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Child Development Tracker

Home » 3 to 4 »


Supporting Activities

Between the Lions

Choose an online story to read to your child. "Lion's" Story Library

Reading & Language

From scribbles to letters. Writing Development

Books for Your Child

Reading to children every day is a great way for them to learn new skills. Here are some great read-aloud books for preschoolers.

Three-year-olds are learning their letters, but may also refer to numbers as "letters." They notice print in the environment, and may ask what it means. They also realize that print in books tells a reader what to say. During the year, scribbles begin to appear more like letters, and children may string several of these "letters" together to form mock words. They become aware of the uses for writing, and may dictate words for adults to write down.

Phonological Awareness (awareness of sounds)

  • Increases ability to identify individual sounds and separate syllables in spoken language. During this year, becomes more consciously aware of rhyming words in nursery rhymes and predictable text books. By the end of this year, may comment about words in familiar books and poems that rhyme. Also, becomes more consciously aware of words that begin with the same sound, and begins to comment about similarities in beginning sounds heard in familiar nursery rhymes and predictable text books. By the end of this year, many children can judge correctly whether two words spoken by an adult do or do not rhyme, and do or do not begin with the same sound. Most children can clap the syllable segments in their own names.

  • What adults can do to nurture sound awareness in children of this age: expose them frequently to nursery rhymes, songs and poems that contain rhyming words; explicitly label rhyming words as "rhymes" for the child; point out words that begin with the same sound; and play games that encourage children to identify rhyming words and words that begin with the same sound.

Book Knowledge and Appreciation

  • Uses knowledge of the pictures on the cover of familiar books to choose the books that he or she wants adults to read. Goes through a book from front to back, page by page. Holds a book right side up based on knowledge of the proper positions for objects pictured. Understands that illustrations carry meaning but cannot be read.

  • During this year, many children show an increased ability to pay attention to stories that have characters and events with whom they can identify. Many children like to hear the same story read many times, often more than once in one sitting, and repeatedly over weeks or months. Children ask questions about what happened and why.

  • Attention to stories is greater if stories are read in the child's native language, and if children have adequate oral vocabulary and language skill. Attention is also greater when stories are read with great expression, and when there are few interruptions for discussion.

  • Many children memorize the text to simple predictable books that they hear often, such as Brown Bear, Brown Bear, and recite these texts, word for word, using pictures to prompt recall.

  • By the end of this year, many children can retell, by paraphrasing, simple stories they have heard multiple times. They relate critical events in correct order, but may leave out some details or focus on favorite or remembered parts. In addition, children improve their abilities to predict what happens next in a story (using illustrations and prior knowledge as a guide). They also begin to understand the literal meaning of plays, poems and stories and may act out stories in dramatic play.

  • Children ask "who," "what," "where," and "why" questions, and become better able to respond to "why" questions posed by adults if the answer is fairly obvious (e.g., the emotion of a crying character in a story is correctly labeled "sad"). Shows some uncertainty when responding to "how" and "when" questions.

  • Recognizes many books by their covers and knows what story is in them, but usually does not link specific authors to specific books.

  • Begins to understand that some books have stories, other books have information and still others have poems. Begins to understand that some stories are "pretend" (i.e., fantasy), and that events could not happen in the real world.

  • Interest and enjoyment of books is highly variable, depending on availability of books and whether adults spend time sharing these with children in positive ways.

  • May choose books from among things available to entertain self, draw pictures based on stories, etc. Shows strong preference for familiar books when using books independently.

Print Awareness and Concepts

  • Increases awareness of print in classroom, home and community. During this year, begins to notice print in various contexts and often ask what it "says."

  • When using marks to create writing, children typically will explain what message their writing is intended to convey. They judge writing on the basis of overall characteristics (e.g., how the graphic elements are arranged) rather than on specific details of graphic elements (i.e., may consider "!" and "?" to be legitimate letters).

  • By the end of this year, most children realize that print in books tells a reader what to say. Nevertheless, most children look at pictures rather than print as books are read aloud to them and as they retell a story using the boook.


  • Scribbles begin to give way to letter-like designs (mock letters) although children still use scribbles frequently, such as when using writing in play, or when creating items that contain a lot of writing (e.g., when making pages of a pretend "book").

  • As the year progresses, many children begin to write the letters of their names. These marks appear more and more like the actual letters in the child's name, although some letters, such as those with diagonal lines (e.g., "K," "N," "M," "Y"), are hard for most children this age to form correctly.

  • Children draw letters they know in unique ways, using segments and sequences of adding marks that are not conventional. For example, a child might draw a vertical straight line, and add one short line on each side of this line, to create "T" rather than using one short line to span the top of the vertical line.

  • The quality and size of writing marks are greatly influenced by fine motor skills, and the child's knowledge (visual images) of individual letter shapes. When a child lacks understanding that there are a limited number of letters in the alphabet, he or she will create "mock letters," or unique and unconventional designs made from the same types of line segments that are used in letters in the alphabet. In mock letters, however, line segments are combined in ways that do not produce an actual letter.

  • By the end of this year, most children organize the marks they intend to serve as writing in a linear fashion, and in rows. Some children may place each letter of their name on a paper in a scattered fashion (i.e., not lined up). The end result may make it appear as though the child has written the letters out of order, but this is not usually the case. Each letter is added to the paper in the order that it occurs in the name; it is the placement of the letters on the paper that is out of spatial order.

  • Most children are as likely to start at the right side of a page as the left when they "write." Children also rotate a piece of paper and write down the side rather than keep the paper in its original orientation and sweep to the left to find space.

  • Some children switch direction as they write, line by line: left to right; right to left; left to right. The left to right convention has not yet been learned by most children.

  • During this year, most children become aware of a wide range of uses for writing, and begin to use writing for these functions in "real" life and in play (e.g., scribble phone messages in house play, make signs for block buildings, create letters and cards for family members and friends, make tickets for pretend rides, write name using scribbles or letter-like forms on paintings and drawings).

  • During this year, children learn their names as sight words, and attempt to create them. Early in this year, many children use approximations of correct letters and placeholders for hard to form letters (i.e., easy to form letters, such as "l" and "0," that children label with the name of the letter needed for their name, not the mark's actual name). By the end of this year, some children write their name using good approximations to the actual letters, using a sight word strategy (i.e., they have memorized the letters in their name; they do not know that the letters represent sounds in their name).

  • By the end of this year, some children may begin stringing letters together to make "words." These closely resemble words, but are mock words, given that letters selected do not represent sounds. Children often ask adults, "What word is this?" as they display a string of letters they have created.

  • Most children still need adult support to organize messages or stories that they want an adult to write down, or that they wish to record with scribble writing. Messages for writing consist mostly of labels for pictures or short descriptions of items drawn.

  • Developing the skills to compose messages is influenced by verbal interactions with adults who support the telling of recent personal experiences. Other influences include opportunities to draw pictures about recent experiences, chances to tell adults about their drawings and seeing adults writing about what they observe. Help children make their own observations and encourage them to write about what they see. Also, provide them with opportunities to experiment with different kinds of writing tools and materials such as pencils, crayons and computers.

Alphabet Knowledge

  • By the end of this year, many children (40%) can name 5-10 letters, some children (30%) know more than half of the uppercase letters, a few children (20%) can name virtually all uppercase letters, and a few children (10%) still know fewer than 5 letters. Many children confuse highly-similar letters, such as "M" and "W," or "E" and "F." Children often refer to numbers as "letters." Children often notice specific letters in environmental print (e.g. on road and shop signs).

  • By the end of this year, most children understand that letters are used to make words, but do not understand why or how certain letters are chosen to create a specific word. Also, by the end of this year, most children understand that the same letters are used to write many different words. Some children may begin to associate the names of a few letters with their sounds.

  • Learning the alphabet can be encouraged by playing with alphabet letters (e.g. magnetic letters on a refrigerator door, alphabet puzzles) and listening to adults name letters and read alphabet books. Help children write their own names, if interested, and have plenty of writing and drawing materials available.

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