Smudges, lines and scribbles: the early markings of a good writer
Posted by Danielle Wright
5 Dec 2016
By Clare McGread, Early Years Programme Manager at the National Literacy Trust.
Babies love to play with their food and in mud and sand. They swirl their fingers and palms around in it and create all manner of smudges and patterns. Besides making a mess, they are also doing something very important: making marks. This is the first step in a child’s writing journey.
Writing is a skill that children have to learn and it develops gradually. The first clear signs that children are interested in mark making come when they start using crayons, pens, pencils or chalk to make straight lines, squiggly lines and circles. Children are trying out new things to see what happens and this is an important milestone in learning to write. Before that happens they need to develop the muscles in their hands and shoulders and activities like playing with clay, hanging out washing, throwing a ball or digging all help.
When children have opportunities to play with ideas and mark making in different situations and with a variety of resources, they discover connections and come to new and better ways of doing things. Over time, and with your help, the marks children make become a mix of writing and drawing, and also become more meaningful for them.
Parents, grandparents, carers and early years professionals have an important role to play in helping young children begin their writing journeys. Here are some tips to get you started:
Have a wide range of tools that children can use to make marks, including scrap paper, crayons, felt tip pens and paint. This will enable children to explore mark making in all its various shapes and forms and develop manipulation skills. Paper isn’t the only canvas children can use – get creative and take the children outside to let them make marks with chalk on the patio, path and pavements and with sticks in mud and sand. Using chalk helps children learn how to control their hand and arm movements and won’t leave any permanent damage.
Be ready to join in with drawing and painting and take every opportunity to show children how and why you write. It is important for children to have positive writing role models from day one, to get them excited about writing and so that they can understand the relevance of writing to daily life. When children realise that marks can be used to carry meaning, in much the same way as talking, they begin to use marks to show what they’re thinking. Encourage children to experiment with lower case letters first as children can find these tricky.
Become a cheerleader
Children who are corrected too often or asked to write things out ‘properly’ can lose interest in doing it altogether. Children who enjoy the process of mark making and who know that what they produce will be praised will write more often and so get better at it. Be encouraging, even if you can’t understand what they have written or if the letters are in the wrong place – this is all a part of learning to write. A child’s ability to make marks and progress along their writing journey depends as much on confidence, motivation and practice as their physical skills or ability.
Write for a purpose
Writing for a purpose is important for children, particularly boys. So ask your child to help you write a shopping list or to write a shopping list of their own, thank you notes, cake recipes and name badges for parties or toys.
The more children enjoy writing, the more frequently they will write, and the better their writing will become. Good writing skills are fundamental for children to be able to do well at school, get a job and lead a successful life. So we must encourage children to develop a love of mark making at the earliest possible opportunity, to give them the building blocks they need to become good writers and confident and competent communicators.
If you are a nursery or early years setting looking to assess how communication, language and literacy friendly you are, you can download the HELLO self-assessment tool from the National Literacy Trust Network. This improvement tool, developed with early years teaching schools and tested in nurseries across England, helps settings look closely at their communication practice and environment. Following assessment, many of the nurseries made positive and simple changes that encouraged children to start making marks more often and to have more fun with it.
This article first appeared on Teachwire.net
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