I have always been very puzzled why there is such a preoccupation with young children and writing.
Why we push our young charges to sit at tables and repeat the exercise of forming recognisable letters, then applaud them for their efforts with such enthusiasm. Why do we celebrate this development and place such importance on this practical skill with such a fanfare, especially in a day an age where we now actually write very little, where using email or text are so much more relevant to our lives.
In the pre school environment we approach all of the children’s development and learning holistically and this is no different when we create environments to support early writing skills or mark making.
In developing this skill gently and with a child-initiated approach we can foster a positive and developmentally appropriate love of learning to mark make, then write.
Mark making is fundamentally a very physical skill, first a child needs strength in their fingers to hold a tool or pencil, they need a lot of dexterity and coordination to move their hands wrist and fingers with ease and control. Children’s control and concentration develop through the early years, both skills that are important to successful writing.
The more cognitive aspect to mark making is much broader than the physical aspects, knowing that the marks we make can convey a meaning or code develops in parallel with the physical aspect.
How do we enable these two skills in the preschool environment and beyond in the home?
In pre school we offer a number of continuous opportunities for children to build the muscles and the dexterity in their hands and wrists in readiness for holding tools such as scissors or pencils, these include play dough, threading beads, lego, and peg boards. We also add in more creative opportunities, cloths pegs on a washing line or pulses mixed with sand to pick out with little fingers and thumbs. We often use songs and actions to develop supple hands, anybody that has tried to hold up ‘ruby ring’ in the song Tommy Thumb will tell you how tricky this can be, even for grown ups.
Finger painting or mark making with your index finger plays its role in developing that all important pencil hold, whilst at the same time enabling children to convey ideas through the marks they make. Who remembers drawing a smiley face on a steamy mirror in a bathroom, or creating swirls on a floury surface in their kitchens? That is all early writing or mark making.
The pre school practitioners are skilled in creating situations for children to learn and develop through their play. We might pop a clip board with paper and pencil beside a tool box and builders dressing up, allowing children that are ready to draw marks on paper, both developing physical and cognitive skills linked to writing.
Meal times are very valuable to developing hand eye coordination, mastering the knife and fork is an example of this. The art of cutting up your fish finger or balancing your peas on a spoon are great examples of how the ‘every day’ can impact on the children’s development.
So before we ask the children to sit square and copy a name or label. Let us first think of the child, are they physically ready for this, do they have an understanding of the why, and if they fail to achieve are we simply squashing their self-esteem in our rush.
Remember you wouldn’t run a marathon before being physically fit, have a desire to do so and recognise the benefits of this ambition … so lets not ask children to run before they can walk.