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Five-year-olds can write nonfiction

Here’s a great idea from my daughter’s Kindergarten teacher: a lesson on informational writing. First she read the kids several “how-to” books and discussed the difference between fiction and nonfiction. Then she launched writer’s workshop.


Give the kids three choices to write about.

  • How to brush your teeth.
  • How to plant a seed.
  • How to make a sandwich.

Offer rectangular pieces of paper already divided into four sections.


Let the children use words or pictures to create their how-to writing.


In a classroom setting, there will be kids at every ability level. Some will be able to write sentences, some will express their ideas in pictures. In an Afterschooling setting, this lesson works well too. A four year old could draw pictures while an eight year old writes paragraphs.

See why I was impressed? My daughter’s Kindergarten teacher rocks!


The Unintended Consequences of Letter Writing

When I was a teacher and parents asked me how to help develop their children’s writing abilities at home, I always gave these four suggestions: create a special writing corner, make a personal dictionary, buy your child a journal, and give them lots of stationary supplies including their own personalized address labels.  Of course, one of the unintended consequences of all of this writing is that you end up with some really special childhood keepsakes.  Here is a letter my mom recently found that my Grandma Gerry  wrote me when I was six years old, after I mailed off a letter to her on that I composed on my own stationary:

Be Your Child’s Secretary

Bruce got a bee in his bonnet today to write a book.  Mainly, I think he was inspired by our new three-hole punch, and wanted to try it out.  He gathered up some paper, asked me for a ball of yarn and went to work.  Then he sat down and started on his story Sock Numerous and the Lost City together.  But after five minutes spent on the cover, Bruce was losing steam and said, “Mom?  Will you be the secretary?”  This is a practice we employ often, both in writing and sometimes even in math.

Being your child’s secretary is when you take control of the pencil but let your son or daughter be the boss, and tell you what to write down no editing allowed.  It is an extremely effective way of helping children tell stories, and is useful all the way up to third grade. When Bruce was four years old and had great difficulty in writing numbers, I would sometimes be his secretary then too.  This allowed his math skills to develop, regardless of his handwriting, which is still quite average. 

It’s important for children to practice writing on their own most of the time, but being your child’s secretary can be a very useful too, especially if you sense that your son or daughter is on the verge of becoming overly frustrated.

Personal Dictionary

You can make your own personal dictionary.

You can make your own personal dictionary.

Have you ever been trying to cook dinner, only to be constantly interrupted by your kid yelling “MOM HOW DO YOU SPELL BECAUSE?”

Man, that is so annoying!  Plus, it’s unconducive to learning.  You start yelling back “B-E-C…” only to have your kid yell “WAIT!  SLOW DOWN!  B WHAT?”  Then, five minutes later you hear, MOM!  HOW DO YOU SPELL BECAUSE AGAIN?  I FORGET.”

In order to solve this problem, use a classic teacher trick:

Make a personal dictionary for your child.

All you need is blank paper, pens, and a stapler. Whenever your child asks you to spell a word, immediately write it down in his dictionary.    That way there is no yelling and he can refer to it again and again.

Don’t forget to keep the dictionary in your child’s writing corner, so it never gets lost!

Writing Folder

Here’s a peak at what Bruce’s at-home writing folder looks like.  There are stories he’s written, stationary, envelopes, personalized address labels, extra paper, stickers, blank books,  and his own personal dictionary.  He likes to write letters to his friends, type stories on the computer, write them out by hand, or just read his previous compositions.  The parchment paper is from his Harry Potter quill and ink set.  Good luck trying to decipher that! 

A writing folder is something you can start with your own child as soon as they can draw a picture.  Some of Bruce’s first stories were ones I wrote down and he illustrated.  I haven’t started a folder for Jenna yet, because all she does is scribble, but her time is coming soon.

Teachers sometimes use what’s called a writing portfolio in their classrooms.  Those are usually collections of a students best, most polished work.   This is just a collection of Bruce’s writings.  It’s meant to me fun, with no pressure attached.

Creating a Writing Corner

As a teacher, one of my constant questions for parents during parent-teacher conference was “Have you set up a writing corner for your child?”

A writing corner is a special place in your home where your child has all of the supplies they need to write stories, draw pictures, and do important “work”.

This doesn’t need to cost any money! Just search through your home for things you already have on hand.

Writing Corner Supplies

  • blank paper
  • lined paper
  • a journal or diary
  • notebooks
  • pens
  • pencils
  • a dictionary
  • a stapler
  • crayons
  • markers
  • old mugs or cups to organize things
  • a mini trashcan
  • cut-out cereal boxes to store papers