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Is Your Child Ready to Learn to Write?

Geoff Nixon

By Geoff Nixon

Be Sure Pre-Writing Skills Are In Place First

Writing is an even more amazing human skill than reading. it requires all the skills needed to be a good reader, and more.  The long term goal for a child is to be able to think while writing, to be a persuasive writer, and to enjoy writing.  And so during the learn-to-write phase, it’s important not to create a negative connection to writing by applying too much pressure. This means being aware of whether your child is ready to start writing, and asking if the needed pre-writing skills are in place.

If they are not in place, writing instruction is futile at best, and humiliating for your child at worst and possibly the beginning of a negative attitude toward writing. This article will help you pace your approach in the learn to write process for your child.

Pre-Writing Skills

Here are the skills that serve as foundations for successful writing:

  1. Language Knowledge: Your child needs a level  of comfort with language, so that the words being written are familiar.  That includes vocabulary, grammar, and sentence structure – all of which are developed through listening and from reading.
  2. Fine Motor Skills: Coordination and control of small muscles in the hands and fingers. Activities such as coloring, drawing, playing with small objects, and using scissors help strengthen these muscles and improve dexterity.
  3. Visual Perception: Visual perception skills enable children to recognize and interpret visual information accurately. This includes skills such as shape recognition, spatial awareness, and visual discrimination, which are important for forming and distinguishing letters and shapes.
  4. Letter and Number Recognition: Before writing, children should be familiar with the alphabet and numbers.
  5. Cognitive Skills: There are a number of cognitive skills needed for writing as a child needs to be able to focus, organize their thoughts, and solve problems related to spelling and grammar.
  6. Social and Emotional Skills: Later on, writing involves expressing thoughts, feelings, and experiences.

First and foremost is language knowledge. If your child is not reading, it’s too early to press on writing beyond letters. In this case, the best way to help writing is to help reading.  Once a child is familiar and comfortable with the language in text format, writing is a more natural progression.

Signs of Writing Difficulties

Recognizing signs that a child may not be ready to learn to write can help parents and caregivers provide appropriate support and interventions. Here are some indicators that a child may not have fully formed pre-writing skills.

  1. Poor Fine Motor Skills: If a child struggles with tasks that require fine motor skills, such as holding and manipulating small objects, using scissors, or coloring within the lines, they may not be ready for writing.
  2. Limited Attention Span: If a child has a short attention span and struggles to focus on writing tasks for more than a few minutes at a time, they may not be ready for sustained writing activities.
  3. Difficulty Recognizing Letters or Numbers: If a child has difficulty recognizing and identifying letters or numbers, they may not be ready to learn to write them. This includes mastering phonics and letter sound recognition.
  4. Underdeveloped Language Skills: If a child has limited vocabulary, struggles with grammar or sentence structure, or has difficulty expressing themselves verbally, they may not be ready for the language demands of writing.
  5. Lack of Interest in Writing: Children want to please, and so a lack of interest in doing something you want your child to do, i.e., write, might be a clue there is a difficulty your child is hiding from you, a difficulty that she knows is going to make writing a real challenge. This is most likely related to a discomfort with language in text format due to language processing or other cognitive skill delays.

It’s important to remember that every child develops at their own pace, and readiness for writing can vary widely among individuals. If a child is not showing signs of readiness for writing, it’s essential to provide opportunities for developing foundational skills such as fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, language development, and pre-writing activities.

Many children are able to disguise reading delays up to 4th or 5th grade, using memorization and other work arounds.  The demands of reading comprehension eventually expose their reading difficulties.  And difficulties learning to write similarly can be a clue of a more deep-seated learning delay that needs attention.

Good Writers Are Good Readers

Reading and writing are interconnected skills that reinforce and complement each other. Reading is passive, while writing is more active.  So much is learned by observing how others write when reading, but also there’s nothing like learning by doing, and writing is just that – putting the language skills developed from listening and reading into practice.

Here is how reading and writing connect and reinforce each other:

  1. Language Development: Reading exposes individuals to a variety of vocabulary, sentence structures, and writing styles, which they can then incorporate into their own writing. Similarly, writing offers a way to practice using language creatively and expressively.
  2. Comprehension: When individuals read, they must comprehend meaning, including its main ideas, details, and nuances. Writing, on the other hand, involves conveying ideas and information clearly and effectively. Both require critical thinking, analysis, and interpretation of written material.
  3. Grammar and Mechanics: Reading helps individuals internalize grammatical structures, punctuation rules, and writing conventions. Well-written texts help children subconsciously absorb correct grammar usage, sentence construction, and spelling patterns. This informs their own writing.
  4. Modeling and Imitation:  You can think of reading as modelling good writing skills for your child.  When your child reads high-quality literature or well-crafted texts, she observes effective writing techniques, storytelling strategies, and rhetorical devices that can then be used in her own writing.
  5. Critical Thinking and Analysis: Reading engages active interpretation, evaluation, and synthesis of ideas. Similarly, when individuals write, they must analyze their own thoughts, organize information, and present arguments.
  6. Creativity and Expression: Reading inspires individuals to explore their imaginations and ideas. Exposure to diverse genres, themes, and storytelling techniques encourages individuals to experiment with different writing styles, genres, and voices.

Overall, reading and writing are reciprocal processes that reinforce each other and contribute to individuals’ literacy development, communication skills, and intellectual growth. Engaging in both activities regularly enhances individuals’ abilities to comprehend, analyze, and communicate ideas effectively in various contexts.

Final Note

Writing is not easy. Thinking, composing and writing takes a lot of brain power and effort, and a lot of skills need to be in place before writing is comfortable for your child. There are writing progress checklists by age you can use to keep track of where your child stands, but these are guides only.  Children develop so differently, and remember, the longer term goal here is a love of writing, so patience is key.

If however, your child does fall too far behind, here are explanations of the most common reading problems and learning problems that might give you a way forward.  If you suspect some kind of learning delay, call Gemm Learning for a free consult.

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