Raising a Reader, Naturally
                     Through Sensitivity, Guidance and Grace
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Chapter Eleven
       Early and Creative Writing
Accomplished Little "Writers"
On the way to becoming successful readers, little partners soon begin to think of
themselves as accomplished readers and writers, often insisting on “reading it myself,”
or wanting to “write it my own way.”
And indeed they become accomplished writers as they express their own (original) ideas by “reading” pretend stories gleaned from their own “writing.”
“Writing?” Yes, even early scribbles and simple, crude drawings qualify as writing. And watch as these scribbles soon become mostly well-formed letters, random strings of letters, and before long, invented spelling -- it all leads to the future mastery of the entire writing process. Well, we’re talking years here.
But with appreciative senior partners, every little partner’s early writing attempts become important milestones as a little partner learns to read and write “all by myself.”
In fact, reading and writing are mutually dependent skills. Early writing attempts both reflect and reinforce a child’s emerging letter and word knowledge, i.e. early reading skills.
These early writing attempts provide evidence that a little partner is beginning to draw from his or her own knowledge (in part gained from reading books with a senior partner), and that this new “little writer” is beginning to express some original ideas. In fact, the entire process of writing requires every writer, big or little, to generate new ideas -- drawing, of course, from what the writer already knows.
This is exactly what the business of raising a literate child is all about. Furthermore, developing early writing skills reinforces what a child already knows about letters, words and sentences, contributing to and advancing the reading process.
Motor Skills
Keep in mind that a young child’s effort to form letters on a page requires not only knowledge and experience with the written letter/word, but also requires a certain proficiency with motor skills. Little hands and fingers still need time to develop the appropriate muscles and coordination necessary to print recognizable letters.
And just as with all learning (brain activity), learning to write letters/words calls for time and patience. So, senior partner, be satisfied with crayon scribbles (sometimes representing entire stories), or crudely formed letters or invented spelling. While it might be messy, remember it is the beginning of literacy. There is much more to come.
Beginning Writing
Learning to write, like learning to read, should always be a shared, yet personal experience.
As a senior partner you have already pointed out letters in alphabet books. You sang the alphabet song. You have printed, with a little assistance from the child sitting on your lap, his or her name on notes or tags.
Together you have made up a game using alphabet blocks. Together you have arranged alphabet magnets on the refrigerator door.  You, senior partner have been laying the foundation for your little partner to learn the alphabet, its letters and sounds.
The next step, however, requires focusing on writing the letters themselves, their purpose in forming words, and most importantly, their role in conveying ideas and information to others.
But first there are scribbles. Very early scribbles usually amount to little more than rubbing a crayon on paper. But before long, see how these rubbings have a purpose, as when a little partner offers to “read” back his or her scribbles. Now, a little partner is getting the idea: now there is meaning in the “written” word. This is a big leap in a child’s ability to communicate his or her ideas in writing.
While a young child sees early writing attempts as play, the role of a senior partner is to eventually further this effort in a focused, but enjoyable way. It will be pleasant work, however, when together you create grocery lists, birthday party invitations, a little partner’s dictated stories, letters and emails to friends and relatives and even shared journals or homemade books with original drawings.
As a little partner’s writing attempts begin to lead to actual letters, it is best to focus first on upper case letters -- they are much easier for little ones to remember and small hands to print -- when writing name tags or tagging family possessions, or even items for family pets.
With plenty of “writing” materials readily available, it will be easy to encourage a little partner’s writing efforts.  Be sure to exhibit each masterpiece in a well-lighted place.
Writing Conventions
When all the letters are learned and one is close to reading on one’s own, young writers need to understand how print works. English convention requires print to read from left to right and from top to bottom.
When children first begin to write their letters/words they often print letters all over the page. This often occurs when they first attempt to print their own name. This is fine -- they get the idea that writing has meaning for them regardless of where the letters land on the page.
To a child, the arrangement of letters and words on a page can all seem haphazard. After all the child is not yet a reader. This is another reason knowledgeable senior partners work to get ahead of the game by sliding their finger under a significant number of words and sentences as they read to their little partner.
As a little writer progresses and the need arises, a wise senior partner can gently point out the need to print all the letters in a row and how to leave spaces between words. Later, a senior partner can gently provide some guidance in basic punctuation. However, when an early writer wants to “write it my way,” be sure to honor that. With patience, the rest will come later.
Wise senior partners encourage invented spelling. (The spelling police do not arrest -- or call out -- little partners learning to write their important documents.)
Where once incorrect spelling earned bad marks from teachers and parents, today we recognize that invented spelling is the best example of a child applying what he or she has already learned about letters and their sounds. Now it is all beginning to make sense.
As little partners progress in their writing efforts, and if it becomes difficult for them to read back what they have written, you can assist a little writer with the proper spelling. A well-educated little partner may even insist upon your help to “write it the right way.”
A creative child, however, may want to leave it alone -- and wonder if it is even possible to educate a senior partner. In the meantime, it is wise to think of invented spelling as a breakthrough -- correct spelling will come later. Or when spell-check takes over.
While it all takes time -- yes, years -- it is helpful to establish some guidelines for emerging writers.
  •  A child needs to learn that writing has a variety of purposes. Here’s where writing notes, name tags, magazine, newspaper or internet articles written for children, advertising logos, simple directions, and of course, storybooks, poems and song lyrics all make their contribution.
  •  A child needs to have an appreciative audience when they “read” their own stories, or “read back” what they have written.
  •  A child ultimately needs to learn the conventions of written English, such as, left to right; top to bottom; and conventional punctuation.
  •   A child needs to learn that each letter has a name and a sound.