The power of imitation; how to teach a young child to write!

Last week at a playgroup, my daughter spent a long time in the play kitchen area doing the washing up! She collected dishes, pretended to rinse them under a tap and then popped them away in the toy kitchen cupboards. This might not strike you as odd or interesting at first but you see, my dishwasher has broken this week, so I have found myself constantly whizzing round collecting the dishes in my kitchen and hand washing them; a sudden change in my usual behaviour which my daughter has obviously been watching!

Children use role play such as this to help them to make sense of the world around them. They also imitate the important adults they have in their life; it is one of the ways they learn and it is a huge responsibility for anyone who spends time with young children. They watch and observe everything adults do; how we talk and our actions, how we behave in different situations, or how we respond to life’s challenges. It is an innate response and a powerful learning tool which can leave a lasting impression on a child’s developing mind.

I remember seeing a viral photo not long ago of a man with three children on a train. Everyone around them were staring down at their phones but they were each reading a book. It struck me as a wonderful example of how we can teach our children and leave a lasting impression on them, purely by modelling the behaviour ourselves. I am sure those children will grow up with a love of reading.

So how can we use imitation and the modelling of a behaviour to teach our young children; I spoke about how we can model social skills to help them to make friends in one of my previous blog posts (click the link to read it again), but there are many other opportunities.


How often do you write? I mean write with a pen and paper? In this digital world we are all so used to typing on our phones, tablets, laptops and computers that we rarely write with a pen and paper. Yet we expect our children to have a desire to learn to write. When babies are learning to crawl we put toys a little out of reach so that they have the desire to move their bodies to get the toy; in the same way children need to be given a reason to learn to write. If children only see us writing using technology, and don’t themselves experience a reason to write by hand, they won’t develop a desire to learn the skill of writing and then the experimental process of mark making won’t begin to happen.

Using imitation and modelling to help young children to learn how to write

Try the following ideas to show your child why writing is so important and thus begin them on their journey to becoming a writer.

Shopping List

Write a shopping list by hand (in front of your child) saying out loud what you need and then writing it down. Take the shopping list with you to the shop and ask your child to hold it. Ask them what else you need and point to what you have written to show them that it serves as a reminder, so you don’t forget anything. 


Write a note on a piece of paper, for example, ‘do you want a cup of tea?’ and ask your child to take it to someone else in the house, such as your partner or an older sibling. Ask them to open the note, read it aloud and then write a response and send it back to you. 

Send a letter

It’s rare these days to receive a hand-written letter in the post but it is such a treat if you do. Why not sit with your child and tell them you are going to write a letter to someone special, Grandparents for example. Read it out to your child when it is written and you could even ask them to draw a picture to put in the envelope too. Then go to the post box to send it together. Hopefully you’ll receive a lovely letter back!

Play restaurants

Next time you are making lunch, why not pretend you are at a restaurant; ask your child what they would like to eat (give them options that suit you!) and write it down on a note pad as if you are taking their order. 

The opportunity to imitate

Make sure that there are writing tools readily available for your child; this can be a simple tub filled with pencils and crayons, and some paper or a note pad, somewhere in easy reach. Then if they want to copy you and do some writing of their own, the opportunity is there. Remember that for children who are just setting out on their journey of learning to write, their version of writing may just be some faint lines or a jumble of letters. Always congratulate them for any mark making such as this and pretend you can read it. This way they will begin to see themselves as a writer from an early age. Of course there is also phonics and handwriting at play when learning how to write (which if you continue to follow the PlayWorth Blog I will cover at some point), but giving young children a reason to write is a key starting point.

What are the learning opportunities?

Young children will be learning to;enjoy drawing freely, and add some marks to their drawings, which they give meaning to. 3 and 4 year olds will be learning; that print has meaning and to use some of their print and letter knowledge in their early writing, for example, writing a pretend shopping list, and to write some letters accurately. Children in Reception class will be learning to form letters correctly. 

Final thoughts… I’d love to hear of any times when you have caught your little ones imitating you! I’m sure there are lots of funny stories; let me know in the comments!

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