Saying Thank You: Practice writing skills and manners, too!

The holidays are over and most likely your child is enjoying the presents he received.  Now that a normal routine has resumed, it is a good time to encourage your child to write thank you notes to his gift givers.  Writing notes is becoming a lost art, I’m afraid, but it really accomplishes several worthwhile goals.  Taking the time to actually write and mail a note emphasizes to children the importance of being sincerely grateful.  Somehow a quick “thanks for the train set” seems insincere when compared to a written note that takes time and effort.  Also, the process of writing the note provides important skill practice.  Obviously, fine motor skills get honed when writing notes.  In addition, letter-sound associations are reinforced as your child listens to the sounds in words and identifies the letters that make those sounds.

There are several ways to approach this important task, and as the parent, you will assess your child’s ability and tailor the writing activity to fit his skill level.  Here are several ways to approach note writing:

Children who are beginning to use inventive spelling can approach this task independently, with parents nearby to oversee their progress.  When writing with inventive spelling, children listen carefully to the sounds they hear and write the appropriate letter to indicate each sound.  For example, the phrase “I like my new train” might be written “I lik mi nu tran.”  Inventive spelling is successful when the child can read back what he has written.  Sometimes it is helpful for parents to write the correctly spelled word in small letters under the inventive spelling to help the receiver of the note know what was written.  In my pre-k and kindergarten classes, I always asked my students for permission to write the word with conventional spelling, and I never had a child refuse.  Children know that they are not spelling all of their words “the adult way” and more readily learn conventional spelling when they have the opportunity to see the word written correctly under their inventive spelling attempt.  Inventive spelling allows children to communicate through writing long before they have learned conventional spelling and they are always pleased with their efforts.

Children who are just beginning to identify letter sounds can write their thank you notes with parental support.  Ask your child to say aloud the words he wants to write in his note and then very slowly and deliberately repeat the word, emphasizing the individual sounds.  Ask your child to write the letters for the sounds he hears.  Although this inventive spelling may look similar to the example in the previous paragraph, children generally begin hearing and writing the initial and final consonant sounds, and later add long vowel sounds.  An early inventive spelling effort, for example, may represent the phrase “I like my train” as “I LK MI TN.”  If your child is not accurately linking letters and their sounds, he is not ready to attempt inventive spelling.  In this case, ask your child to dictate his thank you message to you. Write his short message clearly in upper case letters and ask your child to copy your model onto his own paper.

Finally, if your little one is not ready to write himself, he can still dictate his message for you to record.  As he watches you write his words, he will have the opportunity to recognize letter-sound associations.  Of course, your child can still practice writing his name at the end of the note.

Note writing can be a fun and challenging activity for every young child.  The note can be short and sweet, keeping the activity enjoyable, rather than a chore.  A simple message, such as “I love my new truck. Thank you.” will be very appreciated by the gift giver.  In addition, writing thank you notes allows your child to practice good manners along with writing and phonemic awareness skills.

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