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The write stuff: developing early writing skills in pre-schoolers

Imagine a world without written words. Worse than the inconvenience of not having books or poring over the morning paper with your much-loved morning coffee, there’d be hardship everywhere. There would be no emails, documents or contracts, no street signs, no shopping lists, no letters, cards or labels. The list goes on. When you start to think about how essential the written word is you realise how achieving a high standard of literacy for any person is of supreme importance. Learning to write is a critical skill to master in order for a child to go on to become literate.

Very young children begin to scribble, draw, and mimic letters or letter-like figures way before they understand what they mean. This scribbling and creation of shapes are the first steps towards writing and should be encouraged, but not pushed, wherever possible.

Generally speaking, at the ages of three and four children should be learning and developing some basic skills around writing. The writing skills should connect in meaningful ways to reading and communicate basic information through symbols and words. Here are a few examples of activities that a child should be learning and attempting to master at pre-school age:

  • use of pens, pencils and markers for writing and drawing
  • writing some or all the letters in her or his first name
  • communicating and expressing ideas through drawing pictures
  • drawing and copying circles and lines, along with symbols like “+” and “x”
  • some level of understanding of how drawing and writing helps us function in life

Encouraging a pre-schooler’s writing skills
Once you understand the basic writing goals of a pre-schooler you can start to create ways of encouraging the young child to develop her or his writing skills. There are many ways of doing this, but the trick is to make the learning as easily accessible, enjoyable and creative as possible. Here are some ideas.

  • Keep an attractive collection of coloured pencils, pens and crayons close by, along with plenty of butcher’s paper for children to experiment on.
  • Teach the child how to print her or his first name. This is a large task for a young one and will take some time, although once achieved it is satisfying.
  • Make sure you display the child’s name in various places, such as on bags, items of clothing, drawings they have done and so on. This will help with recognition and assist the child to understand the importance of names.
  • Practice writing her or his name in all sorts of places and with different materials, such as at the beach in the sand, or using chalk to write on a blackboard or pavement.
  • Show the child examples of writing in everyday life, such as books, shopping lists, menus, street signs, the computer, and wherever else you can find. This will demonstrate to the child how important words are as well is motivate them to become a part of this exciting new world of words.
  • Encourage the child to express their feelings and ideas through drawing. You can even encourage them to tell a story through drawings, and make a book out them.
  • Give the child their very own blank sketch book, purely for writing and drawing in.

When things aren’t quite right
It is a fact that each child develops writing skills at a different pace, but there are certain behaviours to look out for that may be concerning. For example, parents may wish to seek help if the child:

  • is exceptionally late in learning to copy and write letters of the alphabet
  • has significant difficulty in remembering the shape of letters or numbers
  • frequently reverses or incorrectly writes letters, numbers or symbols
  • has difficulty holding a pencil, marker or crayon with an appropriate grasp for their age bracket

early writing skills pre-schoolersThere are varied reasons for the above problems, but it is important to discuss these issues with either the pre-school teacher or if warranted, a paediatrician. Above all, the development of early writing skills should be taken seriously and encouraged in a positive and creative way in order to develop this essential literacy skill.

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Vicki Tuchtan

Vicki Tuchtan

Vicki Tuchtan is the Academic Director at Sage Institute of Education. She oversees learning processes, teaching outcomes, resources and course development. A passionate advocate for bettering standards of training in Australia, she is currently writing her PhD thesis on defining quality training in the Australian vocational education sector.
Vicki Tuchtan

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