• Rachel

The all-important letter to Father Christmas!

It's that time of year again when the Christmas ads appear, lights begin to twinkle, and people we meet ask our children what they would like Father Christmas to bring. Writing a letter to Santa can be a joy, but for parents it can also be a tricky task to complete, as our little people navigate their way through learning the alphabetic code, whilst being able to compose their own sentences and include all the things they would like.

In our house, we start with a Smyths Toys catalogue and a pack of post-it notes or sticky arrows. We want to create a balance between the excitement of Christmas gifts, and the joy of giving, as well as thinking about needs and wants. Next comes the letter writing part, and it's something we've always encouraged our children to do, not only to maintain the magic of Father Christmas visiting, but to sneak in a little writing for a purpose. Our eldest child writes without prompting now, but he's very succinct and getting more than a sentence or two in a thank you letter is a real challenge! Our youngest can write, but doesn't often want to. She starts things and leaves them unfinished all the time. With the letter to the big man, there's a different motivation and hopefully, this means children will embrace this writing task with more drive than writing a letter to Great Aunt Sally to thank her for the writing set!

So, what can we expect from our little people, and how can we make writing the letter a positive learning experience, whilst creating a keepsake? I hope the tips below will help, depending on where your child is in their development. Typically, children don't begin actually 'writing' until they are in reception at school, age 4 - 5 years old in England. For some, real writing comes later. However, there are a lot of early stages that come before writing a sentence, and children reach these at different times. It's important to consider early mark-making as 'writing' so we don't accidentally turn writing into something that is not achievable from the start.

When you feel the time is right to create a letter to Father Christmas, you might do the writing and perhaps your little one could sign it with a thumb print, hand print or scribble. When you give them a crayon or pencil, go for a chunky one, and praise any mark they make on the paper - it's a scribble to you, but it's writing to them! Let them see you writing, whether it be shopping lists, greetings cards or letters, but make writing something real and your children will soon copy you. This, along with pointing out words in books, is how we help little ones to notice some print, which is included in the birth to three Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) curriculum.

Soon, your little one might start to assign meanings to the marks as they draw, and this appears in the new early years curriculum from birth to three, also:

Enjoy drawing freely. Add some marks to their drawings, which they give meaning to. For example: “That says mummy.” Make marks on their picture to stand for their name. Page 78, accessed 20.11.21.

Your child might make some marks and tell you what they say; encourage this! To them, it's real writing! At this stage, your child may 'write' their own letter with marks and scribbles, and tell you it says, Dear Santa...' Make a note of what they say and stick it to the back later. They'll love to look back at this in years to come. You can send this off to Santa (after you've taken a photo or scanned a copy), with the name and address added. Santa is so magical, he will be able to read exactly what it says!

The next stage sees children beginning to make marks that look like letters. Like the early mark-making phase, your child might be able to tell you what they've written (what they wanted it to say) and you can note it down to add to the back. The curriculum at this stage (approximately age 3 - 4 years), says:

Use some of their print and letter knowledge in their early writing. For example: writing a pretend shopping list that starts at the top of the page; writing ‘m’ for mummy. Write some or all of their name.

Write some letters accurately. Page 80, accessed 20.11.21.

Once children begin to know that some letters correspond to sounds, you will see letters starting to appear in their writing. The next stage might mean the initial sounds in words are present, but there may not be any spaces between words, and the letters and marks could be huge. Praise every effort, all the same... and make a note on the back of what it says.

Next come actual words!

deer santer

pleez mai i hav a bighc fr christmus

from ben

This is great! Children are taught to write using the sounds they've learnt so far. They won't learn to spell the 'i_e' sound in bike for a long time, so for the time being, bighc is their best attempt, and that's great! If they ask you how to spell bike, help them with sounding out 'b-igh-k' and let them record the sounds they know. Having a sound mat nearby is really helpful and it is good to ask their teacher for the same one that they use at school so they can practise using the same one at home. If you write for them to copy, spell the words correctly, but sound out as you write, so they see you thinking out loud.

At this stage, you've got yourself a writer! The EYFS curriculum for reception expects that children will:

Spell words by identifying the sounds and then writing the sound with letter/s.

Write short sentences with words with known sound-letter correspondences using a capital letter and full stop.

Re-read what they have written to check that it makes sense. Page 82-83, accessed 20.11.21.

From here, as parents, we continue to praise children's efforts, and can remind them to check if they've got a capital letter at the start and full stop at the end. Having a copy of the high frequency words and year one and two common exception words to hand can help, as these are the most useful words to spell correctly. Again, asking for a copy from school is the best way of finding the most useful version, but there are links to some below if you need them. Try to avoid asking your child to correct every spelling, or 'marking' their work by correcting words for them, but helping them to notice if they've missed a sound in a word might be beneficial, e.g. if they've written 'leg' for 'Lego,' they might need to add the 'o' on the end.

No matter how tempting it is, if you can avoid writing every word for your child to copy out, you will be really helping them to learn to become a writer. However, writing can be incredibly frustrating and so go with your instinct and do what works best for your child. You know them the better than anyone!

If you would like to book an online 'letter to Father Christmas writing session' for you and your child, or to share with your friends and their children, please email for a bespoke quotation.

Finally, here's the all important address!

Happy writing!

Helpful words:

High frequency words:

Year one and two statutory spellings (common exception words): Subscription required.

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