Recently there have been many, many questions
posed to me about young children and writing.
- Can they do it?
- Should we encourage them to do it?
- So we just lower our expectations, right?
- Why in the world would we concern ourselves with 2s and 3s writing??!!
- Isn't this more of the "pushing down" pressure that children are experiencing academically?
Remember, reading and writing go hand-in-hand.
This means that we learn to read by writing, and we learn to write by reading!
Reading with young children promotes vocabulary, speaking and listening skills, communication in general, and pre-reading skills including the basic understanding that the words we say and the ideas we express can be written down and later read aloud and shared.
Just as we expose young children to reading by reading stories to them, which eventually results in them imitating this behavior, we also must expose young children to writing by modeling and sharing our writing. They will, inevitably, mimic this behavior as well. If I write a grocery list and read the first three items to my two-year-old, asking if he wants me to add anything to the list of items we will pick up at the grocery store today, he might very well say, "nana" (bananas). I will write the word bananas and read it back to him. Making this a fun game between us, he may eventually choose to sit next to me and make his own grocery list while I make mine each week, and we might read them to each other before we leave and as we shop.
Early on, before children can regulate gross and fine motor skills to the extent that they can practice writing letters, writing is all about the scribble! Scribble can represent a picture and a picture tells a story just as words do. The scribble can represent the words that describe a picture, and the scribble-words can be read aloud to tell the story, with reference to the picture for visual details.
A very important facet of this early scribble is that writing is an individual's opportunity to tell his or her story. Therefore, the scribble, whether a drawing or an attempt to imitate writing, is documenting the toddler's story! Hence, the key component needed in order to reach the outcome is to have the child "read" aloud his or her story from the illustration and/or scribble-words he or she created. This is ever so exciting! This is the beginning of a person's ability to share or express his or her thoughts by authoring those thoughts. WOW! Powerful play!!! We can ask a child to draw and write about her favorite place, favorite toy, trip to the zoo, etc., and she can read us her story! We can even work on advanced reading skills such as reading with expression, because when telling her own story, this lesson is a natural one and can be an opportunity for learning through play. "Show us your sad face so we know what you looked like when you fell off the swing in your story. Can you read it with your sad voice?"
Once children reach three years old, assuming developmentally appropriate fine and gross motor play has been happening up until this point, they can begin to make attempts at controlling a marker, crayon or even a pencil, in order to work toward writing letters. This is the stage where we may have some actual letters or scribbles similar to letters that are "read" to us when the child tells the story of his illustration.
Assessing pre-writing skills is important. The purpose of assessment is to inform instruction. This means that we monitor the development of the skills in order to determine what it is that each individual child needs from us at this point. Assessment does not have to be and should not be - particularly in early childhood - formalized testing. During the early years, children learn through play, and they demonstrate their skills in the same manner. Therefore, the same fun that we have with them when we are exposing them to writing and encouraging them to be the young authors that they are, is the same fun we must plan and engage, in order to assess skills.
I have found that Scholastic's Easy Assessments for Pre-Kindergarten, by Laurie B. Fyke, is a wonderful resource for developmentally-appropriate assessment activities. Fyke includes a Language Arts Reading Assessment that makes a must-have tool for checking in with early readers and writers. She lists objectives for the assessment, the materials needed, the directions, and she provides a student form as well as a teacher form. How does it work? The child receives a page that has a large box on it with a title, "I can draw a picture and tell about my story." Sound familiar? The teacher form is a check-off grid with space for notes and four assessment times, each corresponding with a list of skills to assess. The skills range from retelling their own story orally to reading with expression. This covers skills that range from toddlers to first grade!
Another assessment of Fyke's asks the student to draw a picture of him- or herself. This writing assessment pertains to organizing information and the skills assessed range from age-appropriate development of the figure in the drawing to demonstrating a correct pencil grip. Once again, she offers a wide range of skills to assess. The checklists, forms, and details make these assessments a breeze for teachers and easy to complete one-on-one with students, without stress or tears. It's easy to keep it fun and see what's going on!
Such assessments allow teachers to easily observe and record where a student is with (pre-)reading and writing skills at a particular point in time. This enables the educator to build upon the current skills, and just as important, to celebrate achievement with students, no matter how minor, because the milestones will be observed. Progress is the goal, at the rate at which it fits each individual student's development.
Below is Fyke's book and also some resource articles pertaining to the information discussed in this post. Happy Writing...and Reading, naturally!
Fyke, L. B. (2007). Easy assessments for pre-kindergarten. New York, NY: Scholastic.
Toddlers and reading: Describe but don't drill. (n.d.). Retrieved November 8, 2014, from
Early writing: Why squiggles are important. (n.d.). Retrieved November 8, 2014, from Learning
Disabilities Association of America website: http://ldaamerica.org/