Preschool Writing: What It Looks Like
What may look like scribbling to you is actually meaningful writing to a preschooler. Preschoolers often write long notes to friends that consist of little more than long strings of wavy lines, but when asked to dictate what the letter says, they will often come up with a long explanation for the "letter" they have created.
Most young preschoolers will not be able to form letters that are not in their names, but will understand how writing works. As children approach the age of five or six, letters become more meaningful and preschool children will begin to use them in place of wavy lines or scribbling when writing.
When planning to teach preschool writing, it is important to keep in mind these developmental milestones. Keep your expectations high but not unattainable when presenting writing lessons. Focus on the process of writing such as becoming comfortable with a writing instrument, writing from left to right, and conveying a message. The work produced is not as important as the steps involved and processes the children follow when learning to write.
Cross-Curricular Writing Opportunities
Providing opportunities for writing in all learning centers is often the best approach when teaching children to write. Every center in the classroom holds several opportunities for children to practice writing. Try some of these:
Dramatic Play: Create a restaurant in your dramatic play area. Allow children to create menus with markers or fancy pens on construction paper. Buy inexpensive order forms from an office supply store for children to use to take orders.
Sensory Play: Sprinkle flour or sand on cafeteria style trays. Allow children to use their fingers to draw letters in the flour. Cut out alphabet letters from sandpaper and allow children explore them freely, feeling the texture. Use the sandpaper letters to make crayon rubbings on white paper.
Art: While children are creating artwork, ask open ended questions about their work. Ask the child's permission to write down what they are saying about the art, and write it on a separate sheet of paper. When children are finished creating, display the artwork with the dictated message underneath. Call children's attention to it by saying "Remember when you drew this and told me all about it? I wrote it down right here. You said…" and proceed to read the message you wrote down, showing the children their words by following along with your finger.
Circle Time: Without even realizing it, you are exposing children to writing each and every time you read them a story. Allowing them to see the pictures and the words while you read, the children understand that the words and letters have meaning. After finishing a well loved book, ask the children if they would like to write their own story. Take suggestions and, using a large piece of butcher paper, write down what the children suggest. Be sure to repeat the children's words so that they can see the connection between their thoughts and the written words in front of them.
Children develop at their own rates, so be sure to include activities that are developmentally appropriate for the children in your classroom. Preschool writing does not have to mean that children are sitting at a table with worksheets, practicing the alphabet. While this is one way to introduce writing to preschoolers, there are lots of other ways, too.
Tracing: Using a writing instrument with a mature grasp is a harder task than it looks like. By the time they are in preschool, children have had lots of practice holding writing instruments but may need a bit of guidance to adopt a mature grasp. Use pencils with grippers to help children learn where to put their fingers. A simple tracing activity will help children with mature pencil grasp.
Mailbox: Provide small squares of cardstock for children to write postcards to their friends. A teacher may have to translate the writing on the card, but all children love to send and receive mail. Be sure to check the mailbox regularly and make sure all children are sending and receiving letters.
Nametags: Children learn best when the material presented to them is relevant to their life. Nothing is more relevant to a child than their own name! As a sign in activity, have each child write their own name on a sticky nametag. Be sure to have a written sample of each child's name for the children to refer to when attempting to write their name.
Be sure to focus on the process of writing and the fine motor development needed to make writing possible. Children enjoy mimicking adult behaviors, so make sure you make writing a big part of your day, too! Keep this preschool writing guide for your future records.
"More Than the ABC's: The Early Stages of Reading and Writing"; Judith A. Schickedanz; 1994