Get the "write" start

Prepare your toddler for writing with these 7 fun activities!

Learning Stages


By Candace Lindemann

Children's Author & Education Consultant

Candace Lindemann is a published children’s writer and educational consultant. She holds a B.A. from Yale University and an M.Ed. from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. You can also find Candace blogging at http://NaturallyEducational.com. While Candace’s degrees prepared her for a career in education, she’s found that the best preparation for parenting is on-the-job training.

New studies suggest that writing improves students' reading fluency and comprehension—that's probably obvious to every teacher who ever encouraged, begged or cajoled her students into taking notes. The physical act of writing creates a memory, an experience that forms the base onto which new knowledge sticks.

Research also shows that few students are graduating high school with proficient writing skills.

So, let's get your toddler writing! No, I'm not talking about some crazy, snake-oil program that promises to have your two-year-old composing Shakespeare-worthy sonnets. While most toddlers are not ready to "write," just like with "pre-reading," there are plenty of "pre-writing" skills that get your child ready in a fun way!

  1. Refrigerator Magnet Poetry: Remember when refrigerator magnet poetry was all the rage with college students? Since your toddler isn't yet reading, you can substitute objects for words. Print and laminate pictures of your toddler's favorite animals, places, people and toys, and then glue a magnet strip or dot on the back. Encourage your toddler to arrange and rearrange magnets and then tell you what his poem or story "says." You can also find story blocks or story cards that work with the same type of activity.
  2. Publish a Book: Know how you feel when someone reblogs your post, comments on your Facebook status, or quotes you in the paper? Multiply that times a 1,000 and you'll get an idea of how a young child feels when we show how we value his ideas and thoughts and words. Take sheets of paper and fold into a book. Punch holes and allow your child to lace up the book's "spine" with yarn. Once your toddler has created a story with magnets, blocks or cards, write it down for him, one sentence per page. Have him illustrate the book. Share the book with friends and family and your toddler will begin to identify himself as a successful writer.
  3. Made-Up Words: Both my older children went through a stage where they would arrange refrigerator magnet letters or letter blocks into long, unreadable strings and demand, "What does it say?" The giggles that would erupt when I tried to pronounce "mxylplyxticabglh" let me know we were on to something. Toddlers are just grasping the concept of text and phonics and beginning to make connections between the two. Made-up words help them understand that these symbols are letters, letters make sounds, and these sounds form words. Encourage them to take the next step and coin new words from words they know. If they make a collage of tiger and a flamingo, maybe it is a fliger? a timingo? Perhaps they are feeling tired and silly, are they tilly? or slired? Word play is fun and empowering.
  4. Pinch that Pencil: The mechanics of actually physically writing take root in the early years. Giving children plenty of opportunities to hold and experiment with writing instruments, including crayons and pencils, is essential for kindergarten readiness. Strength and fine motor skills need practice!
  5. Look Beyond Pen and Paper: Not all writing has to be done with traditional writing instruments on paper. Tracing letters with a finger in sand, salt, rice or shaving cream provides a neat tactile experience for children. Children who are uncomfortable with the sensation could also use a stick or chopstick in these activities. Another trick is to put these materials in a plastic baggie.
  6. Practice Shapes and Directions: When children learn to write, they will need to know that they start up top, go straight down, loop around in a circle, etc. Put on some music, give your child a brightly colored silk scarf, and have him wave it up, down, left, right, and around in a circle.
  7. Start a Journal: Responding to prompts gets children excited about processing their experiences through writing. Buy or make a blank journal. Each day or each week, write the beginning of a sentence ("My favorite food is...," "When I play outside, I like to...," "When it is rainy, I...") on a fresh page. Have your child complete the sentence and record his response. Then, allow him to illustrate the page. Go back and re-read the journal with your child. Not only does this help build writing skills, journaling is also a great way to build self-esteem and process difficult or challenging experiences that will aid your child throughout his life.