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It Starts With a Conversation

Preschoolers Can’t Write

I beg to differ. How many of you have thought or been told this very statement? Until you experience the mind of a little budding three or four year-old it is hard to say what they can and cannot do. However, I do know this; when given the opportunity to talk and engage in conversation preschoolers are showcasing their writing voice.

If you are a teacher who doesn’t think preschoolers can write, shift your thinking and wonder a moment. Can they talk? Your answer might be no. There are plenty of preschoolers who come to us without the basic skills to carry a conversation let alone write a story out loud. However, this is where we start. We start with conversation.

This is an opportunity to meet the student right at her level.

I met Brianna in December of last year. I was visiting the preschool classroom down the hall to get a look at where preschoolers were with writing. I laid out a picnic blanket, lots of materials and the kids swarmed. I looked over to see a curly haired cutie with wide blue eyes staring at me. She had just started that day and had just turned three. I was intrigued. I held up a piece of paper and she eagerly came to my *picnic style writing workshop. Brianna did not have a lot of words to share with me yet but she had stories. I could tell. No one looks at you with that kind of excitement and does not have a story inside of them. Brianna put some scribbles in a little booklet, took my hand and looked at me. “Do you want to take this home?” I asked. She nodded, curls bouncing and smile blazing. I lead her to the mailboxes and asked her if she could find her “B.” Quickly another student came over and showed it to me. A little mother hen who would take good care of Brianna, but I still asked Brianna to show me. She smiled and pointed right to her box. I praised her for her effort and told her I would come back again soon.

I continued to watch Brianna through the year. I watched her turn into a child who used two-three word sentences. I watched her verbally label objects and start to draw shapes. I saw her grow.

I recently visited Brianna and found her with a pot full of “meatballs.” She brought her play dough meatballs and pot to the picnic and we got a blank booklet.

I said, “Let’s write a story about your meatballs?”

She nodded and quickly began drawing circles on her cover.

“Is this your cover?” I asked. She looked at me.  “What is your title?”

Brianna thought for a moment, “MMmmeatballs.”

Oh perfect I thought, she stretched out that /m/ sound like a champ. I took the opportunity.

“What did you hear in the word meatballs?” I said.

“Mmmmmeatballs.” She responded.

“Mmmm, that is an M! Let’s write an M,” and she quickly responded with a smile.

I wrote the “M” with a yellow pencil and she traced over the lines with a marker. She then began to flip to the next page. She drew more circles.

She is learning. She is learning that print carries a message and that her creations can be a story. It all started with a conversation over play dough and quickly turned into an opportunity to write.

*What is “picnic style” writing workshop you ask? It is an environment that invites creativity. It is a safe spot to talk, draw and write together while sharing space and materials. It is good for young children to lay on their bellies when writing. It helps to develop the muscles in their little writing hands. This style of writing, on the floor, allows for more students to get close to each other, lay down and watch models of writing all around them.

Betsy Hubbard View All

Daughter, sister, wife, mother, teacher, and writer.

12 thoughts on “It Starts With a Conversation Leave a comment

  1. Three weeks into Writing Workshop I allow my kindergartners to pick a writing spot anywhere in our classroom. Most of them choose a place to stretch out on their tummies. The amount of writing they produce seems to increase greatly after that week. And now I understand why.

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    • Isn’t it neat to see what a small change can make? Glad you have released them to find their best writing space and posture. Everyone is different and the sooner we realize these differences we see the benefits.

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  2. So true! I have always hated hearing that children can’t do this or can’t do that. Children CAN do so much more than we know until we provide them with the opportunity to share or probe their thinking as you did with Brianna. LOVE the picnic writing idea!

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  3. I had never heard of picnic style writing workshop. I love it!

    Right now I have Isabelle “writing” (i.e., drawing) on a table easel to increase her shoulder strength. What’s a good time to try out drawing while laying on one’s belly on the floor? Would love to hear your thoughts, Betsy. I know she has stories to tell. Perhaps we can get down on the floor and do a craft a story together soon. (Though I don’t want the teacher in me to push her too early.)

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    • It is hard not to push too much too soon. I think the teachers in us want so much from our students (and our own children) it sometimes comes almost too naturally. I think the easel is perfect. Vertical surfaces are a wonderful way for children to have their first moments as writers and crafters of ideas. Shoulder strength is key as well as moving toward smaller muscle movements (ie., the belly method). Picnic writing just seemed like a natural way to start writing and it really all happened by accident. The students showed me what they needed and it just worked. Isabelle will show you what she is ready to do.
      It is actually pretty amazing to see the difference in a student’s ability when you have them laying all the way on the floor as opposed to sitting up. The control they exhibit is marvelous and often surprising even to the child. There are also unique tools for early writers. There are pencils on the market called, Twist and Write (http://www.therapro.com/TWIST-N-WRITE-PENCILS-P321616.aspx), that are ideal for children who struggle to hold onto any kind of writing utensil. They don’t work for every child, but it is a nice way to transition from a crayon if the child seems ready.

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      • I kind of figured you’d tell me to wait ’til she was ready, but I had to ask. (Educator here!)
        Thanks to the link to the Twist and Write. I’ll keep it in mind (aka: Pinned to my Writing Board) for future reference.

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  4. I love this line, Betsy: She is learning that print carries a message and that her creations can be a story. it’s so empowering for our little ones to know that they CAN write, and that they have a lot to say!

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  5. This is exactly the type of inspiration teachers need! Everyone can write! It’s true that the writing and the amount of support is different at the younger ages but our littlest hands can certainly draw and write and create meaning. They can share their stories and that is what writing is all about! I love this piece today Betsy…I look forward to many more!

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  6. This is great, Betsy. I don’t have a ton of experience with primary grades – this is my first year coaching primary along with intermediate. But this post really resonates with me because of my daughters. I’m thankful for your words reminding me that conversation is the beginning of writing. I will remember that!

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  7. I have little experience with these early writers. I recently took my students to read to a kindergarten classroom and do a drawing and writing activity. The little ones looked up to my students and asked, “How do you spell…” The teacher chimed in, “Sound it out.” Should I teach my students to allow the children to write for themselves or to “help” them by writing the sentence for them? I know just the interaction itself is a positive thing all around, but if I can help my students become good teachers of writing as well as reading, they can plant a seed with these younger ones that will grow.

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    • My suggestion would be to get them talking with the older student as much as possible. Teach your students how to dialogue and ask probing questions: where did you draw your mom…what color is your dog/house/car etc. Asking questions gets them thinking and adding a small detail to their work. I don’t think having them spell words or write words for them is a bad thing at a preschool age. Once they are kindergartners I would say try to move away from that much support. Have your students give prompts like “Say the word again (repeat the story)” and “what did you hear…write that down,” even it if is incorrect. In kindergarten students are just becoming comfortable with writing letters, sounds and words. Discouraging their attempt can break their confidence. Validating their willingness to show print carries a message will keep their independence and confidence moving forward.

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