Writing demands a lot more effort and accuracy than reading. It is therefore very common to see children who like (or even LOVE) to read, but avoids writing. And that is the case in the school language and the home language. The danger with the home language is that avoidance means lack of practice, which often translates as stagnating writing skills. And if the school language has the advantage of being NECESSARY to function in society, the home language is not. It is therefore important to empower our children, and make them feel positive about writing in their home language (as opposed to frustrated).
In this blog post, I will detail three aspects to focus on, to help your child become more confident while writing in their home language. You will find concrete examples of activities to illustrate how you can help your child build up their confidence while having fun.
Get them more at ease writing.
The first reason why our children are not confident writing is that they are not certain about the spelling of words. Reading regularly does help to familiarise a child with the way words are spelt (Check this video about five things you can implement to motivate your child to read and write in their home languages, and this blog post about how to establish a reading routine)
Words need to be written to be learnt in details, because just looking at the word will only allow us to remember the most striking details. (Find in this blog post activities you can do to help your child pay attention to specific details).
Writing a word by copying it helps pay attention to every detail. However, it has to be mentioned that “mindless copying” does not work as well. Being involved and focused increases our attention and therefore ensures the spelling of the word (or each stroke of a character) is remembered more accurately.
The activity #45 Create your own menu from The Parents’ Guide to Raising Multi-literate Children is a good example of how you can get your child to copy with a motivating purpose. In this activity, your child chooses what they want to eat and drink by giving you their meal order (see the two templates below). Your child is empowered by the feeling of having an impact on the outside world through writing. They can choose to eat what THEY like (provided that it is one of the options) and maybe more importantly, to NOT eat what they don’t like, but that they generally have to eat.
The images below are two templates you can find in the English Resources Pack (It is available in multiple languages by clicking here. There are also Free Mini Resources Packs for each language)
The first template is for emergent writers, and the second one for those that are a step ahead and are more confident writing.
You can see that this activity is mainly based on recognition and copying. This first step gives your child the safety net of copying and ensures that they learn to write accurately. It is giving them the opportunity to transmit in writing what they want.
When your child feels the pressure of getting things right, the scaffolding you can provide them removes that fear and gets them writing. The repetition of this activity will help them become more familiar, and consequently more confident.
A variation of this scaffolding is the one you can observe at the end of this previous post. Your child only needs to pick one word from each column to write a sentence (the clues for a treasure hunt that THEY are organising). Writing all these clues independently will certainly give your child a sense of empowerment: They can write (almost) on their own!
Empowering our children with the knowledge.
In school, when our children learn how to write, they learn spelling rules, grammar rules, they learn about prefixes; suffixes, families of words, how to conjugate verbs etc. In our home language, it is either down to us or a supplementary school to teach them these rules.
Dictations are an excellent way to summarise and go over all this knowledge. Check this previous post where I explain how to make dictations more fun and less "punitive". If you do dictations with your child, a good way to model proofreading is by modelling it, and by focusing on the main mistakes. It is also important to differentiate the mistakes that your child could correct, and those they could not.
To help your child proofread, you could do it with the 5 clues – proofreading activity. This activity takes place after the dictation is done. It consists in you giving your child 5 reminders / questions / clues to guide them with their proofreading. These reminders should be of rules your child has learnt.
E.g.: “Do you remember when you need a capital letter?”
“Tell me different ways to write the sound [ɛ].” “Yes, sometimes you write it like in ‘bear’, and sometimes like in ‘hair’ ".
These reminders lead your child through the thinking process, and it consolidates their knowledge. Also, emotionally, finding their own mistakes feels more empowering than correcting a mistake that someone pointed out to us.
The mistakes that remain are great learning opportunities that your child will gladly take as they were “not supposed to know anyway”.
By repeating the process, your child will be able to remember these reminders you give them WHILE writing. They will therefore write more accurately.
Make them aware of their progress
Frequent practice will lead to improvement. However, it will take time to be really noticeable. It is therefore important to remind our children of their progress.
It is one thing to be told by someone that we have improved. It is another to realise ourselves that we have indeed improved. A powerful way help your child realise it is to have a “time capsule”. The idea here, is simply to keep a written piece of writing that is representative of your child’s current level. Lock it in a place until a predetermined date. It would need to be at least a few months in the future so that progress is noticeable. On the date the time capsule is supposed to be opened, let your child rediscover what they wrote, and help them appreciate their progress by verbalising them.
A child's home language is generally not indispensable. Reading does provide access to more books, and a child rapidly sense the benefit of learning to read proficiently in their language. On the other hand, being able to write does not necessarily appear as a skill that has to be mastered. And the complexity of it can be discouraging.
Especially with our home languages, it is important to build their confidence.
Copying is a way to familiarise our children with the difficulties of our languages in a "safe environment". For best impact, the writing activity needs to be purposeful i.e.: our children need to see the benefit of it.
Becoming a proficient writer does not happen over night. It is therefore important to not only tell our children that they are improving. From time to time, they need to see with their own eyes as well!