Despite the fact that first statistics from the Early Years Foundation Stage show that by the age of five, boys are lagging behind girls in terms of levels of achievement and enjoyment in writing, there are, as the new DCSF guidance for childminders and nurseries, Gateway to Writing emphasises, lots of imaginative ways in which young children, both boys and girls, can be inspired to ‘make their mark’. Here are some ideas I’ve developed over many years as an early years teacher.
Children can be encouraged to ‘have a go’ at writing in their own way if, of course, they see adult role models. Staff could occasionally bring in a birthday card for a relative, and let children see them writing it, and have a chat about it. Staff could also jot down a shopping list, or a dental appointment in their diary, all of which could spark child-initiated role play. Whenever you have a visit from a community or emergency service worker, ask them to talk about how they use writing as part of their work. (See also last paragraph).
As the Gateway to Writing Guidance recommends, make drawing and writing resources freely available in all areas and not just in the writing area, so that children come to see drawing and writing as a natural part of whatever they are doing. A simple way to do this is to have portable mark-making boxes in every area, including the book area, near the carpet area and investigation area. You can use shoeboxes containing plain paper on clipboard sheets, with a pencil attached on a string, for example, for children’s notes to characters in books, drawings of minibeasts, and children’s own notices, signs, labels, prices and, of course, important messages in role play, especially outside! (See also last paragraph). An indoor box could also contain scissors and sellotape on a dispenser and paper for children to draw extra people, buildings and items to add to their models (such as a flag for a Duplo boat). The more children draw, the easier they will find writing. Print off photos of children’s faces (about 6 cms high), and encourage children to draw the rest of their body, cut round the picture, and add to their small world scenes with sellotape – children love this!
Use the backs of unwanted rolls of wallpaper, for encouraging children to draw and write on a large scale. Outside , sellotape onto a board on the grass, and use garden kneeling mats for children to lie on , on their tummies, as they draw, for example, motorways, a fire engine with ‘a ladder up to the sky’, treasure maps, ‘gynormous monsters’, or a huge space ship. Encourage children, too, to arrange small world people and items on top of the wallpaper, and to draw additional details, such as waves around a pirate ship, jungle foliage for wild animals, ‘stepping stones for explorers to walk on over crocodile rivers’ etc.
Clear plastic punched pockets are ideal for encouraging young children to draw and write in their own way. Children love the smooth sensation of using washable felt-tipped pens on the plastic. Marks can be instantly wiped away with a slightly damp Jay-cloth. Many children enjoy this, because it means ‘mistakes’ can be easily rectified and, of course, it’s paper-saving! Use wallets on clipboards with a pen tied on, instead of a pencil.
The Gateway to Writing guidance emphasises role play, especially outside, as a key strategy in motivating young children, particularly boys, to write, and the crucial importance of the practictioner ‘in finding ways of engaging and collaborating with children in writing, of creating interesting and purposeful opportunities to write, both indoors and outdoors’. Children’s minds thrive on detail imaginatively presented in context. To encourage them to write in their role-play, they must see exactly how grown-ups write in their work – who they are, where they are, what they are writing and why they are writing! That’s why the new Young Writers’ Role Play Pack has been devised – specifically for children to see engaging role models writing, and to inspire children to visualise themselves as writers in their role play. The pack includes award-winning films uniquely featuring adults writing as part of their work, and children emulating them in role play. There are also lots of exciting related literacy props – including bespoke outfits and role play sheets to encourage writing through role play. Great fun! Check out the pack at www.childseyemedia.com