Handbook of Language and Literacy Development - a Roadmap from 0 to 60 Months

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parent tips

Spelling and Writing Development (13-60 Months)click to print Print
Research Review / Parent

Written by: Dorothy Steffler, Concordia University College of Alberta and Sarah Critten, University of Hertfordshire

13-24 Months

· Spend time encouraging your child to show curiosity and explore the surrounding world. Using hands and fingers to interact with people and objects will help the development of fine motor skills needed for learning to write later on. Provide toys that help your child to practice grasping movements, for example, building blocks, stacking beakers, and chunky jigsaws.

· Your child can also start to use the tools of everyday life, for example, graduating from a bottle to a spill-proof cup with handles, using a spoon at mealtime, learning to hold and use a hair brush, and tooth brush. When you are doing things around the house, such as, cooking and gardening, give your child smaller versions of your tools so he or she can mimic you, for example a small bowl and mixer for cooking and a small trowel for the gardening.

· When children feel confident using their hands and fingers to handle everyday objects and tools they can start to practice holding and using writing tools for their early drawing and colouring. Big crayons and markers are be easier to grip than the small ones and encourage children to keep their colouring inside the lines as this will help them with the control and precision they will need later for writing letters.

· Introduce your child to print in the environment, remember, it is never too early to start! Point out signs to your child as you go out for a walk or go shopping. Spend time looking at simple books and comics with lots of colourful illustrations and engage your child in discussions about the colours, the animals, or whatever is in the pictures. Educational children’s television is also good for making books and writing look like fun! Do not have the television on all the time as this can distract children from engaging in other activities even if they do not seem to be watching it.

· Encourage children to do their own “writing”, that is, early scribbling and drawing when you are writing, as they love to mimic you at this young age. Try it the next time you are writing a grocery list, a letter, a card, or even paying the bills! Provide different types of writing surfaces to make it fun: use large pieces of paper, white boards or even make use of chalk outside on the sidewalk or driveway.

· Remember at this young age, children’s attention span is short. If they only want to try scribbling and looking at books for a couple of minutes that is perfectly fine! Just make print and writing a part of their environment and daily routine and they won’t even know they are learning!

25-36 Months

· Children love to colour in pictures, make their own drawings and to scribble over surfaces. You can encourage them to do this many ways. Big crayons and washable markers and stubby, little pencils are easier for children to grip and will help them to develop the control they will need later for writing. Provide different types of writing surfaces to make it fun: use large pieces of paper, white boards or even make use of chalk outside on the sidewalk or driveway.

· Show an interest in your children’s work and ask them to explain what it is they have drawn or written. Encourage them to think about how names and words look when written down. For example if they say they have drawn a picture of a cat, then write the word “CAT” next to it for them. When talking about what they have written, never say that you cannot read it or that it has been written wrong. Always show how proud you are of their work and display it on the refrigerator or family bulletin board.

· Encourage children to write without them really knowing it by making it a part of their daily routine in connection with yours. For example, when you are writing a grocery list, a birthday card, or a letter, encourage your child to write one at the same time in the left-to-right fashion of writing. You can also have fun practicing the shapes and patterns that are commonly used for making up letters so that your child becomes familiar with producing them, such as, straight lines, circles and curves. Writing the child’s name is a perfect place to start.

· The names of family members are also a fantastic place to start writing with your child as he or she will be interested in learning how to write them, particularly in relation to making birthday cards for specific people. You can start by writing the names first so your child can see what the names look like and begin to recognize them. You can also start to point out the names of letters. Take every opportunity to do this as repetition is important for children. When your child is ready, he or she can attempt to copy what you have written, either by writing over your letters or copying on another piece of paper. Once your child feels confident in producing familiar letters you can move on to trying other similar letters, for example, if your child’s name begins with C you can then start to practice other letters with curves, such as O and S. It is helpful to reread what you and your child have written as this rereading helps to build conscious connections for the child between what is spoken and what is written.

· Remember practicing letters does not have to be confined to paper and flat surfaces! Make the shapes in the sand, when you are making pastry and if you are using craft materials such as bendy pipe cleaners and straws.

· At this young age, children’s attention span is short. If they only want to try writing for a little while that is perfectly fine! Just make print and writing a part of their daily routine and they won’t even know they are learning!

37- 48 Months

· In this period of transition as children start to use regular-sized pencils and learn how to write some familiar names and letters, it can be difficult for children to remember all of this complex information. There are many things that you can do to help remind them of the conventions of print as you encourage them through this exciting time. Sometimes children have trouble remembering to write from left to right because they are concentrating hard on forming their letters correctly. You can help them by using lined paper and perhaps make some kind of mark on the left-hand side of the page to remind them, such as a little star or an arrow.

· Also continue to spend time looking at story books and reading to them. Follow the words on the page with your finger as you are reading as this will remind your child that writing goes from left to right on the page. Encourage your child to copy words and sentences from the books. Practice will help make writing easier and become more automatic for your child.

· Talk to children about their writing. Get them to tell you about what they have written. Encourage them to think about the conventions of writing and how words are formed, for example that there should be spaces between words and that longer sounding words, such as elephant, will look longer on the page than shorter sounding words, such as cat. Even if children cannot read all the letters or words they have produced it does not matter, they are still learning and it is a very gradual process. Be patient, stay positive and your child will too!

· As children practice writing letters and words they are gradually learning the foundations of how to spell. There are many ways to help children make the necessary connections between how words are spoken and how words are written which will help them in their early spelling attempts. Point to words as you read them and encourage your child to do the same. You can also spend lots of time, thinking about and practicing how letters and words “sound”, for example emphasizing sounds at the start of names: Ooo for Olivia, Mmm for Michael.

· There are lots of fun games that can help children to learn about sounds without them even knowing it, for example singing nursery rhymes. Looking at books while singing these songs and doing the accompanying actions is a great multi-sensory experience and something your child will want to repeat often. Active rhymes are particularly fun for children, such as, ‘The Grand Old Duke of York’, ‘Ring-a-Roses’ and the ‘Hokey-Pokey’. CD and book sets are also a good idea as children can follow the words in the book while listening to the song.

· At this young age, children’s attention span is short. If they only want to try writing and singing nursery rhymes for a little while that is perfectly fine! Just make print and writing a part of daily routine and they won’t even know they are learning!

49-60 Months

· As children start to realize that writing is about communication and that pieces of writing can mean something for other people as well as for themselves, there are many opportunities for you to encourage different reasons for writing. You and your child could write letters to each other and read them aloud. Have your child write stories for you and other members of the family and write out cards for birthdays, religious festivals, and holidays. Writing can enter the daily routine in the form of grocery lists and telephone messages. It does not matter if some of the letters or spellings are wrong! Be delighted with what your child has done.

· Throughout all of these different writing opportunities continue your encouragement of your child’s growing knowledge and skills about letter names, letter sounds, letter formation, spellings for familiar words and names, and the conventions of writing: leaving spaces between words, writing from left-to-right on the page, capital letters and lower case letters. Remember to use storybooks as a base as they hold children’s interest and remind them of how print looks on the page. Use the opportunity to spot familiar letters and words thus supporting your child’s growing knowledge. Start with spotting letters they recognize, such as the beginning letter of their name or Mommy and Daddy’s name. Then try learning a new letter or word each time you play the game!

· Alongside this children will be making steady progress in making connections between how letters and words sound and how they are written. Sound out words to practice these skills with your child, for example cuh-ah-tuh says cat. Play sound games where you take turns identifying the first and last sounds of words. You can do this sound game anytime even when your child is not practicing writing, do it in the car, out shopping, whenever and wherever! It is also fun to letter and sound spot: so today could be the letter s day and every time your child sees or hears this letter, he or she has to ‘spot’ it.

· The understanding of rhyme is also an important way you can assist your child in learning the foundations of spelling. Building upon your mutual enjoyment of nursery rhymes you can start to discuss why words rhyme and how some ‘word families’ share groups of letters, for example cold, sold, bold, etc. Challenge your child to find words that rhyme, then write them down and look at what letters they have in common. Also think about how some words consist of smaller words, like at in bat and sat.

· At this age you may start to see differences in responses to these writing and spelling activities. Some girls and boys may be more likely to spend time with you practicing their writing and playing sound games compared to others who often prefer more active play. You may find it easier to engage interest if the writing and sound activities are based around their particular interests, for example, all about pirates, dinosaurs, or a favourite sport. Both parents engaging in these writing and spelling activities is important. So if there is some reluctance to writing on paper using crayons and markers explore writing in sand, chalk on the sidewalk or driveway, or whatever interests your child.

· At this young age, children’s attention span is short. If they only want to try writing and sounding-out activities for a little while that is perfectly fine! Just make print and writing a part of their daily routine and they won’t even know they are learning!

Remember that when children see the people around them engaging in reading, writing and spelling they come to learn that these activities are valued and important to learn.