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Encouraging Writing

Dear Debi,
My 4-year-old has no real interest in writing or drawing. I know not to compare him to others, but I still tend to get frustrated. What kinds of activities can help him get past just scribbling?
Bhavna, Newport Coast, CA
Debi's Tips
Debi Gutierrez
Debi Gutierrez
  • Engage kids in drawing and writing activities every day
  • Model how you use writing every day
  • Make writing fun
Expert Advice
Susan Baxter
Susan Baxter
Early Childhood Education Instructor
Itís important not to push children to write because if theyíre not ready, that means they donít have the skills or interest to do it yet. If you force children to write, it will become a task for them. The foundation of preschool years is for them to enjoy learning. No matter how you interact with children, you want to maintain the love of learning. If you set a benchmark too high and they canít attain it, they feel bad about themselves. When you try to make them do something and they canít, that sets the tone for their self-esteem.

Itís important to engage children in any fine motor activity that prepares them for drawing or eventual writing. You could try beads and thread, play doug or clay Ė anything thatís a manipulative for fine motor skills encourages writing. If theyíre not interested in drawing, find other ways to increase that skill. Some kids arenít interested in sitting and drawing, so try board games or things that support hand-eye coordination.

Learning to write develops over time. There are stages of development in how children make marks on paper. They might start with dots and then form them into shapes. Children who have more of an opportunity to draw will develop more quickly. Itís a progression. You need to be able to get through the first stages. When walking, you have to sit up before you can crawl. It requires coordination of the shoulders, the hands and the wrist. When I work with my students, I have them write with their opposite hand. It gives them a better idea of how important fine motor skills are. Even how and where you place something on a page takes skill.

A child care provider can provide writing opportunities throughout the day by creating a writing area or having a shelf with books available. Iíve never met a child who isnít interested in using writing tools. They may not be interested in drawing or writing, but theyíre interested in exploring that whole part of the world. They want to be like their mother and father or child care provider or the person they saw writing in the pad at the restaurant. You can even add different kinds of writing materials to your dramatic play areas.

You can make writing fun for kids by making it meaningful to them. Donít be worried about your spelling or grammar. Children doing scribbles on a pad pretending theyíre writing is still writing. Creating a writing area is an excellent idea. Put papers, envelopes, pens and markers out for kids. They can create their own books. Even kids who are resistant to writing will gravitate toward a writing area. Kids can make all kinds of things and even pretend to write.

Children with delays or disabilities may need a little more structure or guidance depending on what the delay is. They will need a little more one-on-one time. You may need to get special kinds of grips to help them hold the instruments. Block crayons are really great. Theyíre square and easier for kids to hold on to. Even activities like painting can develop writing skills because kids are learning how to make marks on paper.
Child Care provider Comments
Provider for 10 years
Scribbling may not meaningful to a parent, but it is meaningful to a child. At some point scribbling will turn into writing. One needs to make writing interesting for children, by matching the skill with something that they are curious about: a character, a story, anything that catches their attention.
Carol (Woods)
Carol (Woods)
Child care provider for 13 years
I usually put my 3 year old grandson on my lap and I point to the words as we are reading. I then let him write, with my hand leading him to make the letters. He scribbles most of the time, but when I can look at what he wrote, with my help, and can read a word there, he gets very enthusiastic about it. Whenever we are drawing or writing, I encourage and praise his efforts.
Alma Martinez
Alma Martinez
Child care provider for 10 years
I Children like to mimic or copy other children. For a while, some of the girls in my care liked to draw butterflies and flowers. Soon all the girls were doing it. The boys like to draw cars and comic books, and if they see other boys doing it, they become more interested in it, too. I had a special needs child who would watch her older sister write in her journal. Then she would make scratch marks next to the words her sister wrote. She wanted to be a part of it. By the end of the journal, she was making happy faces.

A Writing Area Featured Activity:
A Writing Area
Encouraging Writing Featured Video:
Encouraging Writing
Topic: Early Learning Areas
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1-877-FAMLIT-1 (or 1-877-326-5481)
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1-800-545-2433, Ext. 5752
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