Understanding Beginning Writing Skills in Preschoolers
By Kristin Stanberry
It’s easy to keep track of your preschooler’s growth in height and weight. But how can you measure your child’s development in other areas? For instance, can you tell if he or she is learning and mastering age-appropriate writing skills?
As your child’s parent and first teacher, there is no one better to observe and gather information about the progress she is making during the preschool years. The questions and tips that follow will help you understand what type of early writing skills your 3- and 4-year-old child should be developing and how you can support her budding writing skills.
Is your child developing age-appropriate writing skills?
The most important thing for parents to remember is that writing during the preschool years is, well, messy! The goal is to help children understand how writing works, that it connects in meaningful ways to reading, and that it communicates information, through words and symbols. Do you know what basic writing skills your child should be learning and mastering at ages 3 or 4? Review the following questions, and note how your child is doing in each area. Does my child:
- Express ideas and stories through pictures she draws?
- Use pencils, crayons, and markers for drawing and writing?
- Copy and draw lines and circles, and symbols like “X” and “+”?
- Attempt (with some success) to write some of the letters in her first name?
- Show an understanding of how writing and drawing help us communicate and function in everyday life?
Encouraging early writing skills at home
Now that you understand some of the beginning writing skills your child should have, you can reinforce those skills and help her make further progress. It’s easy (and fun!) to practice writing with your child throughout the day. Here are some activities to try:
- Let your child use writing tools such as pencils, washable markers, chalk, and crayons. Gather and organize these materials, along with some paper, in a box that your child can decorate and have access to.
- Encourage your child to use drawing to express ideas and tell stories.
- Show your child that written words are a part of daily life. From grocery lists and email messages to billboards and signs in stores, writing is everywhere!
- Teach your child to print her first name. (Be patient, as this will take practice.) This is very empowering for a preschooler!
- Label your child’s belongings with her name. And, let your child label some of her own things (such as a notebook or crayon box).
- Let your child mold clay letters for hands-on practice shaping letters of the alphabet.
- Help your child create a pretend menu using pictures of food from newspapers and magazines
Note: If your child has a regular babysitter or daycare provider, be sure to pass these tips along to the caregiver.
Promoting early writing skills at preschool
There is a growing emphasis on structured learning in today’s preschools and while there is still plenty of play time, time in school tends to follow a more rigorous curriculum than in the past. To keep track of how well your young child is learning to write, you’ll want to:
- Ask your child’s teacher how writing is being taught and practiced – and whether your child is doing well or struggling.
- Find out what specific early writing skills your child will need to master in order to have a successful start in kindergarten.
- Collect samples of your child’s writing in the work and projects she brings home, display them at home, and discuss them together.
- Encourage your child to talk about school and learning, and try to gauge how she feels about writing.
Cause for concern? Where to turn for advice and assistance
If you’re worried that your child’s writing skills are below-average for her age group, rest assured that not all preschoolers learn to write at the same pace. However, you may want to seek help if your child:
- Dislikes and avoids writing and copying.
- Is late in learning to copy and write.
- Has trouble remembering the shapes of letters and numbers.
- Frequently reverses or otherwise incorrectly draws letters, numbers, and symbols.
Discuss your concerns with your child’s preschool teacher or other personnel at your local school district. Your child’s pediatrician might also be able to provide guidance. And, be sure that your child has undergone vision and hearing screenings. If you’re concerned that your child may have a learning disability or delay, you should contact your public school system and request (in writing) that a diagnostic screening (at no cost to you) be conducted (available under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act).
Kristin Stanberry is a writer and editor specializing in parenting, education, and consumer health/wellness issues. Her areas of expertise include learning disabilities and AD/HD, topics which she wrote about extensively for Schwab Learning and GreatSchools.
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