Have you ever wondered why your child scribbles? Congratulations—they’re learning to write! Are they making a long string of random letters, with no clear words in it? That is an important stage to writing called Emergent Writing.  

Learning to write is a very long process that can take 6-8 years to perfect, with many stages and steps along the way. While there are ways we can support a child’s writing skills, it’s important that we do not rush them. They should be allowed to figure it out at their own pace. 

When will they start writing? 

Depending on the child, they will start writing around 5-6 years old. However, a child is learning the skills necessary to write from as young as 6 months old. 

When learning to write, there are a lot of steps that a child must go through before they’re ready.  

  1. Preliterate (Scribbling) 
  1. Emergent (Start of Letters) 
  1. Transitional (Invented Spelling) 
  1. Fluent (Dictionary Spelling) 

(NAEYC, 2017) 

Why do they hold crayons like that? 

As they build up the muscles in their hand, children will hold writing utensils in many ways. The way they hold it right now is simply the most comfortable way for them. 

(Greutman, 2010) 

They may spend a longer or shorter amount of time on any step than this diagram provides. They may even skip a step entirely. This is perfectly okay, as it’s important for them to explore their strengths and grow confidence in their abilities.  

Right vs. left handedness 

A child usually shows their hand preference around age 3, though this may take more or less time, depending on the child. Both right- and left-handed dominance is natural, and there is no difference in how they will learn to write.  

I want to stress that it is NOT a good idea to force a left-handed child to be right-handed. When you force any child to use their non-dominant hand for an extended period, it disrupts the natural flow of their brain, and can cause several short- and long-term effects such as bedwetting, extreme fatigue, poor concentration, and more. (Penwise, 2021). 

How can I support their writing skills? 

There are many ways to help children learn to write, and it’s important to give them many opportunities to practice.  

  • Fine motor activities build up hand muscles. Activities such as playdough, threading beads, or painting/coloring are good places to start. This will help them develop their hand-eye coordination and self-confidence. 
  • Pointing out print around them. Reading to them or helping them read, pointing out the letters in their names, and playing with foam letters/letter cards will help them get familiar with the idea of print. 
  • Asking for communication. When they’re writing or playing, you can initiate a conversation about the activity. Using open-ended questions will get them thinking and help them learn how to express their ideas through words, which will help them when they are ready to learn how to write. 

What are open-ended questions? 

An open-ended question is a question with no clear answer. It’s okay if a child does not answer right away, as it will still get them to think. Even when they are not talking yet, it’s good to help them learn vocabulary and recognize words. A few questions you could ask are: 

  • What are you cooking? 
  • What other materials could you use? 
  • How can we fix that? 
  • Where can we find that? 
  • What happens after that? 

If you’d like to learn more, here is an article that goes more in-depth on why open-ended questions are important to early language/literacy skills: 75 Interesting Open-Ended Questions For Children (firstcry.com) 

Book of the Month: The Boy Who Loved Words, by Roni Schotter 

In this Parents’ Choice Gold Award-winning book, Selig collects words, ones that stir his heart (Mama!) and ones that make him laugh (giggle). But what to do with so many luscious words? After helping a poet find the perfect words for his poem (lozenge, lemon, and licorice), he figures it out: His purpose is to spread the word to others. And so, he begins to sprinkle, disburse, and broadcast them to people in need. 


Booe, M. and Booe, J., 2022. Forcing A Left-Handed Child To Be Right Handed: A Good Idea? | Little Ninja Parenting. [online] Little Ninja Parenting. Available at: <https://littleninjaparenting.com/forcing-a-left-handed-child-to-be-right-handed-a-good-idea/> [Accessed 12 September 2022]. 

Greutman, H., 2010. Typical Pencil Grasp Development for Kids. [online] Growing Hands-On Kids. Available at: <https://www.growinghandsonkids.com/pencil-grasp-development-for-writing.html> [Accessed 12 September 2022]. 

Kids, P., 2022. Support your preschooler’s emergent writing skills. [online] Library.pima.gov. Available at: <https://www.library.pima.gov/blogs/post/support-your-preschoolers-emergent-writing-skills/> [Accessed 12 September 2022]. 

Kim, T., 2022. Promoting Preschoolers’ Emergent Writing. [online] NAEYC. Available at: <https://www.naeyc.org/resources/pubs/yc/nov2017/emergent-writing> [Accessed 12 September 2022]. 

Klöppel, S., Mangin, J., Vongerichten, A., Frackowiak, R. and Siebner, H., 2010. Nature vs. Nurture; Long-Term Impact of Forced Right-Handedness on Structure of Pericentral Cortex and Basal Ganglia. [online] JNeurosci. Available at: <https://www.jneurosci.org/content/30/9/3271> [Accessed 12 September 2022]. 

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