Supporting young writers

One child shares his writing with another

Someone asked me last week if the kindergarten children were writing every day.

I said, “Yes, of course, a play-based learning kindergarten is filled with many instances when children write.”

“But are they all sitting down and writing at the same time every day?” they asked.

I’ll admit, I was puzzled by the question. There it was again. The expectation that in order for children to learn, they must all be doing the same thing at the same time.  If you have ever spent time with a large group of young children, you know that the likelihood of all of them wanting to do the same thing at the same time is highly unlikely, unless it involves something like getting an ice cream, and even then, there’s a chance that even one or two will say they don’t like ice cream.

So, here goes: my crash course on early writing for anyone out there who is wondering about young children and writing.

Early or emergent writing has 3 components:

  1. the act of producing physical marks (mechanics)
  2. the meaning children attribute to these marks
  3. understanding how written language works

Children’s writing typically follows a specific sequence of development, however, these stages often overlap. They move through  these stages as their fine-motor skills develop, along with their oral language  and general understanding of the world. It is typical for children to exhibit behaviours from different stages while doing different things, ie. writing a story versus writing their name.


Offering to write what children say helps them understand that print has meaning

1st stage: Drawing and Scribbles

Children’s drawings are their writings and children make no distinction between the two. They begin to add scribbles or marks apart from the picture, and this indicates that they have begun to grasp that writing is separate from illustration. Eventually, scribbles begin to show features common to letters: horizontal and vertical lines, curves and circles, and they begin to move from left to right on a page.

Support children in this stage by incorporating writing into play, ask children to tell you about their drawings and ask what their scribbles say, then write down the words that children speak. Sing songs and make rhymes. Read to your child: books, signs, labels,etc.


This child is experimenting with letters and letter-like forms

2nd stage: Letters and Letter-like Forms

Next children begin to understand that print carries meaning, but they still do not generally understand that letters represent sounds of oral language. Children typically begin with some forms that resemble letters and often reproduce letters from their name or words they have copied like MOM, DAD, or LOVE. They write strings of letters without consideration for sounds, and adults cannot read their messages without children’s interpretations.

Support children in this stage by providing play activities that incorporate name writing: post office, name tags, tickets, etc. Encourage to write about themselves, their families, and their peers, and ask them to say what they want to write first. Then ask what sounds they hear. Accept  their answers. Talk about how letters are formed- short sticks, tall sticks, circles, curved lines, etc. Play oral language games  that promote letter-sound correspondence: I’m thinking of a fruit that starts with b. Make the sound /b/


This child is experimenting with the letters found in her name. She writes them left to right.

3rd stage:  Salient and Beginning Sounds

In this stage, children begin to represent the sounds they hear in spoken language.  Salient sounds are the sounds that are the prominent because of the way they feel in the child’s mouth. “I like Jonah” may be IKO because K is the most salient sound in “like” and O is the most salient sound in “Jonah” Children do not typically use spaces between words in this stage.

Support children in this stage by providing play activities in which children write words: ask them to label a map they’ve drawn, make signs for people to read.  Sort picture cards or objects that begin with two different sounds. Continue to ask children what they want to write. Have children identify the beginning sound and then you say the word again slowly, asking if they hear the ending sound.

4th stage: Beginning and Ending Sounds

Children begin to represent beginning and ending sounds in their writing in this stage. They know many sounds and most letters.  They begin to use spaces between words when writing and can typically point to words when reading a memorized rhyme or well-known text. You may see children write “LK AT DS MP” for “Look at this map”.  Some vowels may begin to appear, especially if they are the beginning or ending sounds of words.

Support children in this stage by providing play activities that use sentences: write a letter to a friend, record directions, and make books. Encourage children to add details to their illustrations  and ask them to tell you about the details. If a child wants to write “bus” draw 3 spaces like this _ _ _ and ask them to say “bus” aloud. Ask what they hear at the beginning and end and write bs in the spaces.  Ask them to choose between middle vowels: Do you hear /a/ (make the sound like “a”pple) or do you hear /u/ (make the sound like “u”p)?

Families and caregivers can support early writing if they know how.  Please share this blog post with anyone who spends any time with young children. When we know better, we do better.

For teachers, supporting children’s early writing in a kindergarten classroom is no easy task. Each child is developing at their own pace and level.  Individualized writing instruction that is developmentally appropriate occurs every day in a kindergarten classroom during play-based learning. Writing that is meaningful to children sets them up for lifelong literacy and enables them to become lifelong readers and writers.

Like me. Writing this educational blog on a FRIDAY night.

I must have had one great kindergarten teacher! And mom. 😉

Cathy 🙂


Cathy Baker View All →

Dedicated teacher for the past 18 years. Lifelong learner. Newbie blogger. Follow me on Twitter @Baker1973Cathy

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