How to Help My Kids Improve Their Writing Skills
Learning how to write is an essential part of communication and a skill that your child will need throughout their life. As a parent, you may be unsure of how to improve writing skills in a way that is both effective and fun for your child. Find out how to identify gaps in your child’s writing and learn the best ways to improve writing skills depending on your child’s developmental stage
The Stages Learning to Write and Everything You Need to Know to Start
What are writing skills? As simple as it may seem when you know how to do it, writing is a complex task that requires motor, language, and cognitive skills. Let’s look at how kids’ writing varies by age and what skills come into play.
English Writing Skills for Young Kids
Literacy development begins with exposure to speech and vocabulary, phonological awareness skills, and eventually an understanding for the sound-symbol correspondences between spoken sound and the letters that represent them in print. Eventually kids learn to reproduce these symbols, form words and sentences, to produce their own written work.
Another foundational skill supporting a kid’s ability to write is the development of fine motor skill sets required to hold a pen, pencil or any other writing utensil. Activities that can help develop and fine motor skills for writing include:
- targeted practice to build muscle tone and control: lift craft beads using each individual finger and thumb only (index & thumb, then middle & thumb, etc. to move one bead at a time from one place on the desk to another—now move them back—how fast can you go?
- targeted practice to improve the kinesthetic preference for how your child holds their pencil: show them the proper tri-pod grip, put the pencil down and find that specific finger placement/grip as fast as you can
- using the tri-pod grip practice tracing pre-drawn patterns like wiggly lines, straight lines, circles, etc. get practice with the strokes used to make letters before practicing the letters themselves. (Hot tip: always move, strokes always start top to bottom, left to right, and circular formations are always drawn counter-clockwise
English Writing Skills for Older Kids
Once a child knows how to write in terms of the core motor skills needed, the focus can shift to include how to improve actual writing content – what are they trying to say with their writing, and how do they know what to write? Writing practice for older kids includes explicitly supporting areas like spelling, punctuation, grammar, stntax, semantics, and capitalization rules.
More complex cognitive skills that are important for how to write include the ability to express ideas fluently and to write clearly and concisely. Language we use to speak and the language we use to write are in fact, different. We don’t write as we speak and we don’t speak as we write—each has a unique function resulting in important differences or requirements. Discussing this and helping your child understand these differences can set them up for success with writing.
How Can Parents Identify Writing Strengths?
When seeking to improve writing skills there is no magical solution. The old adage rings true, the more you practice, the better you get! Writing practice should be encouraged daily. Focusing on providing your child with a set time each day to write using a special book in a quiet place, even if it’s only a few sentences reflecting on their day, will normalize the activity and promote engagement reducing anxiety by encouraging the regular practice of writing. Focus on your child’s interests and take direction from them about what they’d like to write about. This will set your child up for topics that interest them they may be easily willing to write about and may help to avoid or reduce frustration.
Stay positive! Point out what your child did right—maybe beautifully written letters or an awesome looking individual letter here or there, an awesome adjective, idea, reflection or connection. Where and how you may need to support your child to improve their writing, will depend on their age and developmental level. Providing positive feedback on their efforts during and after writing will positively encourage future engagement.
How Can Parents Identify Writing Gaps?
The best way to do so is to have a professional assess your child if you’re concerned that their English writing skills are not where they should be for their age or grade-level. Observing them during their writing process and during their editing and by reviewing the work they produce can also be helpful to learn where they may need specific support to improve.
Common gaps to observe and watch for include:
Motor Issues with Written Output
This may include difficulty holding the writing utensil, using a sub-optimal or inconsistent grip, discomfort holding a pencil, a sore hand with lengthy sentences, using too much or too little pressure when writing, difficulty forming letter symbols well or with consistent formation strokes, reversing letter symbols, illegible handwriting, poor tracing skills, and an observable difference or disconnect when comparing verbal abilities and written work produced. These may also be signs of dysgraphia, a learning disorder that makes it difficult to write.
Orientation, Placement, Size of Letters and an Awareness for Upper and Lower Cases
It is be developmentally normal for some children to reverse letters (write them backwards or flip them) until roughly the first or second grade. If these types of issues persist past 7 years of age, it may indicate a more significant difficulty rather than a developmentally normal phase. You can also watch for spacing, case, and scale issues. Does your child use the lines on the page or do the words or letters ‘float’ or ‘fall’ from the lines? Do they understand the difference between the two cases (upper and lower case letters) and use them properly or do capital letters randomly show up within words and perhaps not at the beginning of a new sentence or their name? Do they have proper spacing between words or do these show up randomly within words, or not at all?
Observing the legibility, neatness, and spacing of your child’s writing can shed some light on whether there are gaps in their writing skills.
The Top 5 Activities and Steps to Improve Writing Skills at All Ages
Here are some ways to help your child improve their English writing skills. Although they are separated into age groups that correspond to developmental stages and curriculum levels, your child may fall into another category or bridge categories depending on their skill level and what they need support with.
Ideas for how to encourage writing in preschool include having children practice writing even if it just looks like scribbles. For example, you can create opportunities for your child to practice writing by something as simple as having them sign birthday cards.
It may be more helpful to view these as activities to help your child get English writing practice, from easiest to hardest rather than to focus on the age categories.
How to Improve Writing Skills for PreK to End of Grade 3
- Have your child trace shapes, lines, letters and then words to help them develop their motor skills and improve symbol recognition. Their name is a great place to start!
- Engage their senses by using different materials for writing, such as finger paint, sidewalk chalk, or play dough.
How to Improve Writing Skills for Grades 4 to 7
- You may be wondering, does reading improve writing skills? The answer is yes, which is why encouraging reading is an important way to help your kids develop their ability to write.
- Have your children write letters to people of their choice, even if they are fictional characters, for a fun way to practice and engage in areas that are interesting to them.
How to Improve Writing Skills for Grade 8 and Beyond
- Encourage regular journaling to practice expressing ideas, using new vocabulary, and improving penmanship.
- Pick a topic togehter and each write about it, then share. How different are they? How are they similar? Sharing your writing and writing process is a great way to allow developing writers to ‘see’ and experience your process. Seeing and sharing the differences in written pieces can be interesting and encouraging!
How Symbols Learning Centers’ Orton-Gillingham Approach to Writing and Reading Can Help Your Child’s Writing Skills Today
If you’re looking for a solution for how to improve writing skills, Symbols Learning Centers is a highly effective option for your child. Although we specialize in helping kids with learning differences such as dyslexia, dysgraphia and difficulties like ADHD, our 1-to-1 language tutoring is effective for helping any child to learn how to write.
We use the multisensory Orton-Gillingham (OG) approach, which uses four sense-based learning pathways to teach:
- Visual (seeing)
- Auditory (listening)
- Tactile (using the hands to feel)
- Kinesthetic (moving the body)
The language OG lessons are based on phonics, which means your child will learn how to write by first learning the units of sound and then how to represent those sounds as letters. Spelling generalizations, rules and morphology provide a deeper understanding about why things are spelled they way they are.
In addition to using the OG approach, we are unique compared to many other learning programs because we provide individualized tutoring to ensure your child gets the attention they need in the areas they need most to improve their writing skills.
Helping your child learn how to write well from an early age will help them with any area requiring written output communication. Things like projects, homework, expressing their ideas or opinions, and will serve to be a useful tool for the rest of their lives in work settings and beyond.