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Patterns of Writing Development for Children

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  • 0:02 Writing Development
  • 0:58 Early Writing
  • 3:55 Letters & Words
  • 6:31 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

How do children go from scribbling randomly on a page to writing words and sentences and paragraphs? In this lesson, we'll answer that question as we explore the seven major steps in writing development.

Writing Development

Melanie loves her son, Jeremy, very much. She knows that writing skills are very important to his future success, and she wants to help him become a great writer, but she's not sure how to do that. How do children learn to write? How do scribbles turn into sentences? A child's writing development begins long before they are actually able to communicate through written language. In fact, when Jeremy scribbles on a page, he is engaging in the very early stages of writing.

Jeremy, like other children, will go through certain stages as he develops as a writer. How quickly and at what age he moves through those stages is personal, but there are certain milestones that Melanie can look out for as she watches him develop. Let's look closer at the stages of writing development, and what Melanie can do to help Jeremy at each stage.

Early Writing

Jeremy is still very young, and when he is given a pen or pencil, he uses it like a crayon: scribbling on the page in front of him instead of writing language in a way that is recognizable to others. As we said before, Jeremy's scribbling is an early sign of writing. In fact, the first three stages of writing development all involve some type of scribbling.

Stage one is the random scribbling stage. This is usually around age two or three. During this stage, children learn that moving an instrument like a pen or a crayon across a paper makes marks. The child has very little control over how they move the writing instrument; they are moving it with their whole body instead of just their hand or their wrist. Their scribbles, as the name implies, look random. There's not really a pattern to them.

When Jeremy was still in stage one, Melanie helped him by encouraging him to scribble with many different instruments. She gave him crayons and pens and pencils and markers. By providing all these different instruments, Melanie was encouraging him to explore and figure out how different instruments felt in his hand.

Stage two is the controlled scribbling stage. This is usually around age three, and as the name implies, the children in this stage are still scribbling, but now the scribbles are more controlled than in stage one. Kids at this age have better control over their muscle movements, and their scribbles begin to look more ordered. They've realized that how they move the instrument dictates what the scribbles on the paper will look like. This is a big realization! Once you know that if you move the pen this way, a line going that way appears on the paper, but if you move the pen this other way, a different line will show up, you have the beginning of understanding how to write.

When Jeremy was in stage two, Melanie was able to help him by encouraging him to try to make different types of lines and scribbles. She can help him realize that how he moves his hand influences what happens on the paper.

Stage three is the mock writing stage. This occurs around age three or four. During this stage, the scribbles begin to look like letters, though they aren't real letters. For example, Jeremy made two lines next to each other, connected by a line across the top of them. That's not a real letter, but it shows that he sort of knows what letters look like. Also in this stage, children begin to distinguish between writing and drawing. Jeremy, for example, asks his mom for a pen when he's writing and a crayon when he wants to draw.

During this stage, Melanie can continue to support Jeremy's development. Whenever they read together, she can make sure that he's noticing what letters look like. She can also continue to support his exploration of writing by allowing him to make his fake letters during this mock writing stage.

Letters & Words

Jeremy is in the mock writing stage of writing development. So far, all Melanie has seen from him is scribbling: first in the random scribbling stage, then in the controlled scribbling stage, and finally in the mock writing stage. But Melanie knows that Jeremy will actually be writing soon.

In fact, the very next stage of writing development, stage four, is the writing letters stage. This is just what it sounds like: kids are able to write letters, but they are not yet forming words with those letters. This is common around age four. During this stage, children often write strings of letters or repeat letters. Again, these strings or repetitions are not actual words. Instead, they are often relatively random.

When Jeremy gets to this stage, Melanie can support his development by giving him plenty of opportunities to practice writing his letters. She can show him how to write letters, and encourage him to copy them.

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