In this age of accountability, increased "rigor," and testing, it seems that "writing" has come to mean one thing and the same thing across all grade levels and for all children. There is the misconception that teaching writing to young children means handing them paper and writing materials and sending them off on their own to write. When in fact, teaching writing to our youngest learners includes fine motor skills, an awareness of the purposes and functions of the written word, letter and word writing, and modeling... lots and lots of modeling.
Fine Motor Skills
Writing, like reading, is dependent on children having certain perceptual motor skills. In order to write, young children need to be able to grasp writing materials and have the hand-eye coordination to make certain types of marks in specific places on a writing surface.
Fine motor development is, to a great degree, maturational. However, early childhood teachers can provide materials and opportunities for their students to practice developing their fine motor skills.
Early childhood teachers can provide materials in all areas of the classroom to develop children's dexterity and hand-eye coordination. Some examples include: beads and string, dress-up and doll clothes with various types of fasteners, moldable materials such as play-doh, paper for children to manipulate and transform using scissors, a stapler, a hole punch, and tape, interactive technology that uses a touch screen, puzzles, etc.
For more ideas on ways to incorporate fine motor development into centers, small group instruction, and lessons, take a look at my "Fine Motor Activities" Pinterest board. Here are just a couple of great ideas I have pinned from others onto my board.
In addition to providing materials for developing children's fine motor skills, teachers should provide writing materials of all kinds throughout the room and in all center areas, encourage children to play simple games such as throwing a bean bag at a target, model how to hold writing tools and scissors, and pair students with a buddy for help. Young children oftentimes learn dexterity and coordination skills better by watching and imitating their peers rather than from direct instruction from an adult.
**In early childhood, providing opportunities for young children to develop their manual dexterity and hand-eye coordination are part of writing. They should be incorporated all throughout the day and considered part of the daily writing routine.
Awareness of the Ways and Reasons People Write
Young children need to understand that writing is done for functional reasons such as to communicate an idea, to remind oneself to do something, or to give directions and also for pleasure such as to tell a story, extend and invitation, say thank you, or preserve a memory.
Provide contextualized examples of print such as material and center labels, rules created by the students, a daily schedule, cookbooks in the pretend and learn center, lists of children's names, anchor charts created with the students, to do lists, morning message, and authentic student writing.
Letter and Word Writing
Like letter knowledge, letter and word writing are highly dependent on explicit instruction, but to be effective, it must be provided in relevant and developmentally appropriate ways.
Call attention to how letters are formed, specifically the lines and shapes that make them up. I posted the other day about how describing the directional movements aloud is helpful. While your students, especially ELLs, may have a difficult time with these directions as first, you can have them practice by sky writing the letters. In some cases, you may want to stand behind the student and guide his or her hand and finger as he or she says the directions with you. Just as you build vocabulary in other content areas, you will have to build in when demonstrating for students how to form letters.
Engage children in writing and reading their writing through dictation. Write down what the student says, read the words back yourself, and then ask the student to read back the words you wrote for them.
Engage students in writing each day. Examples might include daily sign in, to do lists, morning message, and literature response activities.
Using Shared and Interactive Writing to Develop Emergent Writers
How do children learn to see themselves as writers? They learn from demonstration and participation and by trying it out for themselves. Shared and interactive writing, with the whole class or in a small group, allow young children to participate in the writing process with a high level of support. As children are given more and more opportunities to experience the writing process, they will begin to want to write for themselves.
In shared and interactive writing, you and your students compose and write a text together that is then available as reading material. The two processes are similar in that you are composing the message together as a class or small group. In shared writing, the teacher is the only one using the pen and in interactive writing you "share the pen," occasionally asking a student to come up to the chart or dry erase easel and write a known letter, place a hand to "hold" a space while the next word is being written, write a letter that is connected to a sound students heard in the word, write a known word, or write his or her name.
In both shared and interactive writing, spell words aloud as you write them, make comments to highlight writing conventions as you read and write them such as "This is a new sentence, so it begins with a capital letter", and use punctuation while writing with children. As children observe what you write, explain the marks and their significance.
**Consider the amount of time you are asking your little ones to sit still while you do this. Start with one sentence for your youngest writers. Be quick and simply expose them to the writing process and conventions. Over time and as students develop, you can begin to write more than one sentence together.
Writing Tools and Materials
Provide a wide variety of writing tools and materials throughout the classroom including materials for making marks such as pens, pencils, and paper
Ways to transmit those ideas to others such as envelopes and stamps
Chalk and chalkboards or dry erase markers and boards
Book making materials such as unlined paper, colored construction paper, notepads, sticky notes, stickers, ink pads and stamps, tape, staples, yarn, and hole punches
Positive Reinforcement- Creating Writers
Comment positively no matter how children go about writing their names. Regardless of whether a child writes with up and down strokes, continuous linear scribbles, partial letter-like units, inverted letters, or conventional print, find a way to make a positive comment about the child's writing. For example: I see you have written the A at the beginning of your name, Abby, I see you have written your name A-b-b-y, You wrote your name using lines and dots, I see your name has two n's in it, etc.