From Scribble to Script – Encouraging Early Writing


Photo Credit: Fotolia
Two-year-old Sam is scrawling away on a large sheet of paper in his favorite color: yellow. He grips the chunky Crayola crayon with his fist like a pastry chef squeezing frosting out of a piping bag. Sam is fascinated by the marks left behind on the paper and runs over them with his fingers. His four-year-old sister Rebecca is playing in her toy kitchen. “We’re out of sugar for my cake,” she sighs, hand on hip. She grabs a notepad and pencil and starts making wavy lines on the paper. It’s her shopping list.

Children develop writing skills well before they are able to form recognizable letters on a page. Sam is at the random mark making stage, the first in a long journey to becoming a writer. His sister’s shopping list may be incomprehensible to us, but she is attempting to convey meaning through her wavy lines. Her writing is meant to be read and she has taken on the role of a writer.

The general stages of early writing development are roughly as follows:

  • Stage 1: Random Scribbling (2- and 3-year-olds)
  • Stage 2 : Controlled Scribbling (3-year-olds)
  • Stage 3 : Letter-Like Forms (3- and 4-year-olds)
  • Stage 4: Letter and Symbol Relationship (4-year-olds)
  • Stage 5 : Invented Spelling (4- and 5-year-olds)
  • Stage 6 : Standard Spelling (5-, 6- and 7-year-olds)

Source: MacDonald, Sharon. The Portfolio and Its Use: A Road Map for Assessment. Southern Early Childhood Association, 1997

Just as every child learns to walk and to talk at a different age, every child will reach each stage at a different point.There are plenty of fun-filled activities you can do at home to encourage progression through these stages and  turn your child into a budding writer.

The Grasp

Writing requires the development of both gross motor and fine motor skills. Gross motor skills, such as running, involve the whole body. For writing, this means being able to sit on a chair in the correct position and balance. Fine motor skills are small movements such as picking up objects and wiggling your toes. The coordination of small muscles in the hand, wrist and fingers is essential for writing.

To write with a pencil you need to master the “pincer grip” or grasp used by the index finger and thumb. As children develop fine motor skills, they usually progress from a full fist grip to a four-finger grip to a true pincer grip. Try the following activities to help your child gain the fine motor skills needed to make controlled marks with writing tools:

Activities to develop fine motor skills

  • Threading and beading. Buy a big box of beads or use pasta or chopped up straws and make necklaces. (We have hundreds of these in my house!)
  • Use tweezers to pick up beads, buttons and sequins on a tray.
  • Encourage your child to pick up finger food chopped in small pieces.
  • Attach colored paper clips onto strips of colored card.
  • Open and close small pots and jars with lids, to develop wrist movement. Fill the pots with interesting things.
  • Stick pipe cleaners or thread ribbons through a colander.
  • Peg dolls’ clothing onto a line.
  • Hammer golf tees into styrofoam blocks and balance marbles on them.

For more activities, photos and inspiration, check out my Pinterest Board:

Activities to promote early writing

  • Encourage mark-making with different media: pencils, crayons, pens, chalk, charcoal, paint, water, soil.  Writing should be a multi-sensory experience; it’s an exploratory process. Making a mess is definitely allowed!
  • Take some giant chalks to the park or into the yard and get marking. Draw on the ground and on the walls.  Point out that the marks will wash off.
  • Write letters on the sidewalk with a giant sponge and watch them disappear as they dry.
  • Use a stick to make marks in the mud.
  • Once your child is aware of letter forms, make big wavy letters in the air with your fingers and play ‘guess the letter’.
  • Write your child’s name on his or her back with your finger. Take turns.
  • Take on the role of writer and model writing with your child. When you need to write a shopping list, write one with your child. He could have his own list to take to the grocery store and tick off items as he puts them in your basket. If you need to write a thank you note or card, let your child contribute their own meaningful marks and sign his name.
  • Let your child contribute to family emails on the computer, or play with an old type writer. My son is an expert at typing Pocoyo into YouTube.
  • Set up a “writing corner” with scraps of paper, newspapers, paper bags, old receipt books, cards and letters. Paper, pens and pencils should be easily accessible so your child can initiate activities independently.
  • When you read to your child, follow the text with your finger so your they can begin to make a link between your voice and the print on the page.
  • Encourage chatter and talk to your child in whole sentences. Having something to write about is essential to the writing process, as any adult with writers’ block will tell you.

For more ideas see:

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