How children learn to write: Tips for Parents

Many children show the beginnings of their development as writers well before they start to produce their own written compositions.

 Often the first word a child learns to write is his name, and once he learns it he loves to write it everywhere, autographing his drawings, indicating just who owns which books, and even occasionally leaving his personalized mark on his bedroom wall or the kitchen woodwork.

It is entirely appropriate that the responsibility for helping children learn to write should fall to teachers rather than parents. Indeed it is ─ or ought to be ─ an essential goal of any school faculty to help every child develop skill and confidence as a writer. But this is not to say that parents have no role in their children's writing development.

Parents can contribute in several ways. Probably the most significant contribution parents can make to their children's early writing development is to read aloud to them ─ parents can read aloud stories, poems, letters, any material at all that enriches a child's understanding of what written language is and what writers do. Reviewing research on how parents' reading aloud affects young children's literacy development ("Parents Reading to Their Children: What We Know and Need to Know") William Teale notes such studies suggest that "being read to at home is positively correlated with children's "level of language development," their "vocabulary development," their "eagerness to read," and their "success in beginning reading in school. Teale notes that although research to date indicates "only that there is a link between being read to and success in certain general competencies in language and literacy", such research does seem to support E. B. Huey's hopeful sentiment, concerning the key to helping children learn to read: "The secret of it all lies in the parents' reading aloud to and with the child." Parents should recognize that they do well to continue to read to their children even after children have begun to read on their own. Reading aloud to children ─ even to children who are able to read by themselves ─ gives them access to more complex reading material than they are able to read alone. Also, the parent who reads aloud to a child brings the qualities of a human voice to written language, helping the child to deepen his understanding of the relationship between the characteristics of print and the familiar meanings of speech.

In this way, a parent may contribute to the child's learning of what is perhaps the most significant lesson a child can learn as a beginning writer: that despite the many differences of form and function between spoken and written language, the act of writing is, after all, a way of speaking.

In addition to reading aloud to their children, parents can also promote writing activities for their children at home. Most young children enjoy sending notes and pictures to out-of- town relatives and friends. Many children also like to write stories and "essays" at home, for the same reasons that they enjoy composing at school: to revive pleasant memories, to imitate and manipulate forms of writing they have read, and to demonstrate what they have learned. For some children, writing sometimes grows out of play activity; many children, for example, sooner or later serve brief stints as self-appointed editors of homemade newspapers. These activities give the value of allowing children to continue their experiments with the forms and functions of writing. As many parents know, children enjoy seeing their writing (both work from school and the homemade sort) on display.

In exploring the question of how children learn to write, current theories research suggest that all children can learn to write.  Children are able, given support and guidance from teachers and parents, to adapt the powerful learning strategies they employ in learning to speak to the task of learning to write.


Source: Gundlach, Robert A, How Children Learn to Write: Perspectives on Children's Writing for Educators and Parents.

 Photo by Stuart Miles at