Encouraging preschoolers to practice their handwriting skills should take place before children ever step foot into a classroom, new evidence suggests.
A recent study, published in Early Childhood Research Quarterly, finds that early handwriting plays a pivotal role in the development of children’s language, literacy, and fine motor skills. Although children are flooded with digital words on computer screens and tablets, writing practice enriches children’s phonological awareness in a way that typing electronically does not.
Putting a pen to paper helps children connect sounds to corresponding letters as they write. Parents and educators can have children “sound out” a word as they trace the letters on the paper. The researchers refer to this active process of writing as “grapho-phenomic mediation.” This method largely contradicts the traditional teaching model where teachers instruct children on which letters to write.
In this study, the researchers examine how the support of adults can impact children’s writing and development, particularly through the grapho-phenomic mediation method.
The researchers observed 135 preschool children and their parents during a writing activity, a semi-structured invitation for a birthday party. The researchers analyzed the degree to which the parents assisted children in writing the invitation, as well as the children’s phonological awareness, alphabet knowledge, word decoding, and fine motor skills.
The findings showed that grapho-phonemic help provided the most positive results in children’s decoding and fine motor skills. Parents acted as guides while their children wrote out the party invitations. Many of the parents encouraged their children to write freely while simultaneously ensuring that children wrote clearly and precisely.
For example, parents can clarify children’s intended meaning behind a particular sentence by asking, “What did you mean to write here?” This type of question helps develop children’s literacy skills as it causes children to stop and think about what they are trying to say to their audience.
Providing preschool children with writing support at home is crucial to their academic learning. However, the writing practice does not have to be very complicated or time consuming. In fact, parents can provide children with writing activities that may take no more than fifteen minutes to complete (and it doesn’t have to feel like homework to the children).
For example, children can practice writing birthday cards to friends, thank-you cards to relatives, or even copy cooking recipes with the support of parents. Helping children connect the movement of writing to phonetic transcription will encourage early development.
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