Authored by Learning Matters for Skola Toys
The importance of pre-writing
The height and weight of preschoolers is meticulously tracked in order to monitor their physical development. But, what about their literacy development? Sadly, many do not recognise the critical impact that pre-writing skills have on children’s literacy development at later ages.
What is pre-writing?
Pre-writing, also known as early, emergent or free writing is the act of producing physical marks on paper to convey a message. The marks can be produced by crayons, pencils, chalk, paint, markers, or even fingers and on a variety of media such as paper laid horizontal on a table, paper hanging vertically on an easel, dry-erase boards, blackboards, sand, and cloth. Scribbling, drawing, doodling, and creating marks meant to represent letters and numbers are some common forms of pre-writing. Most preschoolers are capable of some forms or combinations of pre-writing and will do so when provided with materials and opportunities.
What’s all the fuss about pre-writing?
Children begin acquiring information about their world at birth and continue to gather information throughout their lives. However, the biggest gain in this acquisition is widely believed to occur during the first few years of life – birth to approximately three to five of age. This is because most of the wiring in the brain takes place during this time, causing children to make incredible progress in knowledge and skills (Zero to Three, Washington, DC). So, preschool becomes the critical period to lay the foundation for language-related abilities. The more children are exposed to pre-writing, print material, and reading, the more successful they will be in reading and writing later on. In fact, according to the National Early Literacy Panel (NELP, 2008) , early writing is one of the best predictors of children’s later reading success.
Pre-writing encourages speaking and reading
Most preschoolers love to talk about what they draw, scribble, or write. This comes very naturally to them. Doing so helps them develops speaking skills and the confidence to express themselves. Writing is also linked to reading. When preschoolers write and then explain their writing they are, in essence, reading out what they have written. Pre-writing enhances reading abilities and reading paves the way for pre-writing. The more children write, the more connections they make between the various forms of language – vocabulary, speaking, reading, and writing. They begin to understand that the various forms of language are interrelated – I can think of something and represent it on paper; I can express something verbally and also on paper; I can read something and represent that on paper, too. Scribbling is to writing what babbling is to speaking (Beaty, J.J, 2014).
Pre-writing develops fine-motor skills
Pre-writing helps to develop better fine-motor skills. Preschoolers who go to kindergarten without developed fine-motor control will likely experience frustration while using scissors or pencils, doing crafts, or drawing as these activities will demand more focus as the body struggles to make connections between the brain and the hands.
Pre-writing develops higher-order thinking skills
Writing initiates higher-level thinking skills. According to Fountas and Pinnell, widely recognised as having made great contributions to literacy, writing is a complex series of actions. Children must first think of something and hold onto those thoughts in their minds. Then, they have to figure out how to represent their thoughts by writing. This complex cognitive activity continues throughout the process of writing, until they have completed their work. So, the act of writing needs children to focus, concentrate, and use their memory in addition to their fine-motor skills. Writing is therefore a complex interplay of various physical and mental processes. Doing so indicates children’s understanding that writing is a form of communication.
The Stages of Writing
Most children typically go through the following stages in developing writing skills. Some children may skip some stages completely.
Scribbling/making random marks – although illegible, these marks are children’s first act or feel of writing.
Representational drawing – scribbles give way to circles, lines, or other shapes. Children will often tell stories about these.
Writing that is separate from drawing – children learn about the letters of the alphabet and recognise that letters are used to label things. They also begin to associate letters with specific sounds and make marks on paper to represent letters.
Mock letters – children “write” from left to right, imitating the form of phrases and sentences.
Writing words or word-like forms – children begin to write two- and three-letter words. They may use invented spellings for words or spell words the way they sound.
Conventional writing and spelling – the final stage of writing development in which children understand the spacing between letters and words, place them legibly on paper, differentiate between upper and lower case letters and follow a more conventional style as they reach first and second grade.
How to encourage early writing
It is important for adults to recognise, understand and support early writing skills.
Provide children with a wide variety of materials to explore writing – crayons, chalk, pencils, paint and paintbrushes, paper of various types and sizes, and finger paints.
Invite children to tell you about their drawings and writings. Listen without interrupting.
Encourage children to be creative when drawing and writing. Don’t force children to “colour within lines” or to stick to conventions. If a child wants to draw a purple sun, by all means let her do so. Creativity is critical for writing.
Have children dictate stories to you while you write them down, word for word. This helps them make the connection between speech and print.
Have children explore various forms of writing such as making grocery lists, writing notes and letters to friends, and writing stories. Encourage inventive spelling or spelling words they way they sound.
Encourage children to explore creative ways of writing such as writing with twigs and sticks in sand or dipping their fingers or paint brushes in water and writing on floors or walls.