Developing Emergent Writing Skills

10 Steps to Shakespeare
by Debbie Keiser

Have you noticed some children naturally want to learn to write while others have no interest? Sometimes this is developmental and sometimes they just need to develop the skills that support writing to gain confidence. With expectations for children entering Kindergarten higher than ever, preschool teachers are challenged with the task of helping children develop emergent writing skills.

These skills are not just linked to language and literacy, but are also dependent on fine motor development. The good news is you can easily plan activities for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers that will support the development of emergent writing. Fine motor activities, read-alouds, and activities where children interact with print all support writing development.

Need ideas to help you grow these skills in your littles? No problem! Even your most reluctant writers won’t be able to resist some of these fun endeavors. Most of these are simple enough to incorporate into your schedule anytime:

  1. Fingerpainting, salt tray, sand tray exploration: Break out the paper and fingerpaints, or fill a metal cookie sheet with salt or sand for your children to explore. As they move their fingers through the materials, they will be developing the fine motor skills needed to control their hand movements during writing. For older children, you can even print letters on paper and bury them in the salt or sand. Then children can work on tracing skills.
  2. Blob Bags: Use quart or gallon-sized plastic zipper bags to make gooey fun ways to practice emergent writing skills. Mix flour, water, and food coloring in the zipper bag and seal tight. Children use fine motor skills to knead and mix the materials together. Then they can practice making marks or writing letters by tracing with their finger across the outside of the bag.
  3. Playdough Snakes: Playdough may be a carpet nemesis, but it has great value in the early childhood classroom. As children explore with playdough, they are developing the strength and grasping skills they need to use writing tools. Challenge older children to make “snakes” with the playdough, forming the snakes into letters.
  4. Shaving Cream Exploration: Older children will enjoy drawing and moving their hands and fingers through non-menthol shaving cream. Place a tiny amount of shaving cream on a pizza pan, paper plate, or even on a desk that needs to be cleaned. Children will use fingers and small motor motions in their exploration, helping to develop those fine motor emergent writing skills.
  5. Chenille Stem or Wikki Stix Letters: Colorful chenille stems and Wikki Stix are a fun way for children to form shapes and letters and require different fine motor skills to do so. Provide a variety of colors, along with scissors, and challenge children to make letters. Can they use the materials to form the letters in their names?
  6. Squirt Bottle Fun: Gather some inexpensive squirt bottles, fill them with water, and take children outside to practice squirting shapes and letters on the sidewalk. Children will build fine motor strength in their hands that will help develop fine motor skills needed for writing.
  7. Sidewalk Chalk: Choose a pretty day to break out the sidewalk chalk to get your little Picassos creating. Grasping the chalk and making marks puts them well on their way to developing emergent writing skills.
  8. Reading Response: The benefits of reading aloud to children each day are too numerous to count. Read-alouds can help develop emergent writing skills as well. When children draw a picture of their favorite part of a story, they are using writing skills to convey a message!
  9. Name Practice: A child’s name is usually one of the first words a child learns to write. Many of the activities listed here can be adapted to include name practice, which is highly motivating for most.
  10. Writing Center: Place writing utensils, paper, stamps, blocks, environmental print, and more into the writing center. Encourage children to make cards, draw pictures, write letters, and explore with the variety of materials you provide. Rotate materials often to keep the center fresh.

Want to learn more about developing emergent writing skills in your little ones? Check out this article from NAEYC on the subject:

How do you encourage writing in your little Shakespeares? Share your best tips in the comments below!

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