When children begin writing is much earlier than you might think. Children’s writing skills can start with emergent writing skills. Emergent writing is the first step taken by children to learn to write. Emergent writing develops as children understand that writing is a form of communication and that their marks on paper can be used to convey a message.

Young children from as early as two years old start to imitate the act of writing. They begin by creating drawings and symbolic markings representing their ideas and thinking. A child’s writing will eventually evolve into proper letters and words, but all the visual and written communication they practice before this stage is considered emergent writing.

Writing is an important part of children’s literacy development, so children benefit from regular experience writing every day and from being encouraged to write.

How does emergent writing develop?

Children improve their writing abilities and understanding as they continue to be exposed to writing in the world around them. You can look at how this emergent writing changes in different areas.

As children’s emergent writing develops, they learn that writing can have a purpose and be meaningful.

Children’s development of their emergent writing skills also includes improving their skills with the letter and word writing, spelling, and building up their alphabetic knowledge.

The ability to write phrases and sentences that can communicate meaning is another important aim of teachers working with emergent writers.

This part of emergent writing grows in early childhood as children learn to express themselves in experimental writing and orally. For example, it might mean learning through composing stories, writing notes and making lists, or speaking words and phrases that somebody else can transcribe into a written script.

These different aspects of emergent writing can be grouped into three main areas:

  • Conceptual knowledge – The purpose of writing.
  • Procedural knowledge – The technical ability needed for writing.
  • Generative knowledge – The ability to write meaningful phrases.

How can you teach children writing skills?

Here are some tips to encourage your child to develop early writing skills.

  1. Sit right to write: Good posture is important for any writing. Encourage children to sit with their feet flat on the floor, straight backs (no heads on the table), and relaxed shoulders.
  2. Get ready to write by doodling first: Doodling fosters healthy brain development, the ability to retain information, and future creativity, yet it can be overlooked and brushed off as insignificant. On the contrary, doodling is one of the most impactful ways children learn; for young children, it’s one of their first steps toward handwriting and drawing.
  3. Learn how to hold a pencil properly: Before any child can learn to write, they must develop the correct way of holding a pencil. This proper grip is called the pincer grasp. To practice this, give them the crayon/pencil so that it’s pointing towards them. Then, when they pick it up and lift their hand, they should automatically use the pincer grasp!

What does emergent writing look like?

Emergent writing develops over multiple stages, including scribbles and mock letters that may look like letters but are shapes and imitations. Children’s writing develops on a continuum described in the stages of emergent writing below.

It’s usual to see lots of letters arranged into nonsensical strings as children develop their letter formation skills, and it’s beneficial for children to practice this pretend writing during play.

What are the stages of emergent writing?

  1. Drawing and imitative writing – children draw scribbled lines aimed to imitate adult writing
  2. Copying words – they then begin to copy individual words from books and posters
  3. Drawing strings of letters – a child writes random letters that are properly formed but which have no relationship to proper sounds
  4. Phonetic writing – children begin to write using incorrectly spelled words that at least make sense when read
  5. Conventional spelling – children will eventually learn basic spellings and begin to write using proper words.

How do you support emergent writing?

As emergent writing develops among young learners, teachers and parents play an important role in supporting them. The key is for teachers to share the joy and satisfaction of writing and encourage children to communicate and record their thoughts.

Teaching methods, including demonstration and activities like name-writing, will improve children’s emergent writing skills. Teachers can promote name-writing activities and other opportunities to develop fine motor skills at multiple points over the day. For example, this helps to encourage finger dexterity. Reminding children to use writing in their different activities around the classroom or at home is another fruitful way of encouraging children’s writing.

Using lots of different writing tools is a good way to improve fine motor skills. It’s also a great excuse to create art with your children!

Writing in the classroom

Here are some ideas you can use to foster emergent writing in the classroom:

  • Provide a range of writing materials around the school.
  • Create centers in the school concentrated on writing.
  • You can use clipboards to encourage children to make observations.
  • A mailbox in the school can be a focal point for your letter-writing activities.
  • A writing pad in your classroom’s play area can be used as part of play-based activities, for example, to take orders at a restaurant.
  • Children can use writing materials to keep a record of caring for class plants or pets.

Name writing for emergent writers

The first word a child writes will probably be their own! Names will have meaning to children in developing their sense of autonomy and relationships with other people.

You can encourage your children’s confidence with writing by asking them to sign a register in the classroom or sign-in sheets when they use different elements in the school, such as the class computer. You can also ask your children to write their names on their creative work.

Name-writing exercises can encourage children to learn to write the letters in their names and to have fun experimenting with the craft in writing.

Model writing

You can help your emergent writers through demonstrations with modeled writing. Showing your children that you write and read daily will help them understand that reports can be meaningful.

For example, you could write out messages on a display board at the beginning of the day, or you could write down a story that your children are coming up with together.

You can explicitly model writing to your children by explaining the writing process and what you are doing.

You can also provide opportunities for your children to work with others on their writing or encourage them to decorate the classroom with hand-painted signs.

What are the characteristics of an emergent writer?

These are some of the characteristics of an emergent writer, which can help you tailor your teaching intentions.

Emergent writers know that language can be recorded, they want to write, and they can write at one of the early stages of emergent writing. Emergent writers can eventually use playful markings to communicate meaning, which signals that they know how to use written language.

Emergent writing skills, such as name-writing proficiency, can be important predictors of children’s future writing and reading skills.

What is an example of emergent literacy?

Educators use emergent literacy to talk about language and literacy skills related to emergent writing but mainly focus on developing reading skills.

Before entering formal education, children engage in many literacy-rich activities such as storybook reading and pretending to write or draw.

It’s important to recognize that young children already develop reading and writing behaviors from different activities outside the classroom, such as rhyming wordplay and turning literacy themes into play.

Both writing experiences at home and school are important to helping children improve their writing skills.

What are emergent literacy skills?

These are the basic skills that are linked with emergent literacy:

  • Print motivation – Interest and enjoyment of books.
  • Vocabulary – Being able to name things.
  • Print awareness – Knowing how to handle books and follow words.
  • Narrative skills – Telling stories and describing things.
  • Letter knowledge – Discerning different letters, their names, and sounds.
  • Phonological awareness – Recognising the smaller sounds in words.

Why is handwriting practice important?

Handwriting practice is important because it helps children develop fine motor skills. These small movements in hand and wrist control the pencil grip. When children begin school, they are at an age where their motor skills are still developing, so they need to get lots of practice.

Fluency is a key component of good handwriting. As children develop their writing skills, they can incorporate seamless joins and confident pen strokes into their script.

Encouraging drawing as writing

While handwriting practice becomes essential to children’s emergent writing, children can benefit from having time and space to engage in drawing experiences.

Giving children the tools to express themselves through drawing can facilitate their emergent writing and written expression. Drawing can act as an anchor for children’s ideas as they experiment with letter formation. Teachers can also annotate their children’s drawings. It can help to record the child’s narration of their work and encourage children to incorporate writing in their texts in the future.

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