Stages of Writing Development (and Tips to Encourage Writing)

Each child learns to write in their own unique way and at their own pace. However, there are predictable stages of writing development. This article shows how you can identify your child’s stage of writing development and gives you tips for encouraging them to keep writing.

Stage One

In the first stage of writing development, any scribbling or drawing a child does as pretend writing is writing. From watching you and other grown-ups writing, young children will pick up paper and crayons or markers and start scribbling. You can think of this as a kind of pretend play, but your child thinks “I’m a writer too!”. Soon children realize that their ideas can exist as writing. You’ll know this is happening when you see them scribbling or drawing while saying words or telling a story. This is the really exciting part — it’s a child’s initial attempts at putting what’s in their head on the page!

A great way to encourage your child to view themselves as a writer is to say “tell me what you wrote” whenever you see them scribble writing. They’ll love it!

Stage Two

Is your child writing lots of random letters scrawled on a page? That’s excellent — this means they are in the second stage of writing development! Kids in this stage are taking the big step from scribble writing through to appreciating that the symbols we use for writing are actually letters. They’re not quite matching letters to sounds — at least not consistently, but they are beginning to understand that letters play a special role in writing. At the start of this stage, they might still use other symbols like drawings or squiggles, but as they progress they’ll limit themselves to using letters and will firmly declare that they are writing.

To encourage them to connect the fact that letters are used to make words, you can teach them how to write their own name. Once they’ve mastered that, you can encourage them to try writing Mom, Dad, and other family members’ names. And a really fun idea is to get their help making signs for role-playing games, for example a STOP sign for when you’re playing cars.

Use the writing templates linked in this article to encourage your child through the stages of writing.

Teaching kids to write their own name encourages them to move from scribble writing to using letters as symbols.

Stage Three

When children begin to realize that words are made up of sounds and sounds are represented by letters, they stop using random letters and start trying to match the sounds they hear in a word to letters they know. They might spell “My cat is happy” as “mi kat z hpe” We call this type of spelling “invented spelling” because the child is inventing a way to represent words with letters.

You can encourage this type of writing by making it part of your child’s pretend play — you can help them write a menu for a tea party with their toys or have them write a prescription for you when you’re playing doctor.

Stage Four

In this stage, children begin to use and want to use “dictionary” spelling rather than their own “invented” spelling. They may not be accurate, but they are aware that different spellings can have different meanings. They’ll even begin to memorize some words, especially tricky, but common, words like was and the so that they can spell them correctly.

A great way to encourage your child to write is to offer them the chance to use writing to connect with people. We’ve created these letter templates so your child can write letters to their friends and family.

It is best to let your child go through the stages of writing development at their own pace. They will move from one stage to the next as they develop a greater understanding of writing and as their desire to write grows. Allowing them to take their time going through the stages is one way to maintain their enthusiasm for writing. That’s why we suggest observing, enjoying, and encouraging your child’s growth within each stage.

Is your child going through the stages of writing development? If so, what are they “writing” about? Let us know in the comments below!

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