Child Development Tracker: Literacy From Age 3 to 4 (page 3)

— PBS Parents
Updated on Feb 18, 2011

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 book.


  • 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.

Copyright 2002-2007 Public Broadcasting Service. Reprinted from with persmission of the Public Broadcasting Service.

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