Writing is a lifelong skill.
Children are able to start developing skills used in writing as early as kindergarten and even preschool. Developing the skill of writing starts with language development and learning to share information orally with others. It can begin with show-and-tell, where children share a special thing and simply say, “This is my truck.” Or the parent asking the child to tell them about their day.
Writing is at the highest level of processing our brains are able to perform. It is also not a natural skill that comes with body development. It has to be learned according to our geographic region we live in. Eating, walking, talking and observing are all natural things that most all of us grow equipped to do, but writing is a whole set of complex skills that must be developed.
To be able to write there must be a strong foundation built of other skills, such as language development, analyzing, and understanding the elements of reading. If a child struggles with one of these three they are apt to struggle when it comes to writing.
Language development is the ability to talk and share information. Prior to the use of any form of written texts, heritage was passed down through stories, songs or chants and taught by elders of the group. They often used pictures to jog their memories, which would be considered the first form of written texts.
Being able to understand information and apply it to one’s own life is also key in being able to express orally to others. This is a skill that needs nurturing prior to being able to put ideas into writing. Talking and discussing information with children helps them develop those skills. Asking questions like “What do you think? Where do you think that water goes?” or “How would you fix that?” will build their ability to understand and apply information, which will then be more likely to transfer to their writing.
The third is understanding what reading is within our language communication. Understanding that symbols represent letters and sounds, and are placed together to create words is important. Words are formed into sentences that communicate a writer’s thoughts and information.
If a child or student is unable to express information orally they will not be able to complete their writing task, because on the developmental scale they have not learned enough oral language to apply it in writing.
Once children are able to talk openly about a subject or object they are ready to begin their writing journey. If a child or student is struggling with writing, step back and allow them to process using their oral language skills. They still might not be ready to do their own writing and additional scaffolding may be needed for them to be successful, but processing orally first will help students get their thoughts in order, which is critical. Having them dictate the information is also a great scaffold, especially if you guide them with the proper phrasing.
Writing is also something that often isn’t one and done, which is sometimes difficult for children to learn and understand.
When first learning to edit their own work they might not be able to identify how it needs to be changed. When we read our own writing back our brains often do an auto-correct, so the child may struggle to recognize their mistakes.
Assisting and having children read both their and the edited sentences will help them build the ability to recognize changes they might need to make when they are editing their own work.
Most children love to make little folded books. The idea is to take paper and fold it to create pages, allowing the child to place the components of a book on each page, such as a cover, title, beginning, middle and end. Having them create these books can be a first step toward learning the writing process, just as they did centuries ago with hieroglyphics.
Writing is a process, and not an easy one, but with support and guidance we can all learn to communicate through writing.
Dr. Scott Smith is a 40+-year Umatilla County educator and serves on the Decoding Dyslexia-OR board as their parent/teacher liaison.