How Do We Learn to Write?

Picture a classroom of students sitting at their desks. They’re poised over their work books, rummaging through their pencil cases and getting ready to complete the task set by their teacher. But did you ever stop to wonder how children learn to write?

Well, it’s something that we often take for granted, or see happening without really comprehending the enormous number of skills and experiences that have to come together first. There have been entire books written on the subject of how children learn to write, but here’s a basic overview…

First, children to learn to write by discovery. It’s not so much about children learning rules in the early stages, but rather about coming up with their own strategies for writing. It might not look like adult writing that you or I would recognise, but it is a visual representation of the way a child is interpreting the language around them.

The second thing to know is that the foundations of learning to write are laid in a child’s early years. In their very earliest years, a child aged approximately two years old will make lines and scribbles on a page. It tends not to be very ‘refined’, as the movements are large and tend to be the result of movement of the shoulder rather than of the wrist. As children grow older, they strengthen their fine motor skills and better develop their ability to control the muscles in their hands. So, repeated marks appear in their writing in the form of patterns, such as circles, lines and curves.

Third, children learn to write via imitation and example. As children grow older, they start to mimic the ‘grown up’ writing they see in written print all around them. At two to three years old, children understand that this print is made up of repeated patterns, lines and curves. They’re unlikely to understand what these words mean, and they won’t be able to replicate them accurately yet, but they will begin to make up their own written language of lines, curves and patterns before telling you what the word ‘says’. This is a crucial step in learning to write, as it represents the milestone where children understand that drawing shapes – writing – conveys meaning.

Fourth, children learn to write by drawing pictures as well as forming words. By the time a child has mastered the art of purposefully drawing pictures, it shows that they’ve mastered ‘symbolic thinking’ – the understanding that forms on a page can be a symbol of something else. From this point, the foundations are laid for letter and word practice to happen – usually around the age of three to five years.

 

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Finally, as children begin to practice letters and words, copying the familiar shapes of the printed words around them, you’ll notice that their writing changes. Rather than producing writing that takes the form of one long word, the markings will be broken into long and short patterns. It’s unlikely that the letters and words will be ‘correct’, but it’s another key marker to indicate that a child understands that they can interpret and convey meaning with shapes on page. All of this happens before formal writing ‘instruction’ begins. Isn’t that amazing?


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Guest blogger, Naomi Webb,  is a passionate writer who loves everything tech-ed related, always looking to broaden her horizons!

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