Tips for Helping Boys Beginning to Write

Those with daughters will recognise and celebrate the sight of their child at two and a half or three years old, sitting at a table, pencil in hand, unprompted, drawing a picture of mum or dad, or writing a letter of tidy symbols which she can read back to herself. While little girls are capturing familiar faces and domestic routines on paper, where are little boys?

Some little boys may well be printing their names carefully as their parents look on encouragingly, most however, will be engrossed with their train tracks, cars, dinosaurs and footballs. So how can we encourage boys to write? To want to write? To write without keeping one vigilant eye open for a quick escape?

Six Tips for encouraging boys to write

1. Develop writing muscles. Before boys can mark make or write, they need to develop the muscles that enable them to hold a writing implement successfully. These are the muscles of the shoulders, arms and hands. Luckily for boys, this means hanging from monkey bars or branches, squeezing clay and play dough and climbing and swinging from ropes, all of which are excellent pre-writing activities.

2.Use big movements. Large movements are an essential starting point for new writers. They are the first step in a sequence which leads eventually to the small and precise pincer grip of the fluent writer.

3. Use anything other than a pencil. Boys digging in the mud, building pirate ships and stalking wild animals through the undergrowth, need immediate mark making implements like sticks in mud and chalk on stone. You can also use household brushes and water to ‘paint’ fences, sheds and walls. Use hands and fingers in wet sand, in shaving foam, in wet cornflour. A pencil requires a huge degree of dexterity and control and should be the last step in a boys rich writing experience.

4. Use any paper other than writing paper. Boys want immediate results, they do not want to leave a space rocket to find a piece of writing paper, so use rolls of lining or wallpaper looped onto a hangar for boys to drag onto the floor and rip off if they want to. Use paper bags, post-its and sticky labels to label dragon’s teeth or pirate treasure.

5. Use any surface other than a writing table. A writing surface like a table can feel too restrictive and formal. Far better (to begin with at least), to use the floor. Boys will not keep still for long, so a large floor space with opportunities for writing and mark making is preferable. Activities such as cutting out life sized dinosaurs and writing their names are carried out on the floor far more successfully. Leave interesting paper shapes in a corner (these could become giant footprints or stepping stones across a river), a notepad by the play phone, post-its on the fridge. Hang empty door signs on doors so that boys can scribble secret messages on them, or ‘keep out’ or whatever they tell you it says.

6. Find exciting reasons for writing. Exciting reasons for writing usually emerge from a child’s play. Boys playing ‘superheroes’ could attach a name or letter to their tee shirts, hats or capes. As a pirate, a boy may be interested in writing a message in a bottle, drawing a treasure map or labelling an envelope of coins. Opportunities are everywhere. The important thing is to extend a boy’s play and not direct or influence it.

The good news is that by beginning to write later, when they are already in nursery or reception, boys learn to form their letters correctly from the start. Girls often need to relearn letter formation or rather unlearn the way they have been writing and relearn it correctly.