It may be hard to believe that this year your five-year-old will formally learn to read and write. Formally that is, because he's been building towards this monumental task informally ever since the day he started cooing. While writing may take root in kindergarten, it's been in the making for a long time. Just as you taught your child that his babbles as a young baby had meaning by your reaction to them, the same is true for writing. It's important that you respond with the same zeal you did as he was learning to speak.
Kindergarteners will enter school at many different levels of writing. This depends on age, interests, and what kind of preschool experiences they had. The basic expectation, however, is that your child should enter kindergarten writing her name, recognizing the letters in her name, understanding that letters make up words, and knowing that spoken words can become written words.
In the beginning months of school, your child will build upon those skills, working towards writing a simple sentence by December. Again, sentences will vary depending on what level the child entered kindergarten. It might be a simple sentence made up mostly of sight words, such as "I see a car." Although, it might be written more like this: "I see a cr." Or, your child's sentence could be something slightly more complicated, such as "I like to play with my friends," written "I lik to pla wif mi frdz."
In the beginning stages of writing, the untrained eye may be hard pressed to see or read this emerging literature. Kindergarten teachers are trained to read this magical text. It’s important that parents learn to read it too! Still not sure what to look for, when it comes to writing progress? Here's a breakdown of the steps that emerging writers go through, as they make their journey towards becoming fluent writers:
Draw a Story
Children’s classics like Good Night Moon and modern favorites such as Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse have one thing in common: pictures. Illustrations are front and center for early readers, because pictures help children follow a storyline and enhance their comprehension. So, it’s no wonder that this is one of the first ways your child will be asked to "write." Starting from the first month of school, she'll likely be asked to draw a picture and tell the teacher or class what is happening in it. Giving stories a beginning, middle, and end lays the groundwork for plot, character, and setting. This stage in the writing process should not be passed over too quickly, as it's at the heart of the writing process.
While this is an older kindergarten practice, many teachers still use it in the beginning of the year. It gives young writers power, as they make that connection between the spoken and written word. What is it exactly? Dictation means that an adult writes down a child's story exactly as the child tells it. That means no editing! This helps reinforce the fact that spoken words have a correlation to written words, a fundamental building block for the emergent writer.
In the Fall, many students are not completely comfortable with the sounds of all the letters, but have made the connection that letters make words. They may begin to experiment with what they know and may use random letters to "write." This is an important phase and should be celebrated. It means that your child is beginning to make sense of the sound/symbol relationship. In other words, he's beginning to "get" the fact that letters form the sounds that make up words.
Sight words are a group of commonly used words that are often difficult to decode, or sound out. For that reason, they must be memorized. The list of kindergarten sight words varies from school to school, but common contenders for first on the list will most likely be: I, am, see, like, the.
Beginning Letter Sounds
This is the big jump that most parents are looking forward to with nervous anticipation. Finally, the familiar beginning sounds! In kindergarten, students typically focus on these initial sounds, or beginning sounds, of words first and it typically happens once children have a good understanding of the alphabet and are very comfortable with the sounds that each letter makes. Kindergarten reading and writing go hand and hand. As students gain confidence in "sounding out" these beginning sounds, they'll begin to apply that knowledge to their writing. Kids at this stage can usually identify the beginning sound, but have more difficulty as they move through the word. Don’t fret; delight in your child's efforts to write! It's completely normal for children to be most comfortable with beginning sounds, move on later in the year to ending sounds, and then finally learn to fill in "the middle". Don't be surprised if the middle doesn't come until first grade!
Sounding it Out
Once your child gets the hang of the initial sounds of words they will be ready to stretch out the word to hear even more sounds. As your child's learning to read and write, you'll hear him saying each word slowly, trying to hear the sounds the letters are making in the word. After beginning sounds most children will jump to the ending sound in a word, so their early writing often has a lot of missing letters. The middle sounds, especially vowels, are generally added last, as they are more difficult for children to isolate. So the progression for the word friend might look like this: f only, then fd, to frnd, and lastly adding a vowel for frend.
How to help
Even though it might not seem like "real" writing at first, it's important to recognize how real it is! Encourage your kindergarten kid, as you did with all his other developmental milestones. Clap and cheer each small writing victory. And if your child presents you with a masterpiece that you can’t read, express your excitement and ask him to read it to you. This gets you off the hook without squelching your child's enthusiasm or mistakenly “reading” his words incorrectly.
You can also give your kinder a boost by offering natural opportunities to write. Provide various types of writing supplies such as notebooks, writing pads, dry erase boards, envelopes, pens, and colored pencils. These all make writing more enticing and authentic. For ideas to keep things fun, check out our kindergarten writing activities.
And don't forget to keep in mind what all of this hard work is leading to! By the end of kindergarten your child will be expected to write 2-3 sentences that accompany a drawing. This is an amazing leap from writing just his name in September.
Try to keep your worry in check. Your child’s teacher will be working very hard to make sure all the baby steps happen, so he'll be able to take those giant steps come kindergarten graduation. The initial foundation is crucial, so don’t rush through it!