Starting to write

by Caroline Gee. It is a magical moment when your child first starts to mark make or write.

Girl with pencil


When your child first starts to mark make or write, it is the beginnings of a journey that sees them gradually make sense of their world, solve problems and record their feelings and observations.

School has traditionally been the place where children 'learn to write' but, as a parent or carer, you can play an important part in providing stimulating and exciting early writing opportunities.

How CBeebies can help

Writing needs a purpose and what better reason can there be for writing than having a party?!

Pop along to the Big Cook Little Cook web pages and find all you need to get ready for a special picnic party. You and your child can design and write party invitations, write the yummy things to go on the menu and even write table place names for the guests.

How to make a magic moment

Ahoy there mateys! Why not introduce a pirate theme to stimulate some writing with your child?

You could draw and label a treasure map (try staining it with cold, black tea for that authentic look), draw a wanted poster for a naughty pirate and have a go at writing his or her name on it. You could even think of some clues to write together to help find the missing treasure and set up a treasure hunt around the house.

Maybe the treasure could be a pile of golden coins (chocolate money always goes down a treat) or add some pirate themed stationery to entice your child to try even more writing!

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Top tips

  • Before children are ready to write, they need to develop their hand-eye coordination through activities such as threading beads, doing jigsaws or squeezing water from a washing-up liquid bottle. Gross (large) motor skills including throwing and catching, and performing action songs will lead onto fine (small) motor activities that might involve manipulating small objects such as dried pasta and making finger patterns in sand or soapy water.Writing needs to be purposeful and relevant to your child’s interests. Try linking writing activities to characters that they like in books or on the television or to role play situations such as going to the doctors or going shopping.If your child is finding it difficult to sustain an effective pencil grip when writing, a triangular shaped pencil or pencil grip could be helpful.Early mark making should not be hampered by worrying too much about letter formation, but as your child begins to form recognisable letters it is helpful to introduce the idea of anti-clockwise directionality. You can also point out that many letters start in a similar way such as a, c and o. Good habits learnt early on will result in more fluent handwriting as your child progresses.Boys often need very clear purposes for writing that are real to them. It is vital that writing captures their interests. Try getting them to write about a super hero and his powers, label a plan for a vehicle he has made, or write a ticket for a speeding motorist. Boys’ mark making will tend to be more successful if they are choosing to write and are self-motivated, rather than the task being imposed on them.

Expert opinion

When do young children begin their journey towards confident writing? Is it when they first trace a finger in baked bean juice or when they tell you what an imaginary friend has just said? 

Is it when they can hold a pencil, make up a shopping list or pick up a toy cow and mutter about what it’s thinking? 

With support and enthusiasm from adults, all these experiences and many more are steps on the way to confident writing. It is not just marks on paper that matter, but the ideas and feelings that children want to write about.

Helen Bromley, Early childhood consultant and author

Parent's tale

Encourage your child to make any type of mark making. Writing can be done in sand, water, on their faces, on their backs etc. – anything that encourages mark making.

I like to put the music on and get their pencil to dance to the music. Pop music is great – when they say they have done their writing, act as if you are reading it – e.g. "oh that says (as your finger moves along the writing) this is my mum" and write it underneath.

Janice, from Warrington

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