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The Stages of Writing Development in Early Childhood

From scribbling to spelling, here’s how children learn to write.

The Stages of Writing Development in Early Childhood

The Stages of Writing Development in Early Childhood

Writing is a difficult skill that children develop over time. As children learn, they progress across several writing development stages that build upon other early skills that children must master, like phonological awareness, letter recognition, and fine motor skills. For example, learning to grip a pencil and form letters helps strengthen hand and finger muscles. Additionally, learning to read and identify sounds in letters plays an important role in writing development. In this article, we'll cover the stages of writing development and activities to promote writing skills.

Why is the development of writing important?

Learning how to write is critical when developing emergent literacy abilities. Writing provides children with endless possibilities for written and artistic expression. Additionally, by building this skill, children have greater opportunities to strengthen their fine motor skills, phonological awareness, explore texts, alphabet knowledge, and more. It can also impact their critical thinking and how they organize their thoughts. 

What are the stages of writing development?

Although children reach writing milestones at their own pace, there are various stages of writing development that all children progress through as they gradually master the skill. Below, we talk about each stage in more detail.

Drawing/scribbling or 'pre-phonemic'

Around 15 months to 2 years old, children embark on the first stage of writing development. During this time, they're scribbling and drawing while also learning how to hold and grip a pencil or crayon properly. As their teacher, you can encourage them to doodle or draw whatever's on their mind and anything in front of them. 

While in this pre-phonemic stage, you may see a lot of different types of drawings. Over time, they'll progress from random scribbling to controlled scribbling, and so on.

During the drawing/scribbling stage, students work on their motor skills and learn how to hold and grip a pencil or crayon.Source

Letter-like forms and shapes or “early phonemic”

After the pre-phonemic stage, children progress into the early phonemic stage. As their skills develop, they often start recognizing patterns and incorporating letter-like forms into their drawings. This might include lines, dots, and curves. In addition, they begin to understand that sounds are assigned to letters. 

Strings of random letters 

In this stage, your children understand that symbols represent letters of the alphabet. While they may not know all the letters of the alphabet, they are beginning to realize that by stringing them together, they can convey meaning. Spacing often isn't present during this stage, but you will see them stringing together letters, numbers, or even shapes in a single line. Although this writing may have little meaning to you, the child can tell you what they wrote. 

In addition to recognizing what the alphabet is used for, they're also improving their motor skills. During this stage, they have better control over their writing tool. They're also getting better at copying what they see. This is a great time to encourage your children to look around the classroom for ideas to inspire their drawings and engage with them to learn more about their illustrations. Ask them if there's a story behind what they drew, and urge them to write about it.

An example of the string of random letters stage of writing development.Source

Invented/transitional spelling

Invented spelling is a child's best attempt at spelling a word. For example, if they're trying to spell "is," they may sound it out and spell it as "iz." This stage allows your children to develop a deeper understanding of phonetics and how to spell words correctly. It is essential to provide them with the support and encouragement they need to improve this skill. Don't hesitate to guide them in sounding out words, spelling, and writing them. 

The invented or transitional spelling is a natural progression in the stages of writing development. It allows children to gain confidence in their capabilities, control the learning process, and express themselves better. This stage also allows them to practice phonics, using letters to sound out the words they often hear. Learning the phonetics associated with words can positively impact your child's reading too, as reading and writing go hand in hand. 

Conventional writing and spelling

In the last stage of writing development, children begin to spell words correctly and understand sentence formation and punctuation. They also know the correct use of uppercase and lowercase letters. 

Preschool writing activities for writing development

By incorporating various activities and writing materials into your lesson plans, you can keep your children engaged while also helping them improve their skills. Below are some activities suitable for each stage. 

Pre-phonemic

Pre-phonemic activities encourage fine muscle development and coordination and help children process sensory information.

  • Finger painting: This encourages children to follow the lines of pre-drawn shapes and letters on paper.
  • Playdough: Creating with playdough or clay is a great way for children to enjoy some sensory fun while also strengthening motor skills. They can roll it out or form it into shapes.  
  • Magnetic letters: Use magnetic letters to teach your children the alphabet and letter-sound correspondence.

Students use finger painting to practice writing during the pre-phonemic stage of writing development.Source

Early phonemic

Early phonemic activities teach children letter-sound correspondence to improve their phonological skills.   

  • Rhyme time: Ask them what rhymes with the word pig. When they respond, continue to ask what else rhymes.
  • Body part rhymes: Try rhyming “head” with “bed” or “hair” with “bear.”
  • Clap it out: Teach your children about syllables by clapping out words.

Strings of random letters

During the strings of random letters stage, children understand the concept of composing words with letters. They'll start with long lines and eventually progress to groups of letters with spaces that resemble actual words.

  • Storytelling: Encourage your children to draw pictures and write a story to go along with them. 
  • Labeling: In addition to drawing pictures and writing a story, you can also have children label the pictures and teach them to match the sounds of words to the letters. 
  • Environmental prints: Placing letters, words, and symbols around the classroom is key to early literacy. It teaches children word recognition. They can copy these sight words and signs as they learn to write.

Invented/transitional spelling

Transitional spellers will continue to explore sight words. 

  • Tracing words: Children can practice spelling and writing by tracing pre-written words, like their first name.

Conventional writing and spelling

Children are more aware of basic spelling rules and patterns in the final stage of writing development. You can introduce more challenging activities into the lesson plan while teaching children how to link words to their meanings.

If you're looking for more activity ideas that promote writing skills and other skills across developmental domains, check out our free list of activities!

Activities Across Developmental Domains - brightwheel

Download our free list of activities across developmental domains!

Guide your children throughout the stages of writing development

Early educators play a key role in helping children develop their writing skills. By providing plenty of opportunities to scribble, draw, and trace letters, you can encourage early writing attempts. As children build upon their skills gradually, they will have a solid foundation for later reading and writing success.


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