Making One's Mark in the World

From the time we had kids, we had a kids' table. As much as I wanted beautiful wooden heirloom-worthy mini-furniture sets, I resisted those tables in favor of durable plastic. I knew from my therapy experiences that I wanted a table made for crayons, paint, and playdough!

We lived in a small townhouse, and that table sat in the middle of our living space. As soon as my first-born could sit on the chairs, I joined her, negotiating my giant pregnant belly upon that mini chair. I have such clear memories of teaching Emma to make a circle. Then I added a long line and said "balloon." Emma was so delighted to create a picture that looked real. We drew balloons in all different colors. (Sadly, this was the full extent of my artistic abilities!)

The kids' table lasted until my youngest outgrew it. It was where everyone learned to write, even many of my clients! I don't think I am unique in taking credit for my children's literacy. Every successful reader and writer started before school age. Any journey, as the saying goes, begins with a single step, and those first writing steps begin soon after the first walking steps.

Toddlers wielding crayons are a mighty force! They may color way beyond the paper, onto the table, the chairs, the floors, and the walls. They may leave their mark on fabrics and furniture, but they are forging a path we want to encourage. No matter the damage.

Writing begins with an idea-a mark-that says: "This is who I am!"

We all have those stories. My son wrote his name on the wood trim behind the couch. He couldn't resist the impulse, so he hid his name in the hope that it wouldn't be discovered. Unfortunately for him, he forgot that he identified himself as the culprit! It was one of those moments when my husband and I had to remind each other that writing—like all of development—matters more than decor! Decades later, my husband refuses to paint over that sweet memory.

Our kids colored and "wrote" in their storybooks. Back then, we taught them to respect their beautiful picture books and not write in them. Ironically, we later taught them to honor a great story by annotating—writing in books! In spite of our parental mixed messages, somewhere between those early scribbles and high school annotations, writing skills developed. It begins, in part, with kids learning to sign their name. 

The progression of writing is much like the progression of the word sign, which morphed from meaning "a mark to represent" into the word derivative signature. Kids morph into writers in this same way: beginning with a mark. A scribble is a picture. Then a picture is a thing. Pictures are used to convey (to represent) an idea. Pictures are "writing" to the preschool child.

Sometime between the ages of 4-5, kids continue their writing path to possibly include making marks to indicate their name or a word. For example, they may draw a line next to a picture. "Here is my mark or my label," the line says. Some kids may make a zig-zag scribble to indicate a whole word is present.

Most kids progress to creating discrete, letter-like squiggles or symbols, mimicking or representing the letters in their name. Some kids include real letters within their name, but not the whole name. For example, Lindsey might write her name as LNE. Kids begin to write words using letters to represent the sounds they hear.

A sweet memory of Emma as a toddler at our writing table.
A sweet memory of Emma as a toddler at our writing table.


Finally, kids learn their name and spell it correctly, progressing in writing from sign to signature at last!

Like potty training and tying shoes, learning to write is a process that takes time, coordination, determination, and practice. The early stages of writing combine these important skills:

  • Eye-hand coordination (letter formation)
  • Composition (conveying meaning)
  • Phonology (tracking sounds across words) 
  • Orthography (mapping sounds to letters)

But not in this order. Writing begins with an idea—a mark-that says: "This is who I am!"

Writing, unlike riding a bike, is a lifelong process. It takes decades to master, and even longer to perfect! So we need to give it time, and allow for years of errors.

When we encourage developmental writing and invented spelling, we give children time to both represent meaning and to coordinate their skills. It can require specific and explicit teaching. This is why Rooted in Language teaches a yearlong educator training course, Roots Entwined, where we guide you in developing a comprehensive language arts plan that is specific to your student's needs and employs the important practice of Intentional Copywork, Dictation & Editing. We teach you how to scoot your kids along the writing path, giving them time, support, encouragement, and grace.

Like the signature we each created as 4-5 year olds, writing represents who we are and lays a path for who we can become.

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