Tag Archives: writing

Sign Me Up! Meaningful Ways to Encourage Preschoolers to Write Their Names

I wrote a while back about a sign-in chart that provides regular practice for name-writing while also providing a record-keeping system to track progress.  Some children really thrive with this method — they’ve recently figured out that they OWN their name, and they want to write it everywhere!  Others however, are more reluctant.  “I already did that,” they may say.  Like the parent who’s constantly cleaning the same kitchen, the child wonders, “Why am I doing this again?  I did it yesterday!”  Sometimes all a child needs is more purpose for the writing.  Writing it today so they can write it again tomorrow just doesn’t always cut it.  Here are some ways you can encourage reluctant writers to leave their mark.

Label it.

Encourage children to write their own names on their artwork or other items.  Remind them that that’s how people will know it belongs to them so it won’t get lost.  This might be as simple as adding a marker to the art table or providing a crayon on a string at the easel for labeling, or it may mean sitting down with your son and relinquishing control of the forbidden and therefore alluring Sharpie marker so that he can label every soccer ball, basketball, and beach ball in the house.  When children realize that writing their name on something is proof of ownership, the task is not only meaningful, but powerful.

Mail it.

Help your child write letters or cards to friends and family members.  Write what your child dictates, and then allow her to write her name at the bottom (“So they know it’s really from you!”).  The mail is a mysterious, wonderful thing, and the hope of receiving something in return is often incentive enough to get your child on-board. 

Mandi Ehman at Life…Your Way has made the brilliant suggestion of using your child’s artwork to share with others in the mail.  (It cuts down on your paper clutter without diminishing the value of your child’s work.)  Just have your children write their names on the back, along with a message they dictated to you, and then mail it off to Grandma.  Art, literacy, name-writing, family connections, and organization all in one shot!

Sign here, please.

Use sign-ins and sign-ups as much as possible!  Want to borrow a book?  Sign here.  Want a turn at the computer?  Write your name on the waiting list.  Do you like dogs or cats?  Write your name in a column on the survey chart.  Instead of telling your children that the sign-in chart is for practicing names, tell them that’s where you sign up for snack today!  Have children sign up when they are waiting for a turn with something.  Tell them that the list lets you know who’s next.  Besides motivating them to write their names, it teaches them about turn-taking and keeps them engaged in something when they might otherwise be growing impatient.

Play it up.

Incorporate name writing into you play situations.  Many children perform much better when working as an alter-ego!  I’ll give you an example.  I worked with a little gal who had little to no interest in practicing her name.  It just didn’t mean anything to her.  What she did love was dramatic play.  She was always coming up with new stories and characters, and it was all very real to her.  One day she asked for a new prop, a doctor’s kit I believe.  I went to my supply closet and pulled one out, but on my way back to her play area, I snagged a notebook and a pencil.  I approached her as a delivery person, saying, “I have a delivery here. I think you ordered it.  I just need you to sign your name here, please.”  She looked at me suspiciously and then scribbled on the paper.  “No, ma’am.  I need your name so I know you got your delivery.”  She looked at me again, and thought for a minute.  Then she carefully wrote every letter in her name (for the first time that year), and staying true to the story we had created, thanked me for the delivery as I handed her the package.

Find ways to make name-writing playful.  Make random deliveries, ask for their autograph, and take orders at the kitchen diner (“Write your name under the picture of which snack you want to order today“).  Play is an incredibly powerful motivator!

What are some of the ways you encourage preschoolers to practice writing their names?

Top photo by Vivek Chugh.
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Filed under Article, Building Readers, fine motor skills

The Writing in the Salt

My oldest son began kindergarten this year.  He is enjoying all of the “big-kid” perks of going to school like riding the bus and having recess.  But he’s also discovered that school also comes with responsibilities.  Not least of which is a list of skills to be practiced as homework, including several penmanship tasks like drawing shapes and writing letters, numbers, and his first and last name.  I don’t think my guy is the first child to react as though writing practice were akin to being kidnapped by terrorists, but there is at least one way I’ve found to get around this response. Make it fun and exciting!

Instead of sitting him down in front of yet another sheet of lined paper, I take a standard cookie sheet and pour in one container of salt. That’s the magic ingredient– salt! It costs all of 35 cents, but it transforms the exercise from mundane to motivating! (Don’t be scared of my tarnished cookie sheet.  That old girl has seen more than her fair share of tasty treats!)

Using a pencil or a finger he writes right into the salt. Besides being a little less physically taxing, the salt provides an element of sensory stimulation and the cookie sheet gives room for larger strokes.  I usually let him experiment a little, and then we play some games copying each other’s zig-zags, curves, and lines. He thinks it’s just fun, but writing really comes down to recognizing and intentionally generating these types of written lines, so this “non-writing” game is actually building his writing skills as well!  (But don’t tell him!)  To erase he gently shakes the cookie sheet back and forth like an Etch-a-Sketch to settle the salt again. 

His teacher requests just ten minutes of skills practice for homework, but without fail, when the timer goes off to signal the end of our writing practice, my guy is content to continue exploring with the salt.  He writes, doodles, and draws, all the while building that fine motor strength and control. And every now and then he grabs some toy cars or heroes (or an eager younger brother) to get in on the action as well. When we’re done, I just pour it into a ziplock and save it for next time.

It’s just one way to get play and learning back together!

For more on writing, check out:

  The Write Way to Read

Do the Write Thing
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Filed under Building Readers, fine motor skills, Learning through Play and Experience

The Write Way to Read

 Often, when we think of writing, we think of penmanship.  We give children handwriting guides and workbooks and think we’re teaching writing.  But truly writing in the context of developmental literacy is so much more.  In my view, writing is a display of a composite of skills:

  1. Fine Motor Skills
  2. An Understanding that Print Carries Meaning (Concepts of Print)
  3. Letter Form (Alphabet Knowledge)
  4. Breaking Words Down into Sounds and Connecting Them to Letters (Phonological Awareness/Phonics)

If you look at writing as an exercise in penmanship, you are prepared to emphasize component 1, and possibly 3.  If you are aware of the broader goal of using writing in its proper context — that of meaningful literacy — then you open up the possibility to emphasize all four aspects of early literacy on the list.

Fine Motor Skills

The act of writing requires a lot of muscle control and strength out of those tiny hands.  Provide some relief by encouraging children to write with their fingers in a cookie sheet full of cornmeal, colored sand, or salt; with fingerpaint; or in bags of goo like these (I realize they’re numbers here, but you can imagine the possibilties!).

Meanwhile, build fine motor skills by encouraging tasks that use those tiny muscles.  Use tweezers and basters in the sensory table, provide lacing boards and small legos at your working tables, and provide small collage items for picking up and plenty of playdough for kneading at the art table.  As children develop strength and dexterity in their hands and fingers, the physical act of writing becomes a bit easier.

Print Carries Meaning

As a child writes — truly writes now, not just doing handwriting exercises— that child is showing that she knows that those lines and curves tell a story or send an important message.  No matter the level of developmental progression, if a child puts marks on a page and gives them meaning, she is writing! 

Letter Form

As a child progresses through the developmental stages of writing, it becomes clear that the child’s concepts of letter shape and form are becoming more conventional.  When we allow children the opportunity to generate meaningful writing, we can (to some degree) analyze their alphabet awareness.

Words Become Sounds, Become Letters

As children are given opportunities to write, they go through the task of thinking of words, segmenting words into sounds, and then connecting those sounds with the appropriate letters to convert into print, which will later recombine into the words they were seeking to write.  That’s a very complicated process!  It essentially shows an element of competency in every aspect of early literacy. 

Even when the end result is a jagged note reading:  “i wot moR toz” (invented spelling) for “I want more toys” (conventional spelling), we can see that that child is building upon each of those fundamental literacy skills.  Encouraging children to write independently using invented spelling causes young children to go through that involved process, further strengthening essential literacy skills.  Additionally, those writing experiences tend to be more genuine, more meaningful, and as a result, more salient.

So how do you encourage more child-generated writing?

Here are a few ideas:

  • Create a writing area with basic writing supplies, which children can access at any time.
  • Rotate novel writing tools such as typewriters, envelopes, clipboards, dry erase tools, overheads, and letter magnets in and out of your writing area.
  • Designate personal journals for children to really “own” and write in their own way.
  • Create systems that encourage functional writing like lists, sign-ups, sign- ins, creating signs (great in dramatic play), and “internal mail”.
  • Do shared writing where you take turns holding the pencil, but go through the writing process together.  You can do more writing together without the early writers becoming fatigued.
  • Used shared writings to write thank you cards, letters to friends and family, record stories, and label charts.
  • “Think out loud” and model good skills as you write in front of or with your children.

How do you encourage young children to become writers?

Top photo by Weliton Slima.

Read more at Do the Write Thing.
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Filed under Article, Building Readers, language activity

Do the Write Thing -A Repost


It’s a beautiful summer day and my boys are antsy to go play in the fountains at the park!  Enjoy this repost from back in the olden days – Feb. 2, 2009!


The advent of writing is a momentous time in any child’s life.  It is important to realize that the process preparing a child to write begins very early in life; long before she puts pencil to paper. 

I view the development of writing as having three major components:  1.  Fine motor control,  2.  Understanding that print carries meaning, and  3.  An increased awareness of the alphabetic principle, eventually leading to more conventional spelling. 

Fine Motor.  The first obstacle to the physical act of writing is obviously the physical skills of fine motor control and hand strength.  Until a child can grasp and control his writing instrument of choice, his paper will remain blank.  Children begin this process of physical development from infancy.  As a baby, first larger muscle coordination is honed then fine muscles can be developed.  As babies become mature enough to use a finger and thumb pinching motion to pick up small pieces of food from a high chair tray, they are beginning to progress in their fine motor control.  Throughout early childhood this skill continues to be practiced.  This is done through any fine motor activity like painting, sculpting playdough, or tearing paper, activities children begin doing in their very early years.

Print Carries Meaning.  The thing that gives writing value and makes the task intrinsically motivating for any of us is that it carries meaning.  Think about it.  When was the last time you sat down and wrote random letters just for the sake of writing letters?  You wouldn’t waste your time because there is no pay-off.  Similarly, children are unlikely to learn to write simply because you’ve told them to sit and write letters.  They must first appreciate that what they write carries power.  It conveys a message.  It becomes almost magical to them; the idea that their thoughts can remain even when they leave the room.  Even when a child scribbles unrecognizable figures on paper and hands it to you explaining that it’s a letter, that child is demonstrating a knowledge that print carries meaning.  Though the mechanics of writing and the concepts of spelling remain underdeveloped, the primary concept that ideas can be recorded is a huge milestone!  As a student teacher in a kindergarten classroom I was handed a small card from a student with a series of intentional scribbles.  I asked the author to tell me what it said.  Her response still makes me laugh.  “I don’t know,” she said, almost indignantly, ”I can’t read yet!”  As she was growing in her awareness of reading and writing, she had become increasingly aware of what she didn’t yet know. 

The Alphabetic Principle.  As children increase in fine motor control and gain more knowledge of the alphabet, its components, their formation, their sounds, and the way those sounds are combined to create the words of our language, the more their writing becomes conventional.  Their writing progresses from pictures and scribbles, that simply convey an awareness of meaning, to letter-like forms, and eventually actual letters in decipherable arrangements that convey the intended meaning of the author.  This process takes time and experience.  It is a developmental process with its own stages and progressions (click here for examples of developmental writing).  It is important to recognize and celebrate writing in all its phases, not just those that appear closest to our own adult attempts.  Don’t panic if a fervent writer begins to show less willingness to write.  As I mentioned with my kindergarten friend above, as children begin to “know what they don’t know” they may be a bit less willing to write.  This is actually a sign that they are advancing in the writing process and becoming increasingly aware of the alphabetic principle and conventional writing.  Support them through this period by valuing their attempts and being careful not to correct or criticize too much.  They may prefer more support than in the past to ensure a more correct result.  Offer to write the words on a separate paper for them to copy.  As you do so, involve them in the writing process so that they are, perhaps unwittingly, still putting their own skills into practice as you spell the words together.

It is important to recognize and encourage writing in all its stages and to support the various components of developmental writing.  Workbooks and drills may have their place within moderation and when welcomed with enthusiasm by children, but removing meaning in place of rote exercises causes writing to become less meaningful and authentic and eventually less motivating.  Here are a few ideas for encouraging writing development in the early years.

  • Strength Training.  Provide a variety of activities that will strengthen fine motor skills.  This could be anything using the hands and fingers like cutting with scissors, sewing with needle and thread, lacing beads, building with small blocks (like LEGOs), kneading dough, using basters and tweezers at the sensory table, and the list goes on.  (Search this blog for plenty of fine motor activities!)
  • Write in Front of Them.  Think of the many ways you use writing and involve your children whenever possible.  Need to make a shopping list?  Ask your children to help by making suggestions or making lists of their own!  Writing a note for someone?  Tell your children about the note and ask where you should put it so that the recipient will find it.  When children see you write and know it has a purpose, they begin to understand that the written word carries meaning.
  • Write Together.  Help your children make cards or help them record stories by transcribing their words.  When your child shows you a picture ask, “Tell me about this picture!”  Or, “Can we write down a story to go with this?”  Even if you merely write down a label or title for the picture, it is a goes a long way in personalizing the writing experience.  Involve your children in writing letters or thank you cards.  As you record what is said by your children, repeat the words as you write them to connect the written and spoken words.  To increase awareness of the alphabetic principle, occasionally stretch out the sounds as you go.  Pause now and then and “think out loud” about the spelling.  “Truck.  T…t…t…t… what letter do you think comes first?”  Invite your children to write their own names at the bottom of a letter or picture.
  • Let Them Write Their Own Way.  Provide your children with a variety of writing materials to explore and experiment with.  Make sure these materials are freely accessible for your children to be able to write independently.  You may want to set up their own writing table, drawer, or shelf, depending on the amount of space you can allot.  Incorporate writing into their play when possible.  Playing restaurant?  Give her a notepad to take orders.  Have a cop on your hands?  Maybe he could write out tickets.  Princess trapped in a tower?  A letter carried to the prince by a dove might help him find her.  Let your children experiment with different writing forms.  It may be just a drawing that conveys the message, then scribbles that follow a line, then symbols that resemble actual letters, then letters themselves, and finally words.  Whatever the developmental level of a child’s writing, honor it!  Ask what it says and commend them for working so hard.

Photo courtesy of hworks.

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Book Activity: Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes

I really enjoy Kevin Henkes’ books, and I know the children do too.  His clever, relatable storylines revolve around quirky, lovable characters, who often have their own hilarious comic-strip-style comments in addition to the regular text.  Chrysanthemum is the story of a girl (or more accurately, a mouse) aptly named Chrysanthemum.  She really loves her name, until she goes to school.  There, she is teased about it, until the other girls make a discovery that makes them wish they were named after flowers as well.  It’s a great book for talking about social skills, not teasing in particular, but also fantastic for talking about our individual names.
I like to use this book for a small group activity at the beginning of the year.  After reading the book, I have a paper for each child with his/her name written in outline on it.  (You can actually do this on your computer, just set the paper orientation to landscape, and the font to outline.)  Since it’s a small group, I spread the names out on the table and first just give the kiddos the chance to identify their own names.  Once they’ve done that, we talk a little about how their names might be similar, especially if some of those similarities made identifying their names a little tricky.  Then, I have them trace over their names, using their fingers, a few times.  Since the story often mentions Chrysanthemum’s name having 13 letters, you could also count the letters in their names and talk about which names are longer and shorter, tieing in some math concepts, while also recognizing that words are made up of individual letters.
Lastly, they get to decorate their names in collage fashion.  Be sure to provide items that could form the shape of the letters if that is what the children choose to do.  Yarn and pipecleaners are great for staying straight or bending around curves; beans, sequins, and stickers are perfect for dotting i’s and j’s, or for lining up around any shaped line; and toothpicks and dry spaghetti noodles are naturals for the straight lines.DSCN2375  Point out the shapes of their letters as they decorate, but resist the urge to rearrange their items.  Remember, these creations belong to them.  Talk to them about what they’re doing.  “Those beans are lined up like two straight lines on your ‘t’!”  “You have four sequins on top of your ‘r’!”  They don’t have to stay within the lines to recognize the shapes of their letters.
Another option for extending this book is to have the children write their names, or some of the letters in their names, with their fingers just like when Chrysanthemum wrote her name in the dirt in the story.  Use some kind of granular medium in an art tray or cookie sheet.  I like to use cornmeal,  sand, or salt.  I made colored salt one day when, as I often do, I suddenly decided I needed it for an activity THAT DAY!  I was in my classroom and I had some salt, some chalk, and a ziplock bag.  Being resourceful (and a little bit crazy like that) I put colored chalk in the baggie and stomped on it a few times to turn it into a powder.  Then I added the salt and shook it up.  Ta-da!  Colored salt was born!  (I’ve also made it with a bit of tempera paint powder.)  Whatever you use, put the medium in a tray and have the children write with their fingers.  (Just as a note, you would obviously not want to use salt-or really any medium- if a child has an open sore on his finger.  I’m sure you can see why.  Have the child write in it with a stick or unsharpened pencil instead.)  Writing in the sand/salt/cornmeal etc.  lets them practice the motion of writing without the strain of holding and pressing a pencil, plus it’s just more fun and enticing when they can write in something new, colorful, and tactile!  Enjoy this book, and celebrate the names in your class!
For more Welcome Weeks activities, click here!

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A Trip to the Dinosaur Museum Puts Us All in the Author’s Chair

When you’re studying dinosaurs with preschoolers, nothing really takes the place of a trip to a dinosaur museum or another hands-on dinosaur experience.  Check in your local area and see what options you may have.  Don’t forget to check into nearby universities as some have free exhibits or perhaps a professor (or maybe a grad student) who would meet with your group of little ones and show a few prehistoric specimen.

When I took a group of preschoolers to a dinosaur museum lately, I was sure to pack along my camera.  I took pictures of the children as they explored, but I also took a lot of pictures of the dinosaurs themselves.  After printing the pictures, I put each one on a single page and then combined the pages for a book.  I shared the book during large group as we talked about the trip.  We had been learning through lots of great dinosaur books.  I told the children that they were now the dinosaur experts, that this was their book, and they needed to add the words to go with the pictures. 

Throughout the next few weeks, I occasionally asked some of the children during self-selected time if they had anything to add to the book.  Sometimes, children would come to me with the book, wanting to share their thoughts.  The children would dictate their ideas and I would write, adding their names at the end of the comments so that everyone could see who had contributed.  It was great to see the children pull out resource books to identify the dinosaurs in our own book.  I would ask these children to read each letter of the dinosaurs’ names to me, so that I could spell them correctly.  It was a great way to reinforce their field trip experience while also incorporating fantastic language and prereading skills!  On top of it all, the children were very proud of their own book in our classroom library, and loved to “read” from it!  Try it for yourself  with your next field trip!

Click here for more dinosaur ideas!


Filed under book activity, Building Readers, Field Trips, language activity, Learning through Play and Experience, science activity

Sign In! Practical Name Writing Practice for Preschoolers

dscn14761Children come to preschool with wide ranging ability levels when it comes to recognizing and writing their names.  Some of this is due, quite frankly, to the length of their names and which letters are included in them.  Think about it.  Who will likely learn to write their name first?  Lilly, or Savannah?  Some of the difference is due to their different ages.  In a mixed-age setting, the one year difference between 3 and 4 is dramatic!  Even a six month difference is often pronounced.  Varying rates of development in fine motor skills or even interest in writing may also be causes for different skill levels.  Here is how I have addressed this challenge with my preschoolers.

Using a basic plastic photo holder, I trim back the plastic on the top layer of each pocket, to make the opening more perceptible.  I then write each child’s name at the top of an index card and insert each one into a pocket.  Each day as the children arrive, they know that their job is to “sign in”.  They find their names in the pockets (which I have hanging on the wall near the writing table), and write their names on the cards.  At the end of the day, I remove the cards, write the date on the bottom (you could get a really cool date stamper for this), and make any necessary notes.  Each card is then placed in another photo holder, specific to each child, to create a collection of writing samples through the year.  At the end of the year (or at shorter intervals if desired) I stack the cards in the pockets so that the child’s first and last samples are visible one above the other.  Then I can point out the progress to the child, send the samples home, or use them in parent-teacher conferences.  This allows me to track progress on a key skill and also allows the children to work from their individual starting points.  Here’s Ella’s one year progress:


I’m sure some of you are wondering why I used all capital letters on the top sample and the conventional style on the bottom.  I started out this activity writing all of the names in all capital letters, as capital letters, having more straight lines, are generally the easiest for early writers to form.  That was my thinking until a kindergarten teacher at a conference commented to me that it is so hard to re-train kindergarteners to use lowercase letters after their preschool teachers and parents have told them to use all caps.  I was torn on what to do, as the children were already a few months into their routine at this point.  What I decided on, was to begin with all capitals, and then once each child had progressed enough in their writing, I took them aside and pointed out that their name card now had lower-case letters as well.  I let them know that this is how they will learn to write their names in kindergarten and since they were getting so big, I thought we could start practicing.  Flattered by their own progress, they made the switch pretty seamlessly.  I’m debating whether to keep this system next year, or just use conventional form only from the get-go.  I’m leaning toward the latter, but I’d love to hear your input!

A few things to keep in mind with this routine:

*Don’t put the names in assigned spots.  Mix it up. For some, simply identifying their name is right at the top of their skill level.  You’ll want to be sure that these children are recognizing their names, not just memorizing a spot.  For those children, I write “ID” in the bottom corner of the cards to notify me that they properly identified their names that day.  Then I encourage them to write. 

*For any group of young children, the level of writing will cover the writing spectrum.  Some will simply make marks, some will trace the name I have written, and others will write the letters of their names with varying degrees of accuracy.  Encourage and validate any marks as writing.  Give instruction within the Zone of Proximal Development.  Choose one aspect to correct, perhaps one letter’s formation (“Remember that when you write your ‘E’, it’s a straight line down, then one, two, three lines.”) or just remind them how to properly hold the pencil (I usually offer to show them a way to hold the pencil that makes it “easier” rather than “right”.  It comes across as more helpful and less abrasive.).  Then point out all the positive aspects of the writing.  Don’t weigh them down with too much correction.  It makes the task frustrating and unappealing.  When you focus primarily on their progress and what they’re doing right, children really revel in being able to write their own names!

*Remember that writing improves with fine motor strength and control, which is gained in a variety of other activities.  Likewise, letter formation can be practiced in many different ways such as, writing with fingers in colored salt or cornmeal, with colored glue, or with paint brushes.  All of these activities can be used to reinforce letter formation while depending upon and increasing different aspects of motor control.


Filed under fine motor skills, Learning through Play and Experience, procedure/organization