The following tips may be helpful to foster carers supporting children's writing from the pre-school years to the end of primary school. The suggestions are organised according to children's level of skill and confidence, as fostered children may be working at a level that is different to their age or year group.
- Provide opportunities for children to develop fine-motor skills by offering craft activities, cutting and sticking, puzzles and sorting games using small objects. This helps to strengthen their fingers and develop precise movements in order to hold a pencil or other writing equipment.
- Encourage children to draw, write and make marks as often as possible using a range of writing tools. These might include pens, paints, chalk, crayons, pencils or finger writing in sand.
- Provide paper, notebooks, clipboards or whiteboards for children to use independently. Children also enjoy writing in simple home-made books, made by folding and stapling paper.
- Value children’s early attempts to write, even if it might look like scribble or a mix of letters and other shapes! This is known as ‘emergent writing’ and is an important stage in their writing development. Ask them to read out what they have written, comment positively and display their work at home.
- Provide children with opportunities to write for a purpose by asking them to write shopping lists, birthday cards or messages to their friends.
- Encourage children to spell words using their phonic knowledge (letter sounds) and praise their attempts, even if they are not quite sure of the correct spelling. Speak to your fostered child's class teacher for information about the phonics programme used by their school.
- Let your fostered child see you writing at home for practical reasons, whether that is a notebook, diary or shopping list. Try to let them see you writing with a pen and paper as well as on screen.
- Keep a calendar on a noticeboard or whiteboard at home. Encourage your fostered child to fill in details of what is happening the next day or next week.
- Continue encouraging children to write for a purpose or about something that is important to them. Take photographs of days out or special events and encourage your fostered child to write about what happened. Also encourage children to keep a scrapbook or journal, where they might write about topics of interest.
- Encourage children to respond imaginatively to books or films by writing an alternative ending or a character profile.
- Broaden their vocabulary by using a wide range of words in conversation and playing word games. ‘How many words can you think of to describe a dark cave…?’
- Show children how to use a junior dictionary to check their own spelling when they are completing homework. Using a thesaurus to look up alternative words will also broaden their vocabulary.
- Encourage children to read widely from both fiction and non-fiction, as this will also have a beneficial impact on their writing.
- Encourage children to try out different genres (types) of writing. This might include letters, journals, book reviews, reports, newspaper articles, stories or poems. If they feel strongly about a particular issue, they may want to write a letter or article about the topic.
- Look out for book festivals and special events with children’s authors for ideas and inspiration. Your fostered child might want to try entering writing competitions in fiction, non-fiction or poetry.
- Visit your local bookshop, as they may hold children's writing events or author visits.
Using your library
Your local library is free to use and can also provide support for children’s writing development:
- Make sure that your fostered child is a member of the library and has their own borrowing card.
- Visit the library regularly, as often as you can. Once a week is fantastic and once a term is still better than not at all!
- Ask the librarians for support in finding age-appropriate reading books but also encourage your fostered child to choose freely from the shelves.
- Encourage your fostered child to issue their books independently and become familiar with how the library works
- Look out for library activity sessions as there is often a lot going on for children of all ages.
- Taking part in holiday reading challenges can be a way to keep your fostered child motivated to read and write during breaks from school.
- Libraries may also hold author events or competitions to encourage and support children's reading and writing.
Websites and sources of support
- The Words for Life website by the National Literacy Trust offers wonderful free resources to help carers and parents support children (0-11) with reading and literacy with games, magazines, rhymes and stories.
- BBC Bitesize offers support across a wide range of subject areas, including literacy.
- There are several phonics programmes used by schools including Jolly Phonics and Read Write Inc. The BBC Bitesize website gives an overview of the individual phonemes (sounds) including video clips.
- Booktrust offers a wide range of practical tips and inspirational advice on writing from well-known authors
- Oxford Owl is an education website by Oxford University Press, including a useful jargon buster of educational terminology.