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The Stages of Writing Development in Early Childhood

From scribbling to spelling, learn the best ways to support and facilitate the stages of writing development in early childhood education.

The Stages of Writing Development in Early Childhood

The Stages of Writing Development in Early Childhood

Writing is a difficult skill that children develop over time. As children learn, they progress across several writing development stages that build upon other early skills that children must master, like phonological awareness, letter recognition, and fine motor skills. For example, learning to grip a pencil and form letters helps strengthen hand and finger muscles. Additionally, learning to read and identify sounds in letters plays an important role in writing development.

In this article, we'll cover the stages of writing development and activities to promote writing skills.

Why is the development of writing important?

The development of writing skills in early childhood lays the foundation for effective communication, critical thinking, and academic success. Learning to write allows young children to express their thoughts, ideas, and emotions in a tangible and meaningful way. It helps them develop fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and spatial awareness.

Writing also nurtures creativity and imagination, allowing children to explore and articulate their unique perspectives. Additionally, writing enhances cognitive abilities such as problem-solving, organization, and attention to detail. As children progress in their writing skills, they become better equipped to navigate the world of literacy, engage in complex tasks, and excel academically across various subjects. Ultimately, the development of writing in early childhood equips children with a powerful tool for self-expression, personal growth, and future achievements.

What are the stages of writing development?

Learning how to write is critical when developing emergent literacy abilities. Although children reach writing milestones at their own pace, there are various stages of writing development that all children progress through as they gradually master the skill. Below, we talk about each stage in more detail.

Drawing/scribbling or "pre-phonemic"

Around 15 months to 2 years old, children embark on the first stage of writing development. During this time, they're scribbling and drawing while also learning how to hold and grip a pencil or crayon properly. As their teacher, you can encourage them to doodle or draw whatever's on their mind and anything in front of them. 

While in this pre-phonemic stage, you may see a lot of different types of drawings. Over time, they'll progress from random scribbling to controlled scribbling, and so on.

During the drawing/scribbling stage, students work on their motor skills and learn how to hold and grip a pencil or crayon.Source

Letter-like forms and shapes or "early phonemic"

After the pre-phonemic stage, children progress into the early phonemic stage. As their skills develop, they often start recognizing patterns and incorporating letter-like forms into their drawings. This might include lines, dots, and curves. In addition, they begin to acquire basic phonological awareness skills and understand that sounds are assigned to letters. 

Strings of random letters 

In this stage, your children understand that symbols represent letters of the alphabet. While they may not know all the letters of the alphabet, they are beginning to realize that by stringing them together, they can convey meaning. Spacing often isn't present during this stage, but you will see them stringing together letters, numbers, or even shapes in a single line. Although this writing may have little meaning to you, the child can tell you what they wrote. 

In addition to recognizing what the alphabet is used for, they're also improving their motor skills. During this stage, they have better control over their writing tool. They're also getting better at copying what they see. This is a great time to encourage your children to look around the classroom for ideas to inspire their drawings and engage with them to learn more about their illustrations. Ask them if there's a story behind what they drew, and urge them to write about it.

An example of the string of random letters stage of writing development.Source

Invented/transitional spelling

Invented spelling is a child's best attempt at spelling a word. For example, if they're trying to spell the word "is," they may sound it out and spell it as "iz." This stage allows your children to develop a deeper understanding of phonetics and how to spell words correctly. It is essential to provide them with the support and encouragement they need to improve this skill. Don't hesitate to guide them in sounding out words, spelling, and writing them. 

The invented or transitional spelling stage is a natural progression in the stages of writing development. It allows children to gain confidence in their capabilities, control the learning process, and express themselves better. This stage also allows them to practice phonics, using letters to sound out the words they often hear. Learning the phonetics associated with words can positively impact your child's reading too, as reading and writing go hand in hand. 

Conventional writing and spelling

In the last stage of writing development, children begin to spell words correctly and understand sentence formation and punctuation. They also know the correct use of uppercase and lowercase letters. 

Preschool writing activities for writing development

By incorporating various activities and writing materials into your lesson plans, you can keep your children engaged while also helping them improve their skills. With a tool like brightwheel's Experience Curriculum, you can match flexible lesson plans for baby, toddler, and preschool age groups to the hands-on learning materials in the monthly curriculum kits. You can support child development, track progress, and keep families connected to their child's learning.

Below are some writing activities suitable for each different stage: 


Pre-phonemic activities encourage fine muscle development and coordination and help children process sensory information.

  • Finger painting: This encourages children to follow the lines of pre-drawn shapes and letters on paper.
  • Play dough: Creating with play dough or clay is a great way for children to enjoy some sensory fun while also strengthening fine motor skills that will later be used to hold and manipulate writing instruments. They can roll, squeeze, or form the clay into shapes.  
  • Magnetic letters: Use magnetic letters to teach your children the alphabet and letter-sound correspondence.

Child finger painting to practice writing during the pre-phonemic stage of writing development.Source

Early phonemic

Early phonemic activities teach children letter-sound correspondence to improve their phonological skills.   

  • Rhyme time: Introduce a set of rhyming words to children. For example, if the word is "cat," they can rhyme words like "bat," "hat," and "rat."
  • Sound sort: Prepare a collection of objects or picture cards with different initial sounds. Have children sort the cards into groups based on the sound they hear.
  • Clap it out: Teach your children about syllables by clapping out the syllables in different words or phrases.

Strings of random letters

During the strings of random letters stage, children understand the concept of composing words with letters. They'll start with long lines and eventually progress to groups of letters with spaces that resemble actual words.

  • Message cards: Give children blank cards or small pieces of paper and encourage them to write messages using their random letter strings. Emphasize the idea that their message can be understood even if the letters don't form real words.
  • Name tracing: Help children practice writing their names by providing dotted lines for them to trace over. Encourage them to use their random letter strings alongside the correct letters to reinforce letter association and recognition.
  • Story starters: Give children sentence or story prompts and ask them to continue the story using their random letter strings. This encourages imagination and storytelling skills while practicing letter formation.

Invented/transitional spelling

The focus during this stage is on encouraging creativity, expression, and building confidence in writing. Transitional spellers will continue to explore sight words

  • Writing center: Set up a writing center in your classroom with various writing materials like paper, pencils, markers, and stickers. Allow children to engage in open-ended writing activities, such as creating stories, drawing pictures, or making cards for friends or family.
  • Sentence building: Provide sentence starters or simple prompts and encourage children to expand on them using invented spelling. For example, "My favorite animal is _____ because _____."
  • Word wall: Create a word wall with commonly used words in the classroom. Encourage children to refer to the word wall when writing and attempt to spell the words independently.

Conventional writing and spelling

Children are more aware of basic spelling rules and patterns in the final stage of writing development. You can introduce more challenging activities into the lesson plan while teaching children how to link words to their meanings.

Guide your children through the stages of writing development

Early educators play a key role in helping children develop their writing skills. By providing plenty of opportunities to scribble, draw, and trace letters, you can encourage early writing attempts. As children build upon their skills gradually, they will have a solid foundation for later reading and writing success.

Brightwheel is the complete solution for early education providers, enabling you to streamline your center’s operations and build a stand-out reputation. Brightwheel connects the most critical aspects of running your center—including sign in and out, parent communications, tuition billing, and licensing and compliance—in one easy-to-use tool, along with providing best-in-class customer support and coaching. Brightwheel is trusted by thousands of early education centers and millions of parents. Learn more at

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