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June 21, 2023 / Blog

Emergent Writing in Early Childhood: Nurturing the Journey From Scribbles to Sentences

Writing is a pivotal skill that shapes a child’s educational trajectory, reinforcing cognitive growth and establishing a solid foundation for effective communication. Exploring the concept of emergent writing, we can identify how children’s writing skills form and evolve during early childhood. This post will delve into the significance of the stages of emergent writing and how you can support children as new worlds open up to them with the concept of written expression. 

What is Emergent Writing?

Emergent writing refers to a child’s earliest attempts to use writing to convey meaning. Before children can form letters or understand the relationship between letters and sounds, they engage in writing behaviors like scribbling and drawing. The process of writing is complex, with many rules and structures that might initially seem beyond a child’s comprehension. However, even at this early stage, they are capable of grasping the concept of using images or symbols to represent something else. As they grow, this understanding evolves, moving from creating letters, to forming words, and eventually to constructing full sentences. This marks the beginning of their literacy journey, which not only cultivates their cognitive development but also nurtures their creativity.

Stages of Emergent Writing in Preschoolers

Emergent writing unfolds in distinct stages that reflect children’s cognitive, physical, and socio-emotional growth. Understanding these stages empowers educators and parents to provide targeted support.

Scribbling Stage: Often beginning around age 2, children’s first attempts at writing resemble random scribbles. It may not hold meaning for adults, but it often does for the child. This stage is crucial for motor development and exploration of written expression.

Pseudo Writing Stage: Gradually, their scribbles start to show some characteristics of writing, such as horizontal lines and shapes, mimicking adult writing. 

Prephonemic Stage: Children start assigning sounds to their drawings and scribbles. They understand that writing carries a message but are yet to master the link between letters and sounds.

Phonemic Stage: Here, children begin to grasp the phonetic principles of writing. They write words the way they sound, often with spelling errors, but their attempts indicate an understanding of sound-letter relationships. This is the stage where most children’s emergent writing skills lie as they step into kindergarten, generally progressing beyond the capabilities developed during preschool and early childhood education.

Modeling Writing: An Effective Teaching Strategy

Modeled writing serves as a powerful teaching tool for emergent writers. This approach involves adults writing in front of children, verbalizing their thought processes as they go. Through this, children observe the thinking behind writing, learning about sentence construction, vocabulary choice, punctuation, and spelling.

Modeling writing demystifies the writing process, encouraging children to experiment with their writing. By watching an adult struggle, revise, and eventually succeed, children learn that writing is an iterative process, which develops resilience and a growth mindset.

Shared Writing: An Interactive Learning Tool

Shared writing plays a pivotal role in emergent writing development. This interactive process involves adults writing with children, providing an opportunity for children to observe, participate, and engage in discussions about writing. It fosters language development, phonological awareness, and familiarity with print concepts.

During shared writing sessions, adults model writing behavior, helping children understand how thoughts and words can be translated into written language. Importantly, it enables children to make a connection between reading and writing, building their comprehension skills.

How to Scaffold Emergent Writing 

We can support children’s emergent writing skills by focusing on three key areas: celebrating children’s writing, stocking a writer’s corner with writing supplies, and facilitating fine motor development. Each of these plays a unique role in nurturing a child’s emergent writing skills and helping them progress through the stages of literacy development.

Celebrating Children’s Writing

Celebrating children’s writing is a crucial aspect of encouraging emergent literacy. This practice builds a child’s confidence and fosters a love for writing. Show genuine interest in their scribbles, drawings, and early attempts at writing letters or words. Display their writing work prominently at home or in the classroom. Provide positive feedback and ask them to share their work with others. Remember, the focus is not on perfection, but the process of learning and the effort put forth. Creating an environment that celebrates their writing attempts will help nurture their self-esteem and ignite enthusiasm for further development.

Stocking a Writer’s Corner with Writing Supplies

Creating a dedicated space for writing can significantly aid a child’s interest and skills in writing. Stock the writer’s corner with an array of writing supplies such as pencils, pens, markers, crayons, and a variety of paper (lined, colored, construction, etc.). Include tools for letter formation like alphabet stencils or magnet letters. Consider adding word cards or picture books to spark inspiration. Regularly updating supplies keeps the writing corner appealing and stimulating. This dedicated space provides an inviting area for children to explore writing at their own pace and in their own unique style.

Facilitate Fine Motor Development

Fine motor skills, the coordination of small muscles in the hands and fingers, are crucial for writing. Encourage activities that strengthen these muscles and improve dexterity. Manipulative toys like play dough, building blocks, and stringing beads are great for fine motor development. Integrate activities like cutting with scissors, finger painting, and tracing shapes. Regularly practicing these activities can significantly improve hand strength and control, which are essential for holding a writing tool and forming letters. In doing so, we support the physical component of writing, preparing children for the more formal handwriting tasks they’ll encounter as they progress in their literacy journey.

The journey of emergent writing is indeed a profound phase of early childhood development. As parents, teachers, or caregivers, our role is to nurture this journey, embracing each stage as an opportunity to stimulate and inspire young minds. Remember, our focus should be less on achieving perfection and more on cultivating a passion for learning and a sense of curiosity. As we guide children through this exciting journey, we help them unlock the endless potential of written expression, setting the stage for lifelong learning and success.