One child scribbles on a piece of paper and proudly announces, “This is my name!” Another preschooler writes a string of random letters and asks his mother what it says. Still another child draws a picture of a cat and labels it with a wobbly C. Which one of these children is writing?
They all are.
Just as children advance through different stages on the road to conventional reading and spelling, they also move through different stages of writing development. What are those stages, and what does that mean for you as the parent or teacher? You’ll find the answers in this post, Lesson Two of my 10-week Preschool & Kindergarten Writing Series with This Reading Mama.
What are the stages of writing development?
I’ve labeled these stages according to what you see in your child’s writing, and not by the technical names. I hope that makes this post easy for you to follow!
1. Scribbling just to scribble
You might call this a pre-pre-writing stage. This is where my Two (27 months) is at. He loves to take caps off markers and scribble away. Is he trying to tell me something? Probably not. He’s just enjoying marking up a page. But that doesn’t mean I can’t encourage him to make those scribbles say something.
a. Set up a regular time to scribble. Give your child a piece of unlined paper and fun markers or crayons. Expect this to last about 5-10 minutes.
b. Call it writing. “Let’s do some writing today!”
c. As your child scribbles, talk about things that are meaningful to him. As my Two was scribbling the other day we heard a siren. “Si-uh-ren!” he announced. “Can you write about a siren?” I asked. He scribbled on his paper. “What does that say?” I prompted. “Vat’s a si-uh-ren!” I wrote the word alongside his picture.
2. Scribbling as pretend writing (often next to a drawing)
If you send a thank you note to someone and your child wants to add his name – and does so with a scribble – he’s writing. If he draws a giant mess on a piece of paper and brings it to you proudly, “That says my name!” he’s writing. What makes it writing is not what it looks like. It’s the child’s intent. Some children in this stage will draw both a picture and a line of scribbles. It’s clear that they understand that pictures and print are different.
Kids who scribble and pretend to write need lots of opportunities to see real letters and words in print.
a. Write a morning message to your child each day. Repeat each word as you write it.
b. After a fun day or event, sit down to write about it. Write sentences that your child dictates. Read back, pointing to each word, moving left to right on the page. Invite your child to read along with you on subsequent readings. Your child may want to illustrate the page and read it to others.
c. Create a patterned language chart. On a chalkboard or large sheet of chart paper, start sentences the same way and have your child finish them. “I like to eat…” or “My toy is a ….” or “At the park I see the…” Afterward, read the sentences together using a pointer. You may want to draw picture clues next to each sentence.
d. Take your child’s scribbles seriously. If he says it’s a grocery list, take it to the store. If he says it’s a letter to Grandma, mail it.
e. Provide writing materials to use during pretend play. Play grocery store, and encourage your child to write a shopping list. Play school, and have your child write a class list. Play house, and encourage your child to write a to-do list. These writings may all be “just scribbles.” Eventually your child will put spaces between the scribbles, and you’ll start to see forms that resemble letters.
3. Writing pretend letters or strings of letters
As your child learns more about print by watching you write and by listening to books, he will try to write letters himself. Some of these may be “mock” letters – intended to look like the real thing, but not actual letters of the alphabet. Your child may write the letters he knows in random order. You will probably notice letters from his name.
Teaching tips :
a. Set up a writing center and provide many opportunities for your child to use it. Include all sorts of fun materials like colored pencils, glitter crayons, fat and skinny markers, envelopes, junk mail, blank pages stapled together magnetic letters, alphabet stamps, a dry erase board and markers, glue, tape, and scissors.
b. Model authentic writing by letting your child see you pencil events onto a calendar, write a shopping list, fill out forms, and compose thank you notes.
c. Continue the morning message, sentence dictation, and patterned language charts from the previous stage.
4. Attempting to spell using letter/sound knowledge
At this stage, children know most of their alphabet and many letter sounds. They are able to write their names and may label a picture with the first letter. Eventually they will be able to hear the final sound as well. Finally, middle sounds will be present. This doesn’t mean that spelling will be correct. The word spaghetti might first appear as “S”, then as “SE,” then as “SGE.”
a. As tempting as it may be, do not spell every word for your child. When they have to write their own spellings children must think about letter- sound relationships. (And reading their writing back actually helps them with reading!)
b. Provide a simple alphabet chart with pictures so your child has a reference for spelling sounds.
c. Teach your child to streeeetch out the words when spelling them so that he writes each sound that he hears.
d. Aim for writing time at least three times a week. If you’ve got a bunch of fun materials and you keep the time enjoyable, your child will probably look forward to it. At this stage, 5-10 minutes of daily writing time is a fabulous goal. You know how the more a kid reads, the better a reader he is? The same is true of writing.
5. Writing with many correct spellings in simple sentences
The above sample represents a child at the beginning of this stage. Many children will not get here until first grade. However, if you make explicit phonics instruction a priority in your home, your child may surprise you by what he can do in kindergarten or even late preschool. When children can spell many simple words correctly, approximate harder words by streeetching them out, and compose a a sentence or more in one sitting, they’ve reached this stage.
Teaching tips :
a. Teach your child how to choose topics for journal writing.
b. Help your child write for different purposes – letters, charts, notes, etc.
c. Show your child how to use word charts, simple spelling dictionaries, and other tools to help with spelling.
d. Teach conventions of writing (punctuation, capital letters, etc.) as your child is ready.
Stay tuned for more writing lessons. Click on the image below to see what’s coming next!