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Kidwriting: It's More Than Just Scribbles

April 13, 2020

By: Elizabeth Kelsey, Kendall Hunt RPD Intern, with contributions from the writing team of Kindergarten Stepping Stones

 “Tell me about your picture.”

 “What does your story say?”

Any parent or teacher who has asked these questions to an enthusiastic young artist or author knows the excited responses that can result as the child eagerly points out features of the drawing or explains what he or she has written. It doesn’t matter that the scribbles may be undecipherable to adult eyes— to the child, they hold significance and meaning. This child is experiencing the joy of kidwriting, a term used to describe kids’ scribbles, scrawls, or any similar variation of young children’s writing.

Kidwriting is a valuable precursor to conventional writing because it signifies that the child is beginning to make the connection between oral and written language. With invented spelling or scribbles, children can write independently, and when they can read something they have written, they can feel successful as writers.

There are six basic “levels” to the kidwriting process:

Level 1—children draw pictures.

Level 2—children make scribble marks to stand for words.

Level 3—children use random letters, perhaps the letters of their names, to stand for words.

Level 4—children use invented spelling by matching a few letters to sounds.

Level 5—children use about one letter per word, usually the first or most prominent sound.

Level 6—children use about one letter per sound in a word.

Distinct from these six stages is another very important step in the kidwriting process: adult underwriting. The teacher listens to the child read his or her story and observes the kidwriting that the child has created. Then, the teacher validates the correct sounds in the child’s words and, underneath the kidwriting, writes the story using conventional spelling. In this way, the child can more confidently match a sound that he or she hears with the conventional letters written by the teacher. This shows the children the letters they didn’t hear independently.

Underwriting is not, however, the only way in which adults can promote kidwriting. Early childhood educator and reading expert Amanda Boyarshinov shares five tips for encouraging kidwriting on her blog, where she advocates for giving kids authentic writing experiences at their skill level. For example, she suggests that students write letters to friends and family, which the teacher or parent can mail. Physically mailing the letter gives children a sense of accomplishment and also creates a perfect opportunity for teaching about the postal system (and perhaps a lesson in patience as they wait for a reply note).

Similarly, students engaging in dramatic play can write their own menus, grocery lists, or doctor’s prescriptions. Beginning kidwriters can draw pictures of the items they wish to include, gradually scaffolding their work to perhaps write only the word’s first letter, then finally a full word.

The Kindergarten Stepping Stones program emphasizes kidwriting through the Emergent Writing Tracking Card, which allows the teacher to record students’ writing progress. Specific writing skills, such as “writes known alphabet letters,” “stretches out sounds,” and “begins to write complete sentences,” are clearly ranked within the level (1–6) to which they correspond. Teachers can mark and date the skills that children present (P), are still developing (D), or can perform independently (I).

Kidwriting, whether it’s a simple scribble or an unconventional spelling, is a valid form of writing and should be treated as such. Celebrating students’ writing successes at the early stages nurtures a love of the written word and starts students on the path to becoming lifelong readers and writers!

How do you encourage writing in your classroom?