Writing is a complex activity that requires language and fine motor skills, imagination, translating sounds into symbols and knowing how to leave spaces between words. Whether writing is defined as printing and cursive or organizing a work of fiction, it's a tall task for a small kindergartner. But the process can be tackled successfully in a creative classroom and a supportive home.
Writing readiness is about much more than holding a pencil. Kindergartners should know that words are read -- and written -- from left to right and from top to bottom on a page. They need practice identifying the sounds that go with letters, with describing things aloud in their own words and with telling simple stories. Drawing exercises help to refine motor skills, as does practice copying the alphabet on lined paper -- wide lines for capital letters and narrower lines for lowercase. Stringing three letters together to make a word, like cat, leads to finding words that rhyme with cat and sounding out how to spell them before writing them down. The child whose pencil grip isn't quite there can easily use a fat, easy-grip pencil, and writing words on a chalkboard or using markers on a whiteboard are alternative ways to tell stories and develop muscle memory.
Most children are ready for formal handwriting instruction by the second half of kindergarten, according to a study published in the "Journal of Early Childhood Research & Practice." Signs of readiness to respond to handwriting lessons include consistent use of the dominant hand and the ability to cross the midline of the torso with it, hand-eye coordination, an ability to copy shapes, body posture and pencil grip, and cognitive skills like attention, memory, language acquisition and simple reasoning ability. Games and family activities can boost the skills taught in school. Hands-on cooking from a recipe can begin with "reading" the ingredients together, making a shopping list, cooking the food, talking over each step and enjoying a finished product. Directional games like Simon Says help teach spatial concepts -- useful for understanding "top of the page" or "between the lines."
Telling stories helps to inspire the tough job of making neat marks on paper. People write to communicate, and creative writing has a place in kindergarten instruction. Five- and 6-year-olds can begin to work with simple sentences and paragraphs to write stories or "books." A program developed by a University of Connecticut educator immerses kindergartners, first- and second-graders in a daily writers' workshop that turns them into focused, enthusiastic writers. For 15 minutes the kids get a short lesson on a writing-related topic to help them improve. Then they write for 15 minutes and spend the last 15 minutes of the workshop sharing their work and discussing it. Teachers participate and new, big words are encouraged -- correct spelling inevitably follows. Even the youngest writers benefit from the creative spark, personal validation, daily skill-building and rich variety of experiences and ideas they share.
The Digital Child
Kindergarten keyboard hunt and peck resembles basic writing skills. In one study at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, a child's story concept and comfort with symbols was advanced enough that she could type a row of dollar signs and "read" her story, left to right on the screen, to say, "Dollars, dollars, lots of dollars!" although she never typed the words. One early childhood keyboard is designed to reinforce alphabet learning and is small enough to accommodate the "pinkie reach" of little hands. But pencils and paper still trump technology in some important respects. According to a University of Indiana study, while computers can play a part in kindergarten writing, forming letters by hand builds more neural pathways in the areas of the brain that govern reading skills.