How can I help my year 1 or year 2 child to write words by themselves? 

You open the homework book and your heart sinks as your small child is asked to write 3 or 4 sentences on a given topic. 

Or maybe your child is a keen writer, eager to get going! 

But what if they keep looking to you to spell the words they want to write? Should you just tell them how? Or is that “cheating”? 

First of all, in case you’re concerned about helping “too much”, teachers will always be expecting parents to support with homework. So, do whatever you need to do to support your child to feel positive and successful about their homework. You know your child best. 

Perhaps they’re lacking in confidence to give it a go themselves? Or they’re afraid of getting it wrong? Maybe they just don’t know how to go about it? 

How you can help your child write words independently 

To encourage your child to attempt writing words herself you can remind her to “use her sounds” to help her choose which letters to write. Until around year 3 in the UK, children are very much encouraged to use “phonetically plausible” spellings. 

To break it down, you could try this strategy, variations of which are used by many teachers in the classroom: 

1. Say the word

2. Finger the word

3. Write the word 

So, say the whole word together and then “finger the word” e.g. for “pocket”, you would say each sound “p-o-CK-e-t” and tap the air using the fingers of one hand to show the separated sounds. Then your child can have a go at writing those sounds down. It doesn’t matter if they write “pocet” “poket” “pocit” or another variation. What matters at this stage is they they are using their phonics knowledge to help them spell and that they feel confident enough to have a go. 

If your child is still reluctant, you could have a mini whiteboard and pen (or scrap paper and felt tips) to one side, and see if she’ll use the strategy to have a practise run. Children love mini whiteboards and dry wipe pens as it gives them a chance to have a go and experiment before committing to paper. 

(If you think about it, it’s something many adults do naturally – we grab a piece of paper and jot a word down quickly to see if it “looks” right or dash something off as a rough draft before writing it out in full. It’s the same for kids.)

“But shouldn’t I be showing my child the correct spelling?”

Afterwards, it’s a matter of personal judgement and situation as to whether you decide to show your child the “correct” spelling. You know your child best. At this stage, with young children, this teacher would usually not reveal the correct spelling. This because the learning at this moment is to have a go at using phonics knowledge to spell rather than to spell a known word correctly.

Your child probably won’t remember the correct spelling if you showed her anyway – correct spelling will come with time, and reading. Developing confidence with using the strategy also means your child may attempt longer words / more ambitious vocabulary that they have said or heard. More is caught than taught!

If your child is DESPERATE to know the “real” spelling to the point of being upset or wanting to stop, just use the strategy above yourself and quickly show her. Keep it brief and move on. Trying to keep everyone feeling positive about the homework experience is of paramount importance. We’re in this for the long haul! 

You (both) did it!

Afterwards, praise the effort that your child put in to write the word – rather than just saying “well done” or “good job”. Point out the fact that her effort led to a successful outcome e.g. “Great stuff, you worked really hard at writing that word all by yourself, and look – you did it! You should be really proud of yourself!” Hopefully, your child will link the ideas of using effort + using a strategy = achieving success.

Now, break open the chocolate or pour yourself your drink of choice, because supporting your small child with their writing homework is no easy task! 

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