Guest Post: Inspiring an Emergent Writer

by: Anne Oxenreider, Sixty Second Parent 

While many parents are diligent about reading to their child daily, few parents put the same kind of energy and dedication into encouraging their children to write.

Yet most parents agree that writing well is a gateway skill into world of learning and opportunity.  The wonderful thing about encouraging your child’s emergent writing skills is that little or no special equipment is required.  Pens are virtually everywhere, encourage her to “write” while waiting for a meal at a restaurant or driving around.

Keep in mind that the multi-year process of developing the cognitive, gross and fine motor skills to begin writing intentional letters is demanding for a child.  Be sensitive and responsive to your preschooler’s early attempts at writing—like so many aspects of preschool learning, the process of learning (making attempts and mistakes) is much more important than the  product (the letters on the page).  In addition to attempts at creating letters, encourage your child’s drawing.  Listen to the stories contained in his pictures and point out what is a drawing and what is a letter.

The following developmental milestones and suggestions offer a starting place for you to begin working with and encouraging your young child.

  • At two years old, a child can begin to attach words with symbols, so point out words and their meanings and trace letter’s shapes with your fingers.
  • At 2 ½-years old, your child gains the gross motor skill to grasp a fat crayon, piece of chalk, or paint brush and create controlled lines.  Providing paper on an easel or slanted surface will make creating controlled lines easier.  On warm days, a big bowl of water and house painting brushes allow for a lot of fun drawing and writing practice on walls and sidewalks.  Beware. Your child will feel empowered by creating intentional lines and may not understand what surfaces are acceptable to write on.  Think ahead to explain where writing is acceptable as you are getting out the supplies.  Supervision and an occasional bucket of soapy water are needed.
  • At three-years old, help your child’s fine motor development by encouraging them to work on paper laid out flat on a table or on the floor. Also, begin pointing out the shapes of letters by saying something like, “An ‘O’ looks like Cheerios and rings.”  Put a few cups of salt or sand in a baking pan and let your child draw shapes and letter attempts with his finger—where they can be easily erased and done over.
  • At around four-years old, your child will begin writing letters, an alphabet of sorts.  The letters may not be in the right direction or grouped into words.  Do not worry.  Start encouraging your child to fill up pages of inexpensive notebooks and let her fill them up with letters, words, and stories.  (I have kept and cherish several of my daughter’s early publications.)

The preschool developmental milestones listed above are steps that are typically followed while parents help their child to transition from writing at home to school literacy.  Writing requires a complex set of skills.  A delay in one of the areas needed to write may cause unnecessary frustration or even a delay in achieving literacy.  If you have a sense that your child is not progressing at a normal rate, talk to a professional such as a pediatrician or day care center director.

Watch for the following concerns:

  • If your child has trouble getting started or becomes distracted easily while making early writing attempts, she could be struggling with an attention deficient issue.
  • If she has an unusually awkward grasp of fat crayon, talk to your doctor about her gross motor skills.
  • If she forms letters at a painfully slow pace, consider talking to a professional about her fine motor abilities.

Writing, like reading, is a gateway skill because it opens the way for significant future learning and self-expression.  As you nurture writing ability, you will begin to receive big pay offs in the form of notes and cards from your child.  Accept them as an award for a job well done.


Anne Oxenreider of Sixty Second ParentAnne Oxenreider directed a preschool parenting project that funded community-based family centers and launched a multimedia campaign.  As a grant writer, Anne has secured multiple private and state grants for parent education. In addition, she worked with a community task force that launched a minority infant mortality reduction program. She holds dual Master’s degrees in Education and English.

Anne is a contributing author to the books “A practical guide to raising two, three, and four year olds” and “Caring for your newborn: How to enjoy the first 60 days as a new mom”. Her writing combines her knowledge of early childhood research with practical parenting wisdom.

Anne and her husband have one birth child and have had the privilege of foster parenting seven preschool children.  Currently, she is the editor of Sixty Second Parent Magazine and also works as the Writing Program Director at Montreat College, a liberal arts college in Western North Carolina.

This post originally published at Sixty Second Parent — a website that provides early childhood information for busy parents and educators.


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