The Importance of Writing for a Purpose


{{This blog post was originally written in 2016 and has been updated with new content}}

“Writing for real purpose draws on our natural inclination and desire to connect, communicate and influence our world. Can you remember a time when you were asked to complete a task in which you could not see relevance? To do so can be infuriating and draining. In contrast, the energy that comes from being set a meaningful and purposeful task is infectious. Why do we assume children are any different? When we engage with children around an area of their interest they are more likely to engage, even if the skills required are difficult to master.”  

​Britt.C and McLachlan, J. (2015) Unearthing Why: Stories of thinking and learning with children, New South Wales: Pademelon Press


Recently, my six year old daughter came to me with a "persuasive argument" she had written for my husband and I:

"Topic is why we should get another sister. Firstly Mahli (her current sister!) could play with Bodhi (her brother) I could play with the other sister. And that is why we should get another sister. We should. I know it."

And, while it made me smile (and think - not a chance!), it also impressed me, and reminded me of a blog post that I wrote five years ago, when my son was the very same age. Here's what I wrote back then:


When I walked into my 6year old sons room,  I was delighted to see his calendar on the wall. At the beginning of the year he began to show an interest in the calendar in our kitchen. As he developed his writing skills at school (having just commenced school) he insisted on writing the numbers in the corresponding boxes. After missing some important dates, I suggested that perhaps he could have his own calendar to record the date on. Needless to say – he was thrilled!

I think it is worthwhile mentioning that in the years prior to starting school, he was in a wonderful play based service that spent a lot of time outdoors. He was not interested in writing or drawing and although every now and then I had moments of doubt as to how this would play out when he started Kindergarten, I tried to trust in him, believing that when he was ready and interested, he would write. In the first few weeks of school it became apparent that his pencil grip wasn’t so crash hot and he was finding writing a challenge. But still, I continued to trust. 

And it worked. As he is rapidly learning sounds and words and comprehending sentence structure, his interest in writing has also increased. He now seeks out drawing and writing as tools to make sense of the world, in ways that he has never done before. He watches me write lists and makes lists of his own, he see’s me labelling things and labels things of his own. 

So when I walked into his room I wasn’t totally surprised to see his calendar looking like  it did. He had diligently added the numbers in, but had also taken time to write in “mum” and “dad” on the days that we will celebrate our birthdays. And then at the bottom I saw “Movies May” and I stopped and wondered…for just a moment. Until I remembered that for the last six months he has been longingly looking forward to the release of the Angry Birds movie in May and the fulfilled promise of a trip to the movies with his grandparents. So there it was, writing for a purpose. His purpose was to record something important to him. 


Now, five years later I am seeing these same purposeful writing experiences appear in my youngest and it makes me smile so much. It makes me feel somewhat validated in taking a play approach in their early years, in sending them to an early education and care service that valued their time on the monkey bars, or in the bush, or building with blocks, rather than cramming stencils and phonics into the day. 

Anyone that has heard me present our popular "Positive School Transitions" workshop will know I am definitely not a fan of rote learning and writing for the sake of writing. As a writer myself, making meaning through the written word is something I value deeply, yet it needs to be a meaningful process for the child. 

So, how do we facilitate “writing for a purpose”?


  • Listen to children – find out about what they are truly interested in and encourage them to explore and share that interest through mark making (even if it is not an interest or topic on “our agenda”)
  • Provide children with quality writing materials – if we want children to write, we need to give them the right tools. I wouldn’t like to sit down at my desk and have a choice of four blunt lead pencils and a broken orange crayon
  • Involve children in meaningful writing opportunities – if you need to write a shopping list – let them help, documenting experiences on the program – ask for their input (Talking and Thinking Floorbooks is great for this)
  • Model writing – in our highly technological world a lot of child may not see the adults in their life write by hand too often. Let them see you writing!


    Watching children learn to write in their own way, and with a sense of purpose and desire, is an exciting thing – seeing their ideas, interests and questions land on the page, giving voice to these inner workings, well…it’s nothing short of magical!


    • Thanks for the comment Liza – so spot on! I think this is where we need to get better in general as a sector – explaining the benefits of these sorts of experiences for children, so that families understand the importance of a play approach to “school readiness”

      Nic (Inspired EC)
    • I agree that writing needs to be seen as a form of expression and communication. It is so much more than being able to form letters. Children need to have been exposed to different reasons for writing, different styles – poetry, stories, instructions, to do lists. We need to explore the rhythm of language, explore the patterns in words and sounds, explore shapes and directions. This is needed before we introduce that pencil. Let’s prepare those hands though by strengthening hands, wrists and shoulders with digging, clay work, sponge squeezing, knot tying, threading, weaving, drawing laying down and reaching above our head the possibilities are endless.


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