Early Childhood Committee
Much earlier than the time that we actually think of children as
writers or readers, we must begin to provide opportunities that
encourage writing. A precursor to writing is using words that written
down become expressions of everyday life. Having conversations
with children; answering those why questions; talking about
what you see as you drive to various places; sharing stories and
storybooks are just a few of the ways that our young children can
be engaged in conversations. Even though we are talking about early
writing, early literacy is really a more correct statement, as the
experiences that relate to early reading go hand in hand with those
that encourage early writing.
When we speak of early writing, we are not referring to children
producing letters of the alphabet. Producing letters of the alphabet
comes much later than the real beginning stages of writing. One
of the important connections that come with beginning writing is
helping children become aware that what we say are words, and these
words can be written down, e.g., the wonderful aha! when
the child realizes that writing is talk that is written down.
Most of us who have children, grandchildren, nieces, or nephews
have had our walls decorated with scribbles. Today we have the advantage
of having washable crayons, along with crayons that only scribble
on special paper. These are the beginnings – the first stages
are the lines and lines of wavy lines. Sometimes a drawing is produced
that goes with the scribbles. Of course, some of us have been corrected
by our children, because we were not easily able to discern the
difference between the drawing and the writing.
Developing Writing Awareness
Adults need to take many opportunities to model all the different
times that we must write: grocery lists, letters, notes, and reports.
We need to have a place in our homes where children are encouraged
to use writing materials. If possible, having a painting easel available
provides an opportunity for both drawing and writing.
In early writing, three- and four-year olds, may not persist for
too long a time, as the activity matches the attention span. First
we see the rows and rows and favorite varieties of scribbles.
Then they notice concrete writing, which means that if the story
were about a little cat, the scribble is little, while if the big
cat were large the same scribble would be written bigger. Then as
children begin rhyming and hearing syllables in words, you see the
syllabic strategy. This strategy uses as many marks or scribbles
as you hear syllables in the word. For example, if the child draws
an alligator, four marks are made to count out the syllables in
the word. At this stage, there still is no relationship between
the marks and the sounds of those syllables. Marks are used as counters.
In preschool classes, as children clap their names or clap a phrase
of a finger play or book, the syllabic strategy is reinforced. Then
as children see their names in writing, and start asking you to
write words for them, they begin to have their favorite letters.
They may produce rows and rows of A's or C's. Encouraging their
curiosity is important. They often will want you to write, and they
want to copy it. Helping them hear the sound that a letter produces,
so that they can link the sound to a letter is very helpful in our
phonetic language (Ferreiro & Teberosky, 1982, as cited in Gillet,
J. & Temple, C., 1994).
The beginning of actual spelling is seen, as children begin to
figure out the letter that represents the beginning sound of each
word. Then most children will progress through stages of invented
spelling. Of course, the goal must be correct spelling, as the published
product must have words spelled correctly.
Marie Clay in her book What Did I Write? states that the
creative urge of the child to write down his own ideas was considered
by teachers to be the important thing to be fostered in written
language (p. 1). She goes on to suggest the appropriate activities
include young children drawing pictures with the teacher or parent
writing the dictated captions; tracing over the script of the adult;
copying captions; copying words from around the room. They start
to remember word beginnings and use an invented spelling (Clay,
Reading or telling stories, which re-enforces children’s
development of the sense of the order of happenings in a story,
is helpful also. They start to learn the components of a story –
characters, setting, problem, and ending. Even though this is experiential
learning, they begin to realize that stories have a beginning, middle,
and an end.
Children need to see adults writing. They need to have books around
and to have books read to them on a regular basis. Materials need
to be available that would encourage children to want to write (Clay,
The Texas Center for Reading and Language Arts provides the following
Stages of Writing Development:
- During the scribbling stage, children learn to distinguish
writing from drawing
- Children try to reproduce letters and words through scribbles.
- Producing letter-like forms.
- Writing letter sequences or strings
- Spelling phonetically
- Spelling conventionally
Why should we let children scribble or pretend to write? Children
can discover the graphic principles that relate to writing as a
whole before they master the individual letters. By letting young
children practice or play around with letters early, they will develop
an interest in letters. Scribbling and mock writing are useful early
practices that lay a foundation for learning to form and recognize
Clay, M. (1990). What Did I Write? Beginning Writing Behaviour.
Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Educational Books.
Clay, M (1996). Writing begins at home. Portsmouth, NH:
Heinemann Educational Books.
Gillet, J.W. & Temple, C. (1994). Understanding Reading
Problems Assessment and Instruction. NY: HarperCollins College
Texas Center for Reading and Language Arts (2002). Retrieved April
25, 2003 from http://www.texasreading.org/TRCLA.
This article appeared in the July/August 2003 issue of LDA
Newsbriefs (Volume 38, No.4), the newsletter of the Learning Disabilities
Association. Newsbriefs is published six times a year and is a benefit
of LDA membership.