Our goal is to expose children to the idea that writing is a natural part of communicating. For this reason, writing in our classroom is interwoven into all aspects of our curriculum. We write in every center in the room, from the block workshop to the literacy station, the dramatic play center to the mathematics area. We write many times everyday.
Although we rarely use worksheets to write, we write on many types of paper, on white boards, with paint, in little books, and many other materials. Although sometimes children find worksheets enjoyable, they are generally designed in such a way that they are one-dimensional. Children can use them to memorize skills, but the actual connections needed for those skills to become permanent learning comes from using the skill in a real-world application. It does not hurt a child to practice a skill in isolation, but it doesn’t necessarily lead to long-term use and deep understanding. We chose to integrate our writing, reading, math, social skills, and challenges into child selected topics of study. We want children who are practicing a skill to make the connections with prior knowledge and perceptions. It is the relationships that children make between old knowledge and new knowledge that cements learning.
When we refer to writing at this stage of development, we mean all forms, including drawing. The purpose of writing is to represent language in a visual, symbolic form. For four and five year-olds this is accomplished through a predictable string of symbolic creations. We expect children in our class to arrive with varying levels of writing experience and comfort. Writing to communicate during play allows the children to frequently practice using letter symbols to represent speech in a non-stressful, high-interest way. Their early attempts are not expected to be perfect, just as we did not expect them to walk perfectly the first time they toddled across the floor. As with all learning, writing takes practice.
The mechanics of handwriting in Pre-K predominately lean toward using a fist grasp for four-year-olds, beginning to move to a three-fingered grasp around five years-old. Many children use a light, wispy stroke while writing and use mostly muscles from their shoulders and arms to move the utensil. For children who are comfortable writing their names in all Capitals, we help them transition to the more standard Capital-Lowercase format. Most of the time, Pre-Kindergarten students do not use lined paper. To most Pre-Kindergarten children, directionality (up, down, left right, backwards, forwards) in relation to letters and numbers has no meaning at all. They are still working from the assumption that any object, even when altered, is still the same object. (A water bottle that is upside-down or sideways is still a water bottle.) This makes our insistence that a p is different from a d and a b quite confusing. It is perfectly normal for children as old as six to occasionally misrepresent known symbols based on directionality. When our students enter Kindergarten, and have had many months of experience with writing development, they will begin a more formal handwriting program.
As seen in the developmental stages of writing mentioned above, Pre-Kindergarten children write in many ways. Our goal for the end of the year is for all of the students to be accustomed to using invented spelling, or “sounding out” the words. As children learn that our language is made up of chunks and individual sounds, they can begin to associate letter symbols with the sounds. We ask all of our children to write down the sounds they hear when they say the word slowly, stretching it out. After the random letter string stage of writing development, children begin to correctly identify and represent the beginning sounds in words. This accomplishment is then followed by identifying the ending sounds. The middle and vowel sounds are the last to be correctly perceived. This practice does not take the place of later spelling instruction, but supports the understanding of the letter-sound connection in the initial stage of learning to read and write.
Our use of invented spelling has two important purposes. Children use invented spelling to help them quickly jot down an idea on paper before it slips away. Just as artists create many sketches before they build a final masterpiece, young children are practicing with the tools of written communication. Teachers and parents can analyze a child’s invented spelling to find common strengths and misconceptions that need support. In future grades, the children will take part in Writer’s Workshop where they will practice editing their initial creations. They will practice locating spelling errors and presenting a well-organized text as they advance in the writing process.