Writing in Middle Childhood (page 2)
The skill of writing develops in a very similar way to reading and within the same developmental time frame. Young children (ages 2 and 3) in the early phases of the preoperational stage of cognitive development begin to recognize and use a letter to represent a sound, a string of sounds to represent words, and words to represent people, objects, and ideas. They begin to write—as well as their fine motor skills will allow—somewhere between the ages of 3 and 5. Parents and preschool staff should not be concerned with teaching children how to write but rather with providing young children many opportunities to draw, to write, and to use writing implements.
With time, practice, encouragement, and opportunity, children in the early elementary school grades (ages 5 to 7) are able to hold the writing implements more correctly, which gives them better control over the mechanics of writing. They tend to write more often and construct longer pieces of written work. At this developmental level, the act of writing takes up so much attentional capacity that misspelled words, no spacing or punctuation, and poor cohesion of thought often accompany early writing efforts. Because these technical writing errors are understandable from a developmental perspective, avoid criticism and instead focus on providing support and encouragement for the act of writing itself as an attempt at a new form of communication in early childhood. Greater attention to technical errors is more appropriate for children in middle childhood (Puckett & Black, 2001).
During the middle childhood years, children gain the capacity to pay more attention to what they are writing and how they are writing, so that technical features such as spelling, spacing, punctuation, and coherence improve. Greater attentional capacity also allows them to focus a piece of writing, maintain a constant point of view, and carry a story through to the middle and the end. Constructing a complete and coherent story makes cognitive demands on long-term memory and sequencing abilities, which children in middle childhood are better able to meet. Their more complex and expansive knowledge base enables them to generate more ideas from which to write and access larger vocabularies. In addition, greater metacognitive skills encourage constant monitoring of what is written, as exemplified by more rereading and editing.
As children progress toward the concrete operational stage of thought, they begin to decentrate (i.e., take multiple dimensions into account) and are able to produce written work in both print and cursive letters (around ages 6 and 7). As concrete operational thinkers, children understand and appreciate other perspectives (i.e., become less egocentric) and are able to modify their writing for particular audiences. They can also take multiple perspectives into consideration. Writing assignments that encourage them to compare and contrast several viewpoints, critique a single perspective, or provide an alternative viewpoint are appropriate for this age group. The multiple topics about which children write also reflect a move away from stories written about themselves (e.g., egocentrism) or events that have occurred (i.e., concrete experiences) to more abstract or imaginary stories (e.g., formal operational thought).
During middle childhood some children begin to show preferences for writing compared to other academic skills as well as specific strengths in certain genres, such as poetry or science fiction. In addition, children in this age group begin to recognize and appreciate writing as a process. Varied writing opportunities that may encourage and support writing in middle childhood include autobiographies, fortunes, songs, bumper stickers, scripts, cereal boxes, epithets, and travel brochures (for a more extensive list see Wormeli, 2001, p. 120).
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