The acquisition of early writing skills

It is often thought that early writing begins with identifying and producing familiar letters. Young children are often encouraged to learn letters in their names and those of people who are special to them before they are intellectually ready. At Heywood Prep, whilst we recognise that this knowledge is beneficial as children move into formal schooling, we promote the theory that early writing, in fact, begins at a much younger age and includes crucial elements which should be focused upon before the practising of letter formations are introduced.

Before any child is ready to form letters and shapes, it is essential that they are provided with a range of opportunities to squeeze, dig, mould, press, twist, thread and climb, exploring any action that promotes the development of their fine motor and mark-making skills. If these core skills for early writing are not fully promoted during a child’s early years, it is possible that this will have a lasting impact on the child’s ability to reach their full potential as they move on through the school, possibly causing low self-esteem and motivation, frustration and resistance.

At Heywood Prep we pride ourselves in promoting and supporting early writing from the child’s first moments with us. Emphasis is placed upon developing a child’s small muscle movements, so when ready, holding a pencil comes naturally to them. It begins with adults modelling writing skills during everyday routines and providing carefully planned, age-appropriate activities for the children to engage with, using a range of approaches, such as mark-making, fine motor skills, songs and rhymes. Each of these approaches supports early writing techniques in a unique way. Knowing the children well and providing differentiation means children are continuously being challenged and supported regardless of their ability and interests

For children, mark-making is the first step towards writing. It is vital adults understand the benefits of mark-making, where insight into a child’s thoughts and feelings is gained through observation of the marks they produce. Whilst mark-making is a sensory experience for children, it gives them the freedom to express themselves and develop their creativity, imagination and curiosity; providing an invaluable resource for enhancing early writing skills. Although it doesn’t involve holding a pencil, mark-making involves children learning through experimenting and discovery, encouraging hand-eye co-ordination and manipulation of objects through touch, all of which are vital to a child’s early development. The benefits are endless and through making these marks children begin to apprehend how to hold a pencil, deciding on a grip and a usually a dominant hand.

Similarly, fine motor activities, such as threading, weaving and cutting all support children in becoming more independent and build on those life skills such as fastening coats and buttons, using cutlery effectively and tying shoelaces. Without providing children with these opportunities, in a generation where children are brought up surrounded by technology, children are likely to struggle with day to day routines and will not have the fundamental skills ready for beginning school.

Nursery songs and rhymes form part of our daily routines in the Nursery and Pre-School classes and these enhance language development and auditory skills. Using number rhymes with associated hand movements that involve counting along the fingers or stretching the finger muscles, enables more controlled movements with a child’s fingers and hands for both fine and gross motor development.

It is important to remember that writing is a journey; a process in which children are allowed to explore and create, building confidence and resilience in developing those all-important hand and arm muscles, ready to control and manipulate objects and writing tools when older.  At Heywood Prep we witness the benefits of taking this approach with early writing time and again, where the children leaving our Pre-School classes to begin formal schooling in Reception are confident, competent writers, well prepared for the new challenges that lie ahead of them.

by Carly Halliwell, Sapling Class Teacher

If you’d like to learn more about life in our Nursery and Pre School classes, why not come to our next Open Day on Friday 28 February.