Learning to Walk and Talk (and Write)
When I first began as an assistant teacher long ago, I attended a parent meeting at the school on the topic of young children and writing. I remember someone sharing that their 4 year old child didn’t write but scribbled. The teacher shared that scribbling (and other mark-making) IS writing — a necessary stepping stone along the path to learning to form individual letters, strings of letters, and, eventually, words. It’s similar to a baby who sits up and crawls before they learn to stand upright, cruise, and eventually walk independently – or a baby who communicates through coos and babbles long before they learn to talk in words. My thinking about young children and writing shifted that day. I had not yet considered writing as a process of developmental stages that each child progresses through in their own way and on their own timeline, much like babies learning to walk or talk. I wondered about a baby’s process of learning to walk and talk and the conditions that support a child’s eventual success to independent walking and talking. I wondered if these same conditions might also support a child’s path to learning to write and communicate through writing.
This story was from early in my teaching career, yet I continue to consider and reflect on the ideas presented that day and have uncovered some conditions that I have found over the years to be vital in supporting children as writers.
When I think about supporting my own children to learn to walk and talk, I made sure that they had ample opportunities to experiment with freely moving their bodies and making sounds, allowing them to take risks and test their limits. I encouraged and celebrated their efforts toward and approximations of walking and talking, meeting them where they were developmentally and inviting them to crawl just a bit further or babble back to me another time. I considered how to keep them safe as they moved about, and didn’t ever consider that the way they moved or cooed was wrong or that it wasn’t walking or talking. I understood that these were important opportunities for learning, the stepping stones to walking and talking.
These same conditions support children as writers. Making sure that they have generous opportunities to make marks, scribble, form real or invented letters alone or strung together, copy words, names and more, offering children the practice that they need to grow their writing. Offering them a safe environment where adult feedback is both encouraging and respectful of the child’s efforts and innovations while modeling writing is imperative. Having adults who are paying attention to where each child is developmentally and gently nudging them along the developmental writing continuum supports children to grow as writers and respects their approximations and the meaning their writing holds for them.
Several years ago, my colleagues and I noticed that children began to use paper and pen on clipboards, mirroring the documenting that the teachers were doing of the children. This sparked an idea for the teachers to give each child their own journal, as each teacher has a journal to capture the children’s stories, thinking, connections, and questions.
We see journals as a place for children to regularly practice mark-making and communicating graphically. They can be another tool that young children use to communicate their ideas and understandings of the world — capturing their thoughts, ideas, feelings, and more.