Hello Parents and Caregivers,

Are you at home with a young child (or children) who is between the ages of four and eight? We want to offer manageable and fun ways to think about writing that might give you and your child something to do together while providing structured writing practice. In this overview, we offer a sense of how you might help your young writer grow. Then we offer four cycles of exploration and writing for you to try out (located in the right-hand menu). You can do these activities with your children to give them something to learn and talk and write about.

If you are wondering what “counts” as writing for young children, the answer is: all of it. For our youngest writers, the scribbles and squiggles are all approximations on the way to writing; and just as we celebrate baby talk as an approximation of adult language, we want to celebrate all the steps your child is taking on the way to becoming a full-fledged adult writer. In fact, research has shown that writing emerges very early and is distinct from other kinds of art young children make.

Building on the work of our colleagues—Eileen G. Feldgus and Isabell Cardonick, authors along with Richard Gentry, of the book Kid Writing in the 21st Century: a Systematic Approach to Phonics, Spelling, and Writing Workshop—we are going to share four simple ideas to support you as you take up the role of writing mentor to your child during this time of interrupted schooling. To give you a view of what we are aiming at, we share this video of an elementary school principal in Philadelphia talking about why this program has been powerful for young writers in his school:

Basically, there are four components or steps to kid writing, which are all things that parents can help their children do at home.

#1 Draw Your Story/Draw Your Information

Beginning writers are learning to communicate what interests them or is important to them. Drawing is a great way for them to do that. A child who draws their story or information can use that drawing to tell you what they want to write. The drawing can help a child remember what they want to say as they struggle to hold onto the letters that make up each word and all the words in the sentence(s) they want to write. Looking at the child’s drawing is a great place for parents or other adults to guide their part of the work. An adult might ask “tell me more about this?” or “what about this part of what you drew? What is happening here?”

#2 Kid Writing

Here kids write their story, which for very beginning writers might be a single word or a single sentence. We like to take away the pressure of perfection in order to create more room for learning, so we tell young writers that kid writing is different from adult writing, and we give them room to sound out, spell words incorrectly, and even to use a “magic line” to hold the place of a  word they can’t figure out how to spell. A parent or other adult might sit side-by-side with a child during kid writing, to help them remember the whole sentence they are trying to write (what’s the next word?) or to help them sound out a word (Let’s stretch that out, what sound do you hear next?). We would encourage you to let the child lead the kid writing and not to worry about mistakes, but instead to notice what your young writer can do, and to praise it (I see you wrote your name here, great work. I noticed that you heard the “b” in “bug”,  nice!).

#3 Adult Writing

After your child writes their story or information, you can write the full story for them so they can see all the words and sentences. Rather than correct the child’s writing as they go, or cross out or write over their mistakes, adult writing can just exist as another layer of the work. This page highlights some pictures of children’s work that shows their drawing, their kid writing, and the adult writing that was added.

#4 Sharing!

Writing is a form of expression, meant to be shared. We’ll invite you to share your child’s writing and your experiences and responses with us electronically, but who else might be an appreciative audience for your child’s writing? Could they share it with their sibling? A friend? A grandparent? We hope to meet stories with more stories or appreciation. If you, a sibling or a grandparent can appreciate the story, notice something that you love about the drawing or the writing, and maybe share a story of your own that your child’s story reminds you of, you’ll be well on your way to teaching your child the joy and power of writing!

Over the next four weeks, maybe beginning on Monday, we invite you to explore the four cycles (located in the right-hand menu) with your child that include noticing, drawing, and writing, as well as an opportunity to share your child’s work with us. We encourage you to have fun, celebrate the writer that your child is, and to let us know how these work for you.