What we need to know about children’s stages of writing development

Many parents ask me: When does a child start writing? 

It is difficult to answer this question since writing could be anything from “meaningful scribbles,” “letter formation” to “spelling accurately.” 

Children as young as 2 years old begin making marks on paper to show their thoughts and ideas.  Children go through stages of writing development when learning to write.

  1. Drawing
  2. Scribbles
  3. Mock handwriting
  4. Letter-like forms
  5. Letter-strings
  6. Transitional writing
  7. Invented spelling
  8. Conventional spelling

Both Kai and Kei have countless opportunities to write and produced work that reflects each stage of writing development.

Here are examples taken from Kei’s writing samples that show the Stages of Emergent Writing according to The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) (here),

Stages of Emergent Writing

“Writing instruction can begin before students can write a letter or spell a word.  And as many have argued, it should.  By teaching children to compose with pictures, they can be freed up to create texts in any genre and to understand that meaning comes first, long before they are ready to spend lots of mental energy hearing sounds in words and writing down what they hear. Some may call this stage of development EMERGENT WRITING, a time when “children begin to understand that writing is a form of communication and their marks on paper convey a message.” The Writing Strategies Book (Jennifer Serravallo)  

Writing opportunities often come up during our drawing sessions and authentic writing tasks. They also watched me model lots and lots of writing through storyscribing. Both my boys have a very “positive relationship” with writing, and writing is part of our routines.

How does “Storyscribing” promote emergent writing?

I wrote the following section for a friend’s blog regarding storyscribing (Full blog here)

Storyscribing is an effective way to engage young children in the writing process well before they can write. It is a process by which your child shares their thoughts, ideas and stories with you, and you write them down for them. I started storyscribing for both my boys soon after they began to draw. I was curious about the stories that their pictures tell, and so I began storyscribing. I write down what my boys share, taking the opportunity to ask questions to clarify their ideas, showing them that I take interest in their stories. Not only do I model the physical act of writing, but also how I am using capital letters, full stops, finger spaces and showing my children the power of how conversations become words, words become sentences, and sentences become stories on paper.

Benefits of storyscribing:

Here are many of Kei’s examples of storyscribing between the age of 3.5-4 plus.

Storyscribing eventually transitioned to what I call “Back and Forth Writing”

How does “Back and forth writing” encourage writing?

“Back and forth writing” is a great way to scaffold writing since you, as the parent is still writing the majority of the story, but you are letting your child contribute by “filling in the blanks” with sight words, or words that are easy to sound out. This strategy “eases children in” before they need to write a full sentence or paragraph. Letting your child write a word or two in a story that is collaboratively created helps children build confidence.

Here are some examples from Kai who was also 4 years old at that time. You can see how he progressed from writing words, phrases to full sentences and stories!

Here is a video of Kei and I doing #backandforthwriting together!

Some tips on fingerspace:

I didn’t really spend a lot of time explaining about finger space. I thought why not just show them as they write! I always use props during their writing to remind them to add spaces, and a jumbo popsicle stick is ideal because it is thick, easy to grab, and slide across the page. Over time, Kai no longer needed the stick! Kei has recently learned to use it on his own, and I managed to capture it on video.


As parents, we can provide opportunities for our young ones by being organised with writing supplies, by being encouraging and understanding of your child developmentally! Finally, think of ourselves as a home-writing coach rather than as a teacher!

You may want to read my other blog posts on writing:

Published by Ms Claudia L. Kimura

Apple Distinguished Educator, Class of 2015 Primary school teacher, technology coordinator Not just a regular mom, but a teacher-mom Mom of 2 boys, stepmom of 3 boys

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