Writing in Preschool: Questions and Answers
Before this series of posts on preschool writers began, I asked you to tell me what burning questions you had on the topic. Hopefully these posts have been helpful in answering some of those questions. However, others came up and I wanted to address those issues as well. Below are the questions you asked with my best answer based on my experience to date. As we grow and change as educators our answers to questions can change. I feel this gives a snapshot into my thinking on these topics and I hope it gets you thinking too.
How does speech development affect writing?
Communicating a message is the place of importance. It is sort of like a child scribbling circles and lines and saying proudly, “It’s snowing!” There is a message. I believe that the most important part of a developing writer is their content and ideas. Not necessarily the means by which they carry it out. It takes an understanding teacher who isn’t afraid to scaffold and model for children who have needs different from their peers. When children have communication delays, we as the adult need to support their communication goals. If we are looking to get the child to speak freely without judgment, we take their message as it comes. For a child with significant delays this is an example script of how I would handle a verbal story and drawing:
Child: Dis diz die deebee bubbr. (Picture has a circle, maybe extremities and possibly no other details).
Teacher: This is your baby brother? (You might be thinking, “How did you get that from her words?” After having many conversations, using gesturing and teaching the child to use pictures as a tool to communicate, you would be surprised how quickly you will learn their speech errors and substitutions).
Teacher: Yes? Yes, I see your baby brother.
- I would very explicitly look directly at the child and model my spoken words. When appropriate I would have the child model back to me, depending on how much instruction she had or speech therapy models. For children who have had little experience with a speech models, I would not want to make them uncomfortable or feel as though they had said something wrong, so my re-phrasing of their words would be a starting point.
Teacher: I bet you love being a big sister! What is your brother doing in your picture?
Teacher: Sleeping, ah, babies do a lot of sleeping don’t they? Does your baby brother have a favorite blanket or toy he sleeps with?
Child: Isss, deddy dare
Teacher: Oh, a teddy bear? Where should the teddy bear go in your picture?
Later as this child begins to understand that print carries a message I would take it further with a letter chart that has symbols. Using the letter chart I would support the child in finding a beginning sound for “bear,” or “baby.” However, if the child said, /d/ was the beginning sound and wrote “d” I would hesitate to correct this. I feel it is developmentally where they are and as a teacher it is something I would make a copy of to later show growth in the child as she began to master more sounds, letters and words. Look at it this way. When a child begins to string letters together they are showing print carries a message. It has meaning to them but little readability. However, this is where it begins. Children then begin to learn the symbols that match the words and take off from there.
Where do talking and drawing fit in?
Everywhere! Talking is writing. Drawing is writing. These are the earliest forms of creating a message. Eventually children discover that print carries a message further, a message even their reader may understand without the context or verbal cue from its creator. When a child begins to take on these skills they have tapped into a new vehicle for communication.
We write what we say. Researcher James Britton stated, “Writing ﬂoats on a sea of talk” (1983).
What are the typical milestones for prek writers?
- Developing oral language is the key to developing a writer. Offer an environment that is rich with literacy and opportunities for children to express and experience language.
- When children begin to label their scribbles, verbally demonstrate or with a mentor text show how pictures can convey a message. Wordless books are great for this. Pictures tell a story. Photos, drawings and anchor charts that model drawings telling a story are great visuals for students.
- Another resource to stretch your thinking on this topic is a scope and sequence from a previous post. Let it be a starting point for you and your students. This document lists goals and outcomes as well as the way to get there.
What about the kids who don’t get motivated, who struggle, the kids who are not naturally drawn to what you are inviting them to do?
I once had a student who wouldn’t speak. She had sensory delays, high anxiety when around adults and refused to tell me her stories. She was not naturally drawn to anything I put in front of her. I however, did not give up. I pursued a relationship with her. We went to special places of her choosing in the school building together (library, office, hallway) to remove her from the environment and build a relationship. This is what it took for me to tap into her interests. Through conversations with her parents they directed me to what she loved most and I was able to break through. She later became one of my strongest writers. Pursuing interests is the best step you can take when tackling a child who doesn’t feel drawn to writing. I also find that sometimes creating peer interactions and fostering peer relationships can also help the child who is timid to trying something new. Sometimes we just have to find the tipping point and when you do it will bring the biggest smile to your face. I remember the first moment the child I described earlier let me in and spoke. It was and remains one of the most fulfilling experiences I have ever had as a teacher. She let me in and I lead her out to a world of communicating words through writing.
How do you incorporate writing in centers?
Put it everywhere. You don’t just need one center with writing materials, though this is a place to start if you are just getting your feet wet with writing in preschool. I feel strongly that writing occurs in every aspect of learning. Put materials like blank booklets, paper, easels with large paper and all types of writing tools in several places around the classroom. Watch what happens. Students will begin to draw and write. Encourage this by modeling how to label play with signs like “work in progress,” or “Abbie’s spaceship.” Though it may just look like a scribble on paper, if she verbally says this is my spaceship, then that’s what it is!
When and where does dictation come into play?
In my opinion there is some teacher judgment here. You need to know where your students are in their development. A child can be chronologically five but operating at a development of a three year old. Children who are three or younger benefit from dictation. It models for them that their drawing and verbal accounts can be communicated in a written message. When children are developmentally four or five I think you begin to wean off of dictation, allowing their work to be “there’s.” I like to take the verbal story from them, write it on a sticky note and place it on the back for my own information should it be something I want to keep as a sample.
I hope these posts and in particular this Q&A has been helpful and thought provoking. I find that when I am forming an opinion, other thoughts, ideas and philosophies usually help me to strengthen my own. Below I am listing some book titles and authors that have helped me along the way as well as links to the previous posts in this preschool writing series. Thanks so much for reading. Now it’s time to gear up for SOLSC starting TOMORROW! Can’t wait to see you there.
Already Ready Katie Wood Ray and Matt Glover
Talking, Drawing, Writing Mary Ellen Giacobbe and Martha Horn
Assessing and Teaching Beginning Writers, Every Picture Tells a Story David M. Matteson and Deborah K. Freeman
A Conversation with Vivian Gussin Paley, September 2011 edition of Young Children. A National Association of the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) publication.