Setting the foundation for good writing skills

Oct 7, 2010 at 10:41 a.m. ET

Our children, especially the youngest, are growing up in a world where their ability to communicate the minutia of day-to-day life will be a survival skill. They won’t be able to conceive of a life without social media, text messaging or email. Just as there’s an entire generation who have never seen a corded phone, our young children won’t understand what it was like for communication to occur solely via snail mail or a memo.

mom and daughter writing together

With so many short, sometimes sweet ways to communicate, the ability to write -- really write! -- may be getting lost. Rather than allowing it to slip away, we should be setting the foundation for our youngest kids to develop even stronger writing skills. They are growing up in a world where they will need to be clear about what they mean in 140 characters or less...or more.

Developmentally appropriate writing

Children in preschool and early elementary grades are not only learning reading, but also literacy. It's not just reading or writing, but understanding the meaning of the reading and writing - intertwined skills. Young children are introduced to writing slowly. They develop an understanding of what letters and letter combinations mean and their fine and gross motor skills develop so that they're able to physically write letters.

Don't force it

Trying to force motor skills for writing too early can lead to frustration, but that doesn't mean you can't support the cognitive development side and encourage literacy skills that will eventually contribute to good writing. Just because your child isn't writing tomes at five years old doesn't mean he's behind in any way! And when the writing does begin in earnest, focus on structure and the meaning of what is being written. Encourage it! Pristine spelling will come later.

Read, read, read

One of the most important things you can do with your child to promote literacy -- including writing -- is to read to them. Read, read, read and read some more. Read short books and long books, chapter books and pictures books, read the old classics and the new classics. And when your child becomes a fluent reader, continue to read to him. From infancy through upper elementary school, establish reading time and also read books that are out of your comfort zone.


Make writing an important part of your life, too. Let your kids see you write and talk about the process of writing, editing and rewriting - and making sure your words say exactly what you mean. Whether it's letters to your grandmother who doesn't use a computer, journals, blogs or even poetry, let your kids understand what it means to be a writer. Published or not, we are all writers.

Helping to set the foundation for good writing skills now is a gift for your child and for the world at large. Being able to communicate clearly with the written word is an important skill that won't go away with technology!