Jan 01 1970
Improving writing skills in the early years: Strategies to succeed
As most of us early years teachers know, strategies for helping our youngest children to improve their writing skills and eventually become successful writers does not start with the use of a pencil! Before the age of 5 years (and often later) the bones in a child’s hands are still developing, and producing letters on paper can be challenging. Before focusing on pencil grip and fine motor control, children need lots of opportunities to build on their gross motor skills – working on their chest, shoulder, and arm muscles, as well as developing motor muscle planning in order to appropriately sequence body movements for a controlled and desired outcome.
It's not just their larger muscle development that is needed for successful writing. I’m sure most of us have spent hours telling parents about the benefits of play-based learning over and over again, but essentially the long and short of it is: the act of writing and mark making itself needs to be purposeful, engaging, and most importantly . . . fun! When we enjoy something, we process, retain, and remember it much more effectively. We become more successful, because we enjoy it.
So . . .
Here are our 6 strategies to improve writing skills with young learners:
1. Build up those BIG muscles.
Start with gross motor movements first by utilizing the outdoors or large spaces in the hall. Of course, activities such as climbing on a climbing frame, pulling up on ropes, swinging on monkey bars, or pushing a friend on a swing work well, but you can also get children involved in setting up your outdoor area. Asking the children to help carry equipment will work their chest and arm muscles . . . with the added benefit of giving yours a break! Incorporate a more unorthodox and exciting physical activity every day, such as painting walls with water and paintbrushes, making shapes in the air with ribbons on a stick, or even wafting a large parachute up and down! The DK book Look I’m a Scientist includes instructions for making BIG bubbles outside, and can be used alongside your usual play equipment to find fun and exciting experiments to engage children.
This book also includes a recipe and instructions for making playdough, which brings us nicely to . . .
2. The more playdough, the better.
Playdough is often not given the credit it deserves. It is a wonderful learning aid, and can be used to develop both gross and fine motor skills. Give children large quantities of dough to hold and set some challenges for them! How high can they lift it into the air? Who can hold it up there the longest with both hands . . . now just one hand? Can they lift the dough using the back of their hand? Can they squish the dough flat between their hands? How much can they fit into their first and squeeze as hard as they can?
For fine motor skills work, tell them to poke and pinch the dough into the shapes you call out. Practice control by rolling the dough into small worms, or using scissors to snip the dough into tiny pieces before picking them all back up and squishing them together again! All of these movements strengthen their arm and also hand muscles which they will need for becoming successful writers later on.
Using the DK book Look I’m an Engineer is a great place to find other exciting fine motor skills activities such as manipulating pipe-cleaners to make parachute people, or making spinning pictures which help to massage and utilize the muscles in the hands.
These are the first steps of working on the physical development needed to eventually be able to hold and control a pencil for writing.
3. The trusty topic tuff tray.
Early literacy involves speaking, listening, understanding, physical development, talking about and using the senses, hearing and distinguishing different sounds, and all of these areas need developing in order to become a successful writer. Setting up a play tray, such as this honey bee tuff tray activity which includes fact books about bees as well as a range of multi-sensory items, allows children to build upon these skills and areas of development at their own level – it’s always a good idea to include nonfiction books alongside sensory play items in order to help extend the learning. The Bee Book from DK lends itself well to this type of activity. Make a range of mark-making tools and paper (and/or other surfaces) available alongside the tray, as children may choose to write or make marks for a purpose after exploring a tray they have found particularly fun!
4. Create a WOW to kick start learning.
Using awareness days such as World Oceans Day within learning to stimulate mark making can enable and engage pupils in a much more meaningful way. The Sea Book from DK has an annotated diagram of a fish which could be alongside a fish investigation activity – encouraging children to record their exciting experiences, using the book to scaffold and model their own outcomes.
5. Make phonics fun.
Understanding how words are made by being able to distinguish between different sounds, initial sounds, and eventually ‘sounding out’ and also ‘blending’ sounds together to segment and form words is absolutely key to improving writing skills in young children. It is really important for children to learn HOW to make sounds and words before even attempting to write them down . . . but it needs to be fun and engaging! This DK Mrs Wordsmith Phonics card game can be used as a fun activity, for two players or more, to consolidate phonics learning.
Finally, a strategy for building up those fine motor skills in slightly older young learners . . .
6. All things LEGO®
What better way to encourage that pincer grip and handling of small materials than Lego . . . and with this wonderful book 365 Things to Do with LEGO® Bricks you’ll never run out of ideas! See some fun examples below.
Sarah is a qualified teacher, specializing in early childhood development. She blogs over at www.arthurwears.com, where she shares activities and advice around early education as well as parenting topics based on her experience as a mother of two (with one on the way!).