Writing composition doesn’t have to wait on the development of writing mechanics. The skills of handwriting, spelling, punctuation and formatting are important–but they take time to acquire. In the meantime, our family has enjoyed a tradition instigated by Honeybee: evening journal dictations.
Each of our children has a journal. We have begun a tradition of regular evening journal writing from the children’s dictation. It’s fun to hear what they choose to record in their journals. Honeybee often tells about things she is anticipating: a birthday coming up, a trip to visit someone, the field trip we have planned for next week. When she reports on past events I am always intrigued to learn what stood out to her. Last week we attended a youth presentation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and in her journal that night Honeybee told all about the costumes and the set design. She is vary aware of visual elements such as color and texture. Jumping Spider rarely ranges beyond the basic events of the day, and likes to narrate what is happening around him at the moment. My three-year-old (Ladybug) give me some of the most interesting narrations–interesting because of the light they shed on her perception of time. Almost every sentence starts with “Today”–a designation that can be followed by a description of what is happening right now, something that happened earlier, or something that happened two weeks ago.
I have found that it is important to schedule journal writing well before bed time (right after dinner is good) because it takes some time. We don’t write in every child’s journal every night. We try to write when it is important to them–for Honeybee, that is every day; for the others, it is when there is something exciting to write about or when they are not involved in something more urgent (like playing with kittens). All of them enjoy having their own words recorded in a book belonging to them. I have thought that one way to incorporate this activity when there are several young children and limited time would be to have a family journal–and rotate who gets to write or dictate day by day. Additional ways to expand the activity would be to prompt children to tell you about a book they have read (or you have read to them), the dinner they helped you cook, the science activity you did, or anything else you would like them to think and “write” about. If your children like to draw they could draw pictures to accompany their dictations. I strongly suspect that children who are accustomed to such dictations (or narrations) will have little difficulty with the substance of writing once the mechanics are learned.