You've likely seen it before -- rows upon rows of squiggly lines scrawled in the tell-tale print of a child just learning to write. Many parents may be discouraged by these early squiggles, feeling as though their child just isn't "getting" it. Take heart -- scribbles, lines, copied letters, even pictures are all signs that your child is becoming a writer!
Learning to write is a process. Just like reading, there are natural steps a child follows before he/she is a fluent writer. This process is called pre-writing. I've outlined the most common "steps" a child will take toward developing writing fluency. When you see your child's chicken-scratch or random letters, be encouraged -- it is a display of learning and progress! Your child is on his/her way to becoming a writer.
Picture writing is an important first step in the pre-writing process. When children draw pictures, they are expressing their ideas. Their illustrations can spark ideas, provide details to add to a dictated story, and later can serve as a plan for writing.
To find out more about picture writing, click here.
When children are learning to write, they often draw lines of squiggles and scribbles. When your child comes to you with a page filled with rows of messy lines, he/she is demonstrating a desire to write! Children who pretend to write understand that print contains meaning. They have an understanding that writing is a way to communicate thoughts and ideas. They are beginning to understand the link between reading and writing. As an educator, squiggly lines make me excited!
Many parents may begin to notice their child stringing together random letters. Often, children will write a series of letters and ask, "What does this say?" Children at this level of development are learning how to form letters and are one step closer towards fluent writing. Your child has learned that letters are used to form words, and that writing can be read.
You may begin to notice your child writing down the words he/she sees. Many children begin to write family names, brand and company names, or other common words seen around the home/classroom.
Copycat writing reminds us as parents just how important it is to create a print-rich environment. Write as often as possible in front of your children, create labels for objects in the home, and fill your home with a variety of books. Children learn to write by observing and reading print!
This is an incredibly exciting step! When a child enters this phase of pre-writing, he/she now has a set of pre-reading skills as well. In this phase of writing, your child may write, "I E P" for "I eat pancakes." Children in this phase are beginning to incorporate their reading skills into their writing, and are representing words with the first letter sound they hear.
The writing may be hard for you to decipher, but your child will typically be able to read back his/her writing to you. I like to write out the child's dictation underneath his/her writing. This not only preserves the story for years to come, but you can also re-read the story with your child, allowing his or her to see a model for more developed writing.
In this phase, your child is beginning to hear more sounds, and is translating that understanding into his/her writing. The "I E P" from the previous example may transform into "I ET PNKS" (for "I eat pancakes.") Children who are simultaneously developing in their reading, begin to piece together more sounds, and have a better understanding of how letters and sounds form words.
Inventive/Phonetic Spelling + Sight Words
In this phase of writing, children's writing is decipherable and you can typically figure out what they intended to write. They should be able to spell sight words like the, to, me, go, etc. correctly and will use inventive spelling to form the remaining words in their pieces. Inventive spelling is a critical piece of development, and I urge parents not to step in and spell every word for their children. Work with your child to use his/her sounds to spell the words. Allow your child to work through the sounds in his/her mind and make an attempt at spelling new words. Perfect spelling will come with practice, and will increase as your child's reading ability increases.
With continued practice, your children's writing will continue to grow and develop as they begin to understand conventions, add more correctly spelled words, and begin to understand how to revise their writing to make it stronger. Enjoy watching your child grow and develop as a writer!