Learning to Read by Learning to Write

When I started thinking about Molly’s early literacy activities, I felt that I had internalized most of the obvious advice like read to your child every day, leave out lots of printed materials for your child, and model reading by reading in front of your child.  However, when I started reading J. Richard Gentry’s Raising Confident Readers, I discovered a whole new path: learning to write.  Reading his ideas about how children learn to read by learning to write, a big light bulb went off.  We had slacked off some providing Molly with free-range opportunities to draw and color because I was terrified of seeing marks and scribbles on our freshly painted walls.

According to Gentry, “Early writing makes the reading process less abstract.  Writing and reading are both complicated brain activities requiring the orchestration of a symphony of learned skills all at once.  But writing is more concrete than reading.  The child can slow the writing process down, ponder, think, and see what he’s doing.”  Of course, once I read this, it made perfect sense.  Unlike reading, the very act of writing is much more physical and forces you to slow down and focus on more specific components of the process.

Now, I have to admit, that when I got to the part about young toddlers making different marks when they are drawing versus writing, I raised my eyebrow.  To me, scribbles pretty much seemed like scribbles.  However, I was willing to give it a try, so that night, I handed Molly some blank paper and crayons and let her go to town.  After she made a decent scribble, I asked, “What are you drawing?”  Molly quickly answered, “a rainbow.”  I said, “Will you sign your name on your drawing?  Can you write Molly right here?” and pointed to the lower right-hand corner.  And, sure enough, she promptly started drawing short straight lines in the corner that were very different from the big, broad scribbles she had made across the page.

So, I’m now giving Molly lots of opportunities to write.  We set up a little art table for her in the kitchen with colored pencils and washable crayons. 

Don't worry. . . no fire hazard here.  Our gas fireplace currently doesn't work!

Don't worry. . . no fire hazard here.  Our gas fireplace currently doesn't work!

Both are easy to remove with a magic eraser as I found one day when I caught Molly happily scribbling all over the little, white chair with a bright blue pencil.

These days, Molly often writes notes, sometimes on smaller pieces of paper, which she delivers with a cheerful “Here you go!”  It seems that she has quite a lot to say:

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I’m looking forward to the day when I really am able to read all that she writes!