3 Ways that Writing Can Help Kids Grow. Do you know what they are? When we think of writing and kids, we usually connect the process to academics. After all, writing is something that is taught and practiced in school, right? While this is true, there are so many benefits to writing outside of the classroom, especially when you consider whole child development. Whether you want to increase your child’s motor skills, work on emotional regulation, or help them get their creative juices flowing, handing them a pen and paper can do the trick.
The Research on Writing
Since the dawn of time, people have been keeping written records. From little notches in cave walls to secret codes on papyrus scrolls to the blank verse of Shakespeare, the written word has always played an integral part in communicating our thoughts and feelings. But as technology has expanded, children (and adults) are writing less and less. Instead of writing letters and mailing them, we send texts. Instead of handwriting recipes or instructions, we send them in a voice message. Although these changes have some perks in that they help us be more efficient and share knowledge more quickly, the lack of necessity produces a lack of skill. Scientific studies have shown this to be problematic. According to three educational psychology professors out of Norway, there is a clear difference in underlying electrical brain activity between typewriting and writing things out by hand. In other words, typing an essay doesn’t get your brain waves moving the same way writing one out on paper would. They also found that “areas of the brain correlated with working memory and encoding new information were more active during handwriting.” Grabbing a pen and paper instead of typing out notes literally helps children learn. But what else can writing do? Here are some research-based findings:
- Writing helps kids increase their motor and mind skills
- Writing helps kids increase their imagination and creativity
- Writing (journaling) can help kids with emotional regulation
Below you’ll find more info about each of these perks and how you can get your child excited about writing and see it as a fun activity instead of a boring punishment.
Writing for Motor and Mind
When I took my first classroom position teaching writing to elementary students, I was surprised by two things: how inexperienced they were at writing and how much they hated it. Most of my fifth graders couldn’t write a full paragraph with complete sentences and punctuation. Thankfully, I was able to find ways to make learning and practicing to write fun because it really is one of the most important activities. Why? When you write, all parts of your brain are actively engaged. Writing a letter to someone is for the brain what a cardio workout is for the heart. Another perk–it helps improve memory. Writing also helps us develop the motor skills needed for handwriting success. These include:
- Gross motor skills (postural control and shoulder stability)
- Fine motor skills (finger and hand control)
- Pre-writing skills (tracing lines, drawing shapes)
- Visual skills (understanding what we see)
- Language skills
Mind and Motor Strategies
Not sure where to begin? Here are some strategies to increase those early skills needed for forever writing for younger kids:
- Swing, slide, and crawl
- Play with construction toys
- Write on windows with fingers
- Practice holding a pencil correctly
- Doodle and draw shapes and figures
- Use scissors to cut out these figures
- Write the alphabet
For older kids:
- Finish the story–You introduce a plot and have them fill in the rest
- Create the grocery shopping list
- Create new words using existing letters and define them
- Write a gratitude letter to a friend or family member
Writing for Imagination and Creativity
One thing to keep in mind is that while the word ‘creative’ is associated with artsy things, your child doesn’t have to be handy with a paint brush to be creative. Creativity is simply the ability to produce original ideas and thoughts. a building block for many other skills like the ability to think analytically, problem-solving, and stellar communication.
When it comes to writing, creativity can look like this:
- Respond to a writing prompt such as “Write a story about your evil twin” or “A kid gets to be invisible for one day. What happens?”
- Designing a menu for a pretend restaurant
- Creating a poem or tongue-twister
- Writing a short story
- Critiquing a piece of art
- Creating a scavenger hunt
- Rewriting a story from a different perspective (For example, telling Goldilocks and the Three Bears from a bear’s point of view)
Writing for Emotional Regulation
Is your child struggling with emotions or having difficulty choosing coping strategies to regulate their bodies? Emotional regulation is a skill that can be taught and one of the best ways to do so is through writing during the ‘reasoning’ phase of the process. Here’s one of my favorite activities: Write out six feelings/emotions on a piece of paper (i.e., frustrated, nervous, excited, angry, sad, etc.) Then write out an equal number of characters (i.e., a king, a lion) and settings (i.e., a castle, a jungle.) Number each of these 1-6, and using a single die, have your child role to pick an emotion, character, and setting. After each has been randomly selected, they should write a short story about the situation. This can help them deal with heavy emotions in a healthy way. Other writing activities for emotional regulation:
- Create a comic book page with captions related to a ‘sticky’ emotional situation
- Draw pictures of emotions beside the names that match them
- Respond to one of these simple writing prompts
- What emotion are you feeling?
- What emotion are you trying to hide right now?
- What makes you feel safe?
- What makes you feel sad?
- Tell me about your perfect day, start to finish.
- What are you the most afraid of?
- Nave five things you are grateful for.
- When do you feel most proud of yourself?
- What makes you feel really angry?
- What does the word love mean to you?
The Bottom Line
Helping your child boost their writing skills is one of the best things you can do for their future. If writing is a struggle, this process can be supported through occupational therapy. A licensed occupational therapist can help you come up with a plan for putting these things into place. If you’d like to speak to someone, reach out today
Dr. Mary Elizabeth Dean is an Author, Teacher, and Entrepreneur. She has degrees in science, a master’s degree in business administration, and a doctorate in education.