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Reading and Language

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Writing Development: One Child's Journey from Scribbles to Stories


Educators used to believe that children learned to read before they learned to write, but literacy research of the 1970's and 1980's proved that this belief is flawed. This research changed the way educators and parents think about writing in two ways. First of all, we learned that, just as children learn about reading from the time they are born, they learn about writing from infancy. When they watch adults and older siblings around them use writing as a means of communicating every day, even babies learn the purpose of writing. Most become interested in making marks on paper at around 18 months, when they develop the necessary control over the small muscles in their hands. Secondly, we learned that reading and writing develop together and even reinforce one another. For instance, practicing "invented spelling," or writing words the way they sound, actually helps children in beginning reading.

In this update, we present annotated writing samples by a child named Toby that help illustrate both the developmental nature of writing and the relationship between reading and writing. Toby's parents collected all of his writing from the time he was a baby. Taken from this portfolio of work, the writing samples in this album show how a typical child's writing develops from babyhood through third grade. The commentary beside each piece discusses not only how Toby is developing in writing, but also what specific understandings about literacy are reflected in his writing at different ages.

As you look at these writing samples, it is important to bear in mind that there is a great amount of variation in children's writing at any age. If your child's writing does not look like Toby's at any given age, it certainly does not mean that there is a problem. Similarly, it is important to enjoy watching very young children's work develop rather than teaching your child so that he moves on to the next "stage."

Toby's Writing

Take a tour of Toby's writing samples from babyhood through third grade.

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