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Preparing for Kindergarten: Supporting Emergent Writing Skills

One of the most important parts of our work as early learning professionals is to help prepare young children to transition into elementary school. A necessary skill that children will need to be successful in kindergarten is writing. While writing might seem like a skill for older preschoolers, learning to write begins early and is built upon foundational pre-writing skills, such as learning to hold and control a pencil.

In this article, we will look at writing and pre-writing skills and explore a few simple activities to support children in their practice and set them up for success in kindergarten.


An Overview of Pre-Writing Skills

Before children can write their name, or even write a letter, there are several foundational skills that need to be practiced. Young children begin their pre-writing skills practice with scribbling and making marks on paper.

As they scribble, children are strengthening muscles in their hands and fingers, while learning how to hold their writing utensil, keep the paper still, and draw a variety of lines and shapes. Children also need to learn the following pre-writing skills:

  • postural control to remain upright while doing seat work

  • visual motor integration skills

  • attention span and focus

  • visual perceptual skills to determine the size and shape

  • bilateral coordination (one hand to write and one hand to hold the paper)

  • efficient pencil grasp and object manipulation

  • motivation and motor planning

  • cognitive awareness.

Activities to Practice Pre-Writing Skills

  • Fine motor skill practice will help to strengthen muscles in fingers and hands. Examples of fine motor skill activities include lacing beads, scissors, play dough, interlocking blocks, buttoning, etc.

  • Time to scribble, draw, and practice mark-making allows children to interact with pencil and paper in fun, creative ways.  Free, unstructured time for them to be creative allows them to draw pictures of what interests them, making the practice engaging and fun and helping children develop a positive relationship with writing.

Writing Skills

An Overview of Writing Skills

Image from NAEYC

Once children have mastered their foundational writing skills, they start to become writers. Researchers call this phase of development emergent writing, which consists of three domains:

  1. Conceptual knowledge includes learning the function of writing. Children learn that writing has a purpose and that print/letters carry meaning to communicate a message. An example of this is  children becoming aware that the red, octagonal street signs say “stop”.

  2. Procedural knowledge takes place when children  learn the mechanics of letter and word writing, and develop an understanding of the alphabet (how to form letters and sounds associated with each letter).

  3. Generative knowledge is the ability to translate thoughts into writing words, phrases and sentences.

For more detailed information about these three domains, click here to read NAEYC’s article, Promoting Preschoolers’ Emergent Writing.

Activities to Practice Writing Skills

Children learn and gain interest in writing through exposure to print (letters, signs, etc.) in their environment. For teachers to support children’s writing, there should be a variety of opportunities to practice throughout the children’s day.

  • Practice name writing. One of the first words children usually learn to write is their first name — and often, children will express interest in wanting to learn the letters of their own name. Name writing can be incorporated often in the classroom by having children sign their name on their art projects, or by having a sign-in and sign-out sheet where children log their names.

  • Include writing in dramatic play. During pretend play, children often enjoy creating signs for their store, menus for their restaurant, or receipts for their cash register. Dramatic play provides a variety of opportunities for children to practice their writing skills in ways that feel interesting and fun.

  • Give each child a journal to practice writing. Journals offer a great opportunity for children to not only practice their writing skills, but also have a record of their progress throughout the year. Purchase each child a journal for writing, drawing pictures and doing activities throughout the year. The journal will  also make a very special keepsake for families to hold onto.

COVID-19 Notes

Practicing writing and fine motor skill activities are also particularly conducive to maintaining social distancing — as they can be practiced individually, with children spaced out from their peers.

To limit sharing materials, keep journals in children’s cubbies with their own pencil or writing utensil.  You might also consider having plastic bags of crayons, colored pencils, markers, and other writing utensils for each child to keep in a cubby and use for drawing pictures.

Resources for Further Reading

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