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Writing Progression in Early Childhood


The Writing Continuum in Early Childhood

    Children move through stages of writing in their preschool years.  When you think about it, quite a lot is involved in the process of writing.  Both physical processes (holding the pencil with a correct grip, using the small muscles in the hands to make marks) and mental processes (such as expressing an idea) are involved simultaneously.  Not the simplest of tasks by any means!

Stages Of Writing in Preschool

  1. Typically, children first represent language with drawing and scribbling.  Children may not yet discriminate between pictures and words, but, with increased exposure, begin to do so by making random scribble marks to represent language.  Their marks have a tendency to take up a lot of space at first (remember, fine-motor muscles are still developing at this age).  Writing might not yet follow the standard left-to-right directionality (this usually appears a bit later).  Gradually, children begin to connect print with meaning.
  2. Once they make that connection, children then begin to write letter-like forms and begin to print a few letters.  Children have a tendency to repeat certain letters and especially begin to recognize and write the letters in their own names (their first letter in particular!)
  3. Children then begin to print letter strings and may begin to represent beginning sounds in words (for example: they may print the letter “F” next to their illustration of a flower).  This is called inventive spelling.  Words might be represented with one or more letters that are heard distinctly within the word (example: children might write “PKN” to represent the word “pumpkin.”)
  4. Finally, children begin to write with spaces between words and include more letters.
  5. Children sign their names for various tasks.  Here, students sign up for the role they are choosing to play in acting out a story.

All children begin somewhere on this continuum during their preschool years, and progress individually through the school year.  Those who’ve had more exposure and modeling at home may already be printing conventional letters at the beginning of preschool.  Others may still be at the scribbling stage.  Both are considered developmentally appropriate for preschool-age children.

In our classroom, we model writing on a daily basis.  We call attention to children’s names and focus on the letters, especially the beginning letters in their names.  Children practice signing their names on their projects.  Words in books are pointed out and followed.  Labels for classroom toys and furniture are found throughout the environment.  Children use the writing center to write messages to one another (children’s photos and names are displayed on a chart that students can refer to).  Most importantly, children practice writing in the learning centers.  For instance, children are encouraged to take orders and “write” them down onto paper pads when playing restaurant.  They fill out tickets when going on a train ride.  They address envelopes when writing messages at the post office center.  And so on…

Above: One of the students created a newspaper, using pictures and scribble marks to represent writing.  In so doing, this child demonstrates the understanding that print conveys meaning and writing progresses from left to right.

Above: Writing and illustrating at the writing center.

Above: Tracing letters of the alphabet.

Above: Students illustrate and dictate responses and stories in their journals.  Writing and illustrating journals offers practice in printing and allows us to track the progression of early literacy and writing development, especially children's language, sentence structure, vocabulary, sequence, stage of printing, directionality, fine-motor development, just to name a few skills.

Above: Children use cotton swabs dipped into bleached water to write letters.

Above: A classroom postal office is set up to encourage the writing of messages to one another.  You can easily set one up at home.  All that is needed: paper, cards (you may use old cards or make your own by folding paper in half), envelopes, writing instruments, a mailbox (have your child decorate a shoebox to make a mailbox), and stickers that can serve as pretend stamps.  Ask your child who she wants to write a message to and guide her in writing, dictating, and/or drawing a message!

To encourage children’s writing development, I will include some documents/links some helpful tips below (check back soon!)


(Do remember though, that young children are often discouraged and can become easily frustrated/bored when given workbook pages and worksheets to practice writing.  Instead, it is far more meaningful and realistic to embed writing into everyday tasks and incorporate it into play.)