floor and let the child walk around it.
The most important thing is that writing at this stage should be shown to be fun, without pressure.
Dr Emma McKinney is a “children with disabilities” specialist, a post doctoral fellow at Stellenbosch University and owns a company called Disability Included. email: firstname.lastname@example.org