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Encouraging Kids to Want to Write

Dear Debi,
My preschoolers only want to draw when I give them a pencil and paper. How do I get them to write their names instead of drawing pictures all the time?
Lisa, San Leandro, CA
Debi's Tips
Debi Gutierrez
Debi Gutierrez
  • Encourage kids to draw every day
  • Adults should model writing
  • Create a print-rich environment
Expert Advice
Mike Salas
Mike Salas
Pre-K and Kindergarten teacher
Writing is anything that the child is able to put down on paper. It doesn’t necessarily mean words or letters because for preschoolers, writing includes scribbles or shapes that don’t even resemble letters. Just like learning to read, learning to write is a developmental process. Children go through stages as they learn to write.

Drawing and scribbling are important pre-writing skills. Children are using symbols to express their ideas as they draw, just as they will later use written words. Children begin developing their writing skills by experimenting with writing instruments and making small scribbles. These drawings will grow into more elaborate scribbles, then simulation of letter-writing, to actual invented spelling.

Making writing fun for kids is really easy if you have a good amount of material out. Have a lot of writing instruments available – markers, pencils, pens, crayons, thick pencils, stamping markers, chalk, etc. You also want to have a good amount of paper – regular blank writing paper, labels, receipt books, blank tablets, and envelopes. Dry erase boards are really useful, too, because it has a different feel than writing on paper. When you have all these things out, writing can become a part of dramatic play.

Remember that adults should serve as role models for writing. A lot of kids will try to mimic what you are doing. You want to sit with them and write with them. When you are introducing something new to the children or want them to be interested in something, you need to be down there doing it with them. Once you see kids able to show control by drawing lines and circles, you can start teaching them how to write upper-case letters.

It’s easier for kids to write with upper-case letters because there aren’t as many curves. One of the first things kids learn to write is their name. When you show them their name, you can write it down for them and ask them to trace it. When I’m working with children who are learning to write, I’ll often write their name very lightly in pencil and have them trace over it. They’ll use hand-eye coordination to write those letters.

A print-rich environment really encourages writing. Labeling really helps. Label the light switch and stick the label right underneath it. Label the telephone, the bulletin board, the door, the table, etc. As the older four-year-old’s writing becomes more accomplished, they’ll start writing out what is on these labels, too. At that point, you can introduce word cards that they can write or trace the words. The kids really like it when we have name cards of everyone in the class. As much as they like to write their own names, they love to write their friends’ names. A print-rich environment shows that there is a word associated with every object, and that is an important pre-reading and pre-writing skill.
Child Care provider Comments
Child care provider for 10 years
We have the kids make journals and decorate them with stickers. I encourage them to write in them everyday. In the journal, they draw pictures, usually of the things they did that day. From drawing, they get better at the skill of holding the writing instrument. If you teach them to draw squares and triangles, it helps them get more control over what they are doing.

If we all go out on a field trip to the park, when we get back, I ask them to tell me what their favorite part of the day was. Then I ask them to write about it. It can be free-writing with the older kids and drawing with the younger ones.
Family child care provider for 4 years
Writing letters is a really awesome way to encourage them to write. I have them write a letter to their parents about what they did during the day. Sometimes they’ll ask me how to spell words and sometimes they’ll make things up or write shapes. This activity helps with memory, helps with holding a pencil and pretty soon they start getting letters down. I have a laminated pad and we can write on it and then erase it and re-use it. We use it a lot with their ABC’s and we make placemats and things.
Karolina Ramirez
Karolina Ramirez
Child care provider for 6 years
Children have to learn first the basics of holding a pencil or a pen and then I let them explore and see that once the pencil touches the paper, they get an effect, they see something.

I let them draw things and then I ask them what they have drawn. Children learn that drawing things represents something, and later on they find that letters represent sounds. They begin to see that writing represents language and as they grow they will know that it is a part of learning.

Stone Soup Featured Activity:
Stone Soup
Dramatic Play in Writing Featured Video:
Dramatic Play in Writing
Topic: Early Learning Areas
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