Introducing Your Child to the Arts: Words to Stories
"One must be drenched in words, literally soaked in them, to have the
right ones form themselves into the proper pattern
at the right moment."
- Hart Crane, poet
All young children love to play with words. They love to make jokes and puns, sing silly songs, make up rhymes, invent names, and tell stories. This same joyful and creative spirit can help children develop as readers and writers. Learning to write can be as natural for a child as learning to sing, run, and play games. It begins even before a child has the ability to represent ideas with standard symbols of writing. In the initial stages of writing awareness, young children understand that written symbols represent ideas and are a means of communication. It is common that first attempts at writing are frequently categorized as scribbles with little or no meaning. It is at this early stage, however, that adults can nurture a young child’s interest in the written word, inspiring a deep and fulfilling relationship with this creative endeavor that will last a lifetime.
A child who becomes a confident and creative writer will reap the benefits in countless ways. In school, children who write well find that they excel in almost every subject. Becoming a better writer means becoming a better reader; it gives children the skills to evaluate and appreciate the work of others. In addition, a child who likes to write is a child who usually has something important to say. As they get older, children find that learning to express themselves on the page, and to revise and refine this expression, are talents valued in many endeavors. Becoming confident writers makes it possible for children to grow into active, critical participants in our culture and society.
Engaging Children in Reading and Writing
With a little support, children can move from the crude play of early childhood to a full engagement with writing. From your children’s earliest days, you should read them stories, demonstrate that reading and writing are meaningful aspects of your own life, and encourage your children to explore the wonders of the written word.
Telling a story can take a variety of forms. Preschoolers and kindergarteners can be active in the process. They love to create storylines and develop characters or ideas. Stories take on new meaning when children dictate their tales to older siblings, teachers, and parents. Seeing their words in print has a powerful impact. An active approach to story writing also provides the opportunity to add illustrations, another form of early representation.
Children learn the nuances of narrative simply by listening to stories. Before children learn actual words, they grasp the tone and intonation proper to different stories and imitate that speech pattern in babbling or nonsense syllables. Preschoolers acquire a sense of story sequence, recognizing the importance of beginning a tale with the familiar words of “once upon a time” and bringing closure to a narrative with the words “the end.”
Reading and listening to stories make writing easier. Children develop a natural understanding of how sentences, ideas, and narratives work, and have an easier time later when these elements are taught to them in school. Reading also can make your child more eager to write. Just as young sports fans long to play the games they watch, children who love reading want to create their own stories and poems.
Reprinted with the permission of the National Endowment for the Arts.
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