Reading Before Writing: What Order Should You Teach Your Child Written Language

A few years ago, I came across the idea (I cannot find the link now) that children should learn to write before they learn to read. I was very skeptical. It never made sense to me. How can one construct a word, sentence, or a paragraph in writing if one cannot understand a word, sentence, or a paragraph in writing? To me, it seemed this was, as if, someone were advocating for eating a piece of cake before the cake was baked. How can you possibly write if you cannot even read?
Young girl writing at a table.

Wrapping My Head Around the Reason Why We Should Teach Writing First

The moment this concept made sense to me, I was sitting next to my daughter on the couch. I had just finished typing up a post for this blog. She wanted to “write” her book. I have a file on my laptop for her to type into when she asks. Whenever she thinks that she wrote a word, we sound it out and I highlight it if it's a real word.

She has known her letters and letter sounds very well for months. Whenever I have given her words to sound out though, she was unable to keep all of the sounds in her mind at once (although strangely, if I said each phoneme individually, she could blend them into a word). She seemed to be missing a step in the middle of the process.

Now, when she types she is able to create the words that she wishes to read as she goes. Suddenly, she is not only reading the words she makes but playing with deletion, substitution, and addition. She is experimenting with the realities of language. She is learning through manipulation of reality. Rather than being told what is “right” by me, she is figuring it out for herself.(Which is really cool!)

So, it finally made sense to me. The reason children write before they read (or at least write more proficiently than they read) is that writing offers them the opportunity to experiment with language and to construct it for themselves.

Another reason why it makes sense for children to have a higher proficiency in writing than in reading is that writing comes from their own mind. They have a connection to the ideas that are theirs. No matter how interesting a book is, it is foreign and other. The child must stretch to understand the thoughts of another. Think about spelling a word. First you imagine the sounds in your mind. Then you translate each sound into the letter or letters which make that sound. Contrast that with reading a word. You must translate each letter or letters into it's sound. Then, you must derive the mental picture of what those sounds represent for yourself. The latter is much harder.

Helping Small Children Learn to Write

The problem for small children is that although they may have the desire to experiment with language, they may not have the fine motor ability to physically make the letters. Obviously, typing is an excellent way for them to experience language. Other ways include letter magnets, letter stickers, cardboard cut out letters, and phonics letter tiles. Children should have access to materials like these for periods of open exploration so that they have the opportunity to develop these concepts for themselves. Parents and teachers need to allow children to direct the experience and only participate when invited by the child.

Children learn language from writing, much like they learn about art through drawing (rather than passively looking at a painting) or learn music from banging on a drum (rather than listening to a symphony). Creation drives learning.

This is why children of all ages should be given ample opportunities to manipulate the English language in order to create words, sentences, paragraphs, stories, letters, etc.  How do you empower your children to write?

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this post about the importance of writing for little learners. I would love to hear your feedback! Feel free to leave a comment or question down below. Please share this on your favorite social media platform if you enjoyed it.

Teach Writing Before Reading?

When Should You Teach Your Child to Write?


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