Let’s take a look at the stages children go through when learning to write
Always a hot topic and highly debated among those who work in the early years is whether or not children should be taught to form letters and words during their time in early years settings. Many argue that this can, in fact, hinder a child’s development in the long term and that no emphasis should be placed on teaching writing skills during the early years apart from in reception class.
The first stage
During the first stage of writing a child needs to establish motor control. These skills begin to develop in the first two years of a child’s life. Therefore mark making is important but at this stage, it is all about physical development involved in making marks and the sensory awareness that can be gained through this. At the ages of 0-2 years old, a child is not making marks to communicate in any way and therefore at this age there should be no promotion of forming or tracing letters.
The best way to support the development of writing at this age is to promote motor skills and muscle development as without these a child physically cannot hold a pencil or form letters and words. Younger babies and children need to grasp large motor skills such as supporting the head, rolling, crawling, pulling to stand and then smaller motor skills such as holding objects and picking up small objects with a pincer grip. All this needs to be achieved before a child can begin learning to write.
Some activities that may, therefore, support the writing development of a 0-2-year-old are –
- Tunnels, tents, objects on low-level units to encourage standing,
- lots of space, time and encouragement
- Messy play – gloop, finger paints, sand, beans, jelly, oats, rice, cereals
The second stage –
Children usually reach this stage, between the ages of two and three. During this stage children should still not be taught how to write and form letters as they fine motor skills are still not sophisticated enough for this. Children will usually be using tools in a palmer grasp, and this does not allow for the range of movements necessary to form letters. Due to the control over the tools children are usually learning to purposefully make lots of lines, circles and dots. This does not mean they are ready to begin forming small letters, though.
Another important skill children usually acquire during this stage is discovering that marks in the environment often hold meaning. They may also start to give meaning to their marks. This is an important step in finally learning to write.
With this in mind some activities that may be useful to supporting the writing development of 2-3 years olds are –
- Cooking – Using lots of tools such as wooden spoons, knives, skewers
- Painting – Using thick brushes, sponges and rollers
- Chalks – Larger chalks outside
The third stage –
During this stage, the experiences child have had begin to show through in their mark making. The marks they are making most probably won’t be recognisable however writing words and knowing what they have written during this stage are still not important. Opportunities to make marks and experience copying from things in their environment is all that is needed during this stage. Children who enjoy books may begin creating their marks in the way that the English language is written so from left to right. They will have picked this up from being read to and shown over a period of time. Not all children will do this at this stage it depends on how much knowledge they have. During this stage, children should be given lots of opportunities to copy letters however they can, however, it should not be taught to them or forces upon them. This copying stage isn’t about knowing what they have written it’s more about discovering how letters are created.
Advisable activities may therefore be –
- Provide pencils, crayons, felt tips, wax crayons
- Books near the graphics area
- Word cards where simple letters and numbers can be copied should the child wish to.
The final stage –
This is the stage that children will probably reach during the first year of school in the reception class. It takes someone who has had the correct training to support a child through this stage and shouldn’t be attempted by those without the correct knowledge. This is the stage where children begin to link sounds to the letters they are writing. The letters may not make up full words, but the child themselves will believe they have written words, sentences or even full stories from the few letters they have created with the knowledge they have around sounds. Even at this stage children may not know how to from letters completely correctly or how the knowledge to write full words. Attempting to promote this stage before a child is ready will not work, and this is why children should not be pushed to write before they are ready. Children need the knowledge and experience of phonics, sounds, segmenting and blending. Something very few practitioners have full training in.