Helping your child develop strong writing skills is essential for their overall educational success in elementary school and beyond. However, many children face common challenges when it comes to developing these skills, including poor grammar, lack of structure, and a struggling vocabulary. In this article, we will discuss the primary hurdles to conquer and how you can best support your child’s writing skills at the elementary school level.
Many children at elementary school level struggle with writing
It is quite common for children to struggle with writing or have a lack of confidence in their writing abilities. Annual Literacy Survey conducted by National Literacy Trust in UK in 2021 found that only 1 in 3 children between ages 8 and 18 said they enjoy writing and only 1 in 7 children write something daily in their free time.
Many children don’t like or are afraid of writing for several reasons, some of which could be psychological, educational or developmental. One significant contributing factor is anxiety, which may arise due to the fear of judgment, ridicule or inadequacy. Children may worry that their writing will not be good enough, leading to a reluctance to try. Furthermore, they may have experienced harsh criticism in the past, either from teachers or peers, which left a lasting, negative impact on their self-esteem and confidence in their writing abilities. On the other hand, positive feedback can be a strong motivator for children to write. Annual Literacy Survey found that 3 in 5 children write something on social media platform at least once every month.
In some instances, educational and developmental factors play crucial roles in shaping children’s feelings towards writing. For example, a lack of proper writing instruction or exposure to engaging, age-appropriate written materials can make children feel disconnected from this vital skill. Writing development often relies on the ability to read, and children who struggle with reading may also struggle with writing. Berninger and Abbott demonstrated that language development relies on the growth of an interconnected set of abilities, including listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Additionally, some children may face cognitive or learning difficulties, such as dyslexia or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which can present significant challenges to developing writing skills.
Writing can be a daunting task for children as it requires multiple cognitive processes occurring simultaneously. Writing requires not only the ability to recall and organize thoughts but also the fine motor skills to physically form letters and words. As young children develop these skills, writing can prove to be a slow, labor-intensive process, which may further increase their reluctance to engage in it.
The pressure to conform to society’s expectations and rules also contributes to children’s aversion to writing. By nature, children are creative and imaginative. 1 in 2 children who participated in the Annual Literacy Survey said they write to express their creativity. But writing often demands them to adhere to standard grammar, spelling and punctuation. This requirement can restrain their creative impulses, making the writing process more challenging and less appealing. Additionally, societal factors, such as the increasing importance placed upon standardized testing, may inadvertently communicate to children that flawless writing is more important than creativity and self-expression.
The main difficulties children face in writing
Children encounter various challenges as they learn to write, making it essential to understand these obstacles to provide the most effective support. Here are some of the primary difficulties faced by elementary school children:
- Poor handwriting and fine motor skills: Fine motor skills involve the coordination of small muscle movements, particularly in the hands and fingers, which are essential for gripping a pencil and forming legible letters. Inadequate fine motor skills can result in messy and illegible writing, hindering the child’s ability to effectively communicate their ideas on paper and potentially impacting their overall academic performance.
- Limited vocabulary and language understanding: A child’s ability to articulate thoughts and convey concepts and ideas effectively through writing is dependent on their command over language and vocabulary. However, at a young age, their vocabulary is often still developing, which eventually leads to the inability to express intricate ideas or communicate their narrative effectively.
- Difficulty with sentence structure and grammar: At a young age, children may struggle to arrange words in a comprehensible manner or to adhere to the rules of syntax and punctuation. This challenge can make it difficult for children to effectively express themselves in writing, as their ideas might not be clearly communicated or organized. As a result, their ability to convey the intended meaning becomes muddled, deterring their overall writing development.
- Lack of organization and logical flow of ideas: This difficulty arises as they find it challenging to arrange their thoughts in a coherent manner, resulting in a haphazard structure that impedes the clarity and effectiveness of their written work. Consequently, readers might find it hard to follow the child’s argument or understand the intended message, leading to confusion and misinterpretation.
- Frustration or lack of confidence in their abilities: These emotions may stem from various factors, such as limited vocabulary, difficulties in organizing their thoughts, fear of making mistakes, or receiving negative feedback on their previous work. This mental barrier can hinder their progress in developing writing skills, preventing them from fully expressing their ideas and creativity, and ultimately impacting their overall learning experience.
By understanding these common difficulties, you can begin to develop strategies and techniques to help your child improve their writing skills.
How to Overcome These Challenges and Support Your Child’s Writing Skills
Encourage Fine Motor Skills Development
Improving your child’s handwriting and fine motor skills will set the foundation for successful writing. Encourage activities that develop these skills, such as coloring, drawing, cutting, and crafting. These activities not only help with muscle strength and dexterity but also make writing tasks more enjoyable for your child. Additionally, ensure your child is holding their pencil correctly and provide them with an appropriately sized writing instrument.
Give Informal Writing Tasks to Your Child At Home
Encouraging a child to write at home can be made incredibly enjoyable through activities such as creating a Happy Birthday card for a loved one, designing a personalized sign for their bedroom door, or writing a wish list to Santa Clause. These informal tasks not only promote creativity but also make writing fun and meaningful. By integrating writing into daily life, children will have the opportunity to practice their skills in a supportive, low-pressure environment.
Expand Vocabulary and Language Understanding
To enhance your child’s writing, focus on enriching their vocabulary and language comprehension. Reading to your child, discussing new words, playing word games, and providing engaging reading materials can all help expand their vocabulary. Reading ability is linked to writing ability. So, promote interest in reading in your child. Exploring new topics and discussing them with your child encourages curiosity and understanding of the intricacies of language.
Teach Sentence Structure and Grammar
Help your child grasp the mechanics of writing by teaching sentence structure and grammar. Start with simple rules like capitalization, punctuation, and basic sentence construction before moving onto more complex grammar concepts. Practice makes perfect, so provide plenty of opportunities for your child to practice their newly acquired skills through writing exercises and gentle feedback. You can also let your child use online grammar correction tools such as Grammarly that can provide instant grammar feedback to your child.
Develop Organizational Skills and Logical Flow of Ideas
Teach your child how to organize their ideas in a logical and coherent manner. Provide your child with a framework to help them structure their writing, such as outlining or utilizing graphic organizers. Encourage your child to think about connecting their thoughts logically, so their writing flows smoothly from one idea to the next. Let them create a brief outline of what they want to write before writing an essay or other writing assignments. As they become more comfortable with organizing their ideas, their writing will naturally become more fluid and easier to understand.
Try Free Writing
One thing you can try with your child is free writing. Annual Literacy Survey found that many children feel that writing can make them feel better, and many children write to express their creative thoughts. Free writing is a writing technique in which a person writes continuously for a set period without worrying about grammatical errors, spelling, or the quality of the content. This approach allows them to focus on the content and process of writing, helping them build their writing skills and self-confidence. By practicing free writing, a child can gradually become more comfortable with writing and may eventually find it easier to work on more structured writing assignments. Most importantly, it’s a great way to get them started in writing if they frequently experience “writer’s block”.
If your child needs to complete a writing assignment such as an essay, try letting your child simply put down his or her thoughts onto paper first via free writing. Then, let him or her create an outline and re-write their thoughts in more formal manner. Remember that your child still needs feedback to ensure his or her overall writing skills continue to develop.
Boost Confidence and Reduce Frustration
Your child’s self-confidence is crucial when it comes to conquering writing challenges. Praise their efforts and progress, focusing on the positive aspects of their work. Encourage your child to view mistakes as learning opportunities and remind them that everyone struggles when learning a new skill. If your child becomes frustrated, suggest taking a break and returning to the task with a fresh perspective. Remember to be patient and provide support as your child develops their writing abilities.
Supporting your child’s writing skills at the elementary level will help them overcome common difficulties and develop strong writing abilities that serve them well in their education and beyond. By understanding the challenges they face and actively addressing these obstacles, you can significantly impact your child’s writing prowess. Remember to be patient and supportive as your child grows into a confident and skilled writer. By actively engaging in their learning process with practical activities and encouragement, you can help unlock your child’s true writing potential.
Richard Zhang, M.Ed., is an educator and a software developer with a Masters degree in education from University of Toronto and an immense passion for education and learning. Until the pandemic, Richard owned an award-winning learning centre in Toronto. For 15 years, he has taught and mentored hundreds of elementary, middle school, and high school students succeed in academics. He is also an app developer specializing in web and mobile application in educational and business sectors.