The development of writing in early childhood is a combination of both mental and physical progression. Mentally, a child is developing her skills of concentration, memory and language. Physically, she is developing the fine motor skills necessary to use the muscles in her fingers and hands for writing and drawing. Early childhood writing skills are best developed when a parent or caregiver provides opportunities for practice, such as providing materials for making cards or writing notes.
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Scribbling is the first stage of early childhood writing development. Children usually begin scribbling around 15 months of age and continue until about two and a half years. Scribbling consists of a child exploring space. He will use the scribbles to connect the top and bottom of a piece of paper and fill in the space in between. He is just beginning to understand that his movements result in the scribbles he sees on a piece of paper, and he will enjoy exploring the function of different types of paper and writing instruments. He will begin with large crayons or markers before progressing to using pencils.
Around two to three years of age, a child will begin to draw purposeful lines and progress beyond scribbling. She may draw open circles and diagonal, horizontal and vertical lines of all sizes. She will also be able to hold a crayon, marker or pencil between her thumb and index finger. Children of this age will benefit from using papers of different colors and textures, and working with media such as stencils, scissors, hole punches and stamps in addition to crayons or pencils. Her use of different writing media will encourage further writing development.
A child reaches the phonemic stage around three and a half years of age. He will begin to make repeated patterns, lines, dots and curves. He will also begin imitating writing and he may be able to write some letters of the alphabet. At this stage, he knows that his drawing and writing conveys meaning. He may also be able to name certain letters, and his “words” will include consonants first and vowels soon after.
Soon after the phonemic stage, a child’s writing begins to look more like her native language. When she writes words, the spellings first reflect how the word sounds rather than what may be the actual spelling. This soon develops into correct spelling. In the transitional stage, she is still exploring formats of words, resulting in words being written on more than one line on a page. She will also usually learn to write her own name before she writes other words.
Pictures and Words
Around four to five years of age, a child’s version of writing will include both words and pictures. He reaches an important intellectual ability that includes holding an image in his brain long enough to transfer it to a piece of paper. He will make creations and be able to label them, and may even plan his writing or drawings ahead of time. His writing skills will continue to be fine tuned as he progresses through schooling.