When is my child’s writing going to look like writing?

A common question our teachers often hear is, “When is my child’s writing going to look like writing?” I’ll answer that question, but first let’s reflect on when your child said their first words, an exciting milestone for any family.

Perhaps you called grandparents? Maybe you encouraged your child to say it again in order to capture it on video?

As time went on, you continued to support your child’s language development and gently modeled correct grammar. When your child said, “I goed to the park today,” you responded by saying, “That’s right, you went to the park today.” You extended your child’s learning and vocabulary by reading books aloud and serving as a role model as your child slowly learned our language. Your positive feedback has kept your child wanting to learn more.

Now that your child is doing more of their “schoolwork” at home, you might be seeing more evidence of their budding knowledge of letter recognition, letter/sound relationships and phonemic awareness (what letters make what sounds). You may see your child starting to tackle the process of learning to write.

However, as children learn to write, we often forget to show them the same patience and support that we provided when they were learning to talk. In our push for conventional letters and spelling, we forget to celebrate the scribbles… Learning to write is HARD. Think about it like this: A child making their first scribble marks on a piece of paper is like saying “Mama.” We need to praise those marks and remember that children have a long journey ahead. It will be a while before their writing looks like ours.

Judith Schickedanz, in her book, Much More Than the ABCs, states that learning to write involves much more than learning to form alphabet letters. It involves a certain amount of understanding about letter/sound relationships, the structure of words on a page and generally how to make a point that will be understood by the reader. In addition, as children learn to write they must also develop strength in their hands (holding a writing utensil such as a marker or pencil is hard work!) and hand-eye coordination that enables them to focus on the task and make specific marks on a writing surface. Your child is embarking on a long writing journey and our team of talented teachers will gently support your child as they navigate the early stages.

Teacher helping a preschool student with his writing.

Before children can write letters, they scribble. Very often this looks like random marks, dots, and circular motions. As children progress through this stage, they begin to differentiate writing from drawing, and they incorporate “writing” into their drawings. Scribble writing in these cases often looks like small wavy lines.

After a while, children begin to incorporate actual letters and mock letters into their scribble writing. Mock letters are close approximations of letters and are the kind of symbols that we may turn to if we ever find ourselves in need of a 27th letter for our alphabet. During this stage, our teachers encourage children to write as much as possible and incorporate it naturally into just about every activity. The example on the left is a love note between two children – Ivy and Max. Both of their names are present but mixed in with scribble writing and drawing.

If you look closely, you can also see a clear   I ♥ U.

BCD’s preschool program uses the Learning Without Tears (LWT) curriculum to teach handwriting. The goal of LWT is to make learning to write approachable and fun by using multisensory materials, developmentally appropriate teaching strategies, songs (“Where do you start your letters? At the TOP!”), simple techniques, hands-on materials, and engaging methods that make learning fun.

As the name suggests, Learning Without Tears also fosters children’s sense of “I am, and I can.” Our teachers use intentional teaching and knowledge of each individual child to nurture their confidence and meet each child’s specific learning needs.  We provide daily opportunities for children to write about things they are interested in. For example, one child shared his interest in and understanding of driving in image on the right. He included the road and specific information when to stop and when to go (note the use of color with those words) and makes it clear that roads should steer clear of trees.

This child, as with all children, has so much to share and an intrinsic desire to communicate in writing. However, children also need adult guidance. Understanding that learning to write is a long journey will help you to acknowledge your child’s hard work and celebrate the scribbles.

Learning Without Tears has digitized many of their hands-on materials for parents to use for distance learning at home. I tried wet-dry-try, the wood piece letter builder, and a couple of pages from the letter writing worksheets. If you want to try their materials, you will need to create an account – it is free for 90 days. Check it out!

With appreciation,

-Kath, BCD’s Head of Preschool

Learn more about BCD’s Preschool program.

Free Download – Preschool Choice Guide.