Working together through continuous learning to improve the quality of life for all in DeKalb County, Indiana
An education initiative of the Community Foundation of DeKalb County

Helping Adults to see Children’s ‘writing on the wall’

Written July 7th, 2010 by
Categories: Early Childhood Learning - Publications

The Star

by Lindsay W. Brown

July 7, 2010

As adults, we write lists, phone messages and words that help us connect with others. The beginnings of learning to write appear in your child’s pretend activities, drawings, conversations and writings. Children’s early attempts—usually marks on paper—tell you they recognize how useful writing can be! They can ask for things, label their worlds, express feelings of friendship and anger, and get attention. A four-year-old may show his frustration with a sibling when he puts a sign on his door, “don’t boter me”, to assert his feelings. Note that “invented spelling” is nothing to worry about at this age. Your child is doing something exciting–putting thoughts together, connecting letters with sounds, and creating!

According to Mary Ellen Rayle, administrator of Creative Play School of County Line Church of God and a past kindergarten teacher, “it’s important to encourage preschoolers who want to learn to print their names. It gives them confidence and helps prepare them for early success in school.” In fact, the early childhood team of Learning Link has set a goal that every child in DeKalb County, upon entering kindergarten, will be able to print his or her name so others can read it. Rayle continues, “It’s rewarding for children to print their own names on family birthday cards or name tags. This skill contributes to their developing sense of identity.”

Usually around 18 months children become fascinated with pencils and paper and begin to scribble. While it may look disorganized to adults, children are exploring the effort it takes to control these wonderful writing tools. As they gain better control of their fine motor skills, you’ll begin to see shapes and patterns—lines, dots, circles—as drawings and writing begin to appear. Don’t be surprised if around this age, your child knows that his marks on the paper have meaning, but asks you “what did I write?”

To help your child develop those fine motor skills to grasp a crayon or pencil, try having fun with some of these activities:

  • Ask your child for his help putting small grocery cans in cupboards.
  • Ask your child to stack blocks or small cardboard boxes.
  • Play catch with your child in the yard, using a soft ball sized for your child’s hand.
  • Fold laundry from the dryer together.
  • Ask your child to sort small and large buttons, asking your child to pick them up, one at a time to place in jars; this activity can also teach or reinforce colors or counting.

Between the ages of 4 and 7, children may become more and more intrigued with the idea of communicating through writing. As they write their own stories, children may be trying to recreate the kind of imaginative experience they know from pretend play and from being read to. This is one reason why they become so attracted to writing—to enter the world of play and communicate with friends and loved ones in this exciting new form.

When your child seems ready to form letters, teach her a correct pencil grip, encouraging her to hold the pencil or crayon between her thumb and index finger. It’s also important for your child to know some basic concepts, like top and bottom, left and right, above and below. Your child’s understanding of these basic concepts gives you a common language for instruction.

Not surprisingly, the first word your child may want to write and spell correctly is her own name. Since children will encounter their names over and over, this is a good place to start. Teach your child that when she writes her name, the first letter is always an upper case, or capital letter; the remaining letters of her name are lower case letters.

By already knowing how to form some letters, your child will have an easier time keeping up with classmates who enter school with efficient fine motor skills. The child who starts school able to print his name will also receive praise from his teacher that builds self-confidence.

Here are some ideas for supporting your child’s early writing:

  • Provide your child with a variety of writing materials, like paper, pencils, crayons, markers, and fingerpaints.
  • Write notes to your child and sign them. For example, leave a note on the bathroom mirror that says “Riley, thank you for making your bed this morning.”
  • Help your child find individual letters in his name in other words; do this in the car as you pass large signs or use books or magazines at home or in places you wait.
  • Encourage your child to print letters with their finger in the air, in the sandbox, or on a cookie sheet filled with salt, shaving cream or Cool Whip.
  • Use sidewalk chalk and take turns printing your child’s name on the sidewalk or driveway.

Remember that learning to print requires lots of skills and practice, but will be worth the effort. It’s important to make it fun and know that it will take a long time before children’s writing can produce messages that are understandable to others. Printing letters reinforces to your child that we combine letters to form words, and combine words with words to communicate thoughts and feelings.

For more information about Learning Link, an initiative of the DeKalb County Community Foundation, or a four-page booklet of low- and no-cost learning resources available in DeKalb County, go to and click on ‘Community and Parent Resources’, then ‘Early Childhood’, or call Judy Sorg at the DeKalb County Community Foundation, 260-925-0311 or e-mail