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Emergent Writing


“Preschoolers attempt to write before they attempt to read because writing is easier to attend to than reading when you are little. In the act of writing, somehow, what you look at, and how you do it, and what people around you do, are more apparent…than the more mystical act of reading.” Marie Clay, 1996

Emergent writing can be defined as the knowledge, skills, and attitudes that lead up to conventional writing. Conventional writing involves expressing thoughts and ideas with agreed upon symbols, like the alphabet. Young children can interact with and observe writing in everyday life and for everyday purposes. As teachers, our job is to create a classroom environment that allows this to happen. Elizabeth Sulzby identified the following developmental continuum for writing:

• Writing through Drawing
• Writing through Scribbling
• Letter-Like Forms or Mock Letters
• Letter Strings (with Known Letters)
• Invented Spelling
• Conventional Spelling

While all children go through the same basic stages of learning to write, they may not do it at the same time. It is important that your classroom be able to support children at each level of writing. Writing should focus on modeling functional print for children and getting children to interact with writing in meaningful ways. Writing their name and the names of their friends is much more fun and meaningful to children than writing the letter “A” 10 times – after all, how many of their friends names have the letter ‘a’? You can also support children’s writing in your classroom by providing a well stocked writing center, as well as writing utensils and materials in all centers throughout the room. It is important that the items be available and that you model and encourage their use in authentic play settings (e.g., take an order, fill out a bus slip, write a check, make a sign for your store, etc,.) Another way to support writing in your classroom is by being available to take dictation (just the way the child says it) and by incorporating writing events into the daily routine (e.g., morning message and sign in). By giving children the tools for writing, serving as a role model for writing, and showing appreciation for all writing attempts children make, you set them on the trajectory towards conventional writing.