Writing in Early Years

painting-a-figure-with-q-tips-666x1000This is an excerpt from a WhatsApp discussion held on the Inspirational Teachers platform.

The urge to communicate is natural. Children are born communicators. From the moment, they give you their first smile, their first word, their first wave, they start learning to communicate. Initially, children start off with cries, sounds and non-verbal signals. Gradually, they move on to form recognisable words, then sentences. By age 6, it is fully expected that a child will have begun to read and write properly.

Before moving on, I will like to point out that as an early years practitioner, it is important that you know exactly what to expect at different stage of a child’s development. Yesterday, Ade talked about assessment and I know we raised an issue of summative vs formative. Well, I know by God’s grace, we will eventually get it right in Nigeria!

In early years, formative assessment is your bread and butter. How else will you assess these little people? Exams? Come on! It will be an uphill task especially when at this stage all they want to do is play! So you have got to be constantly observing, monitoring, assessing and tweaking your practice throughout the term. First, understand how young children learn. They learn through:

  1. Play: this helps them develop confidence and ‘have a go’. They also learn to ask for help when needed.
  2. Repetition: frequent repetition of an enjoyable activity makes it familiar to the children. For example, think of the story of the three little pigs. If you tell it over and over, the children read the book and you have animated the retelling of the story. They will become so familiar that they can retell their own version.
  3. Communication: children learn though doing things with others. Just watch them play together. When an adult gets involved, they also get the adult involved by talking to the adult.
  4. Observation: this is the proverbial case of ‘do as I do’. Children watch, listen and try out!
  5. Practical contexts: children learn by carrying out hands on activities. This is how you make learning ‘stick’. A practical activity is one that ‘involves’ you. It means, observation, manipulation of real objects or materials.

I know that it is a lot of work, which is why those who work in our early years setting, need to be absolutely committed and PLAN ahead. This stage of education is the foundation for chn’s learning, we cannot afford to get it wrong! A tool to help you do this and do it effectively is the EYFS developmental goals document. It is available at the end of this article for you to download. Do use it.  This version I am providing could not be any clearer! It is grouped according to age related expectation from 0-60 months. So if you work in a crèche, you can use this. Get familiar with this document, know it inside out!

Can you imagine, how brilliant it will be when you are writing your end of term report and you can confidently write, “so so child can do such and such.” Why? All you need to do is to copy across relevant statements from this document. You can even set targets from here. So if the child can do…..his/her next step is to ….. (remember Ade talked about targets yesterday). Ok sorry, I digressed a little. Back to Early Years Writing.

So I was saying that by age 6, chn would have begun writing and reading fully. I know that in Nigeria, we tend to do these so much earlier. Why the rush? I am sure the answers vary. Let’s not go into that now.

One of the most important aspects of your role as an early years practitioner is helping your chn learn to communicate effectively.

First, you help them develop their speaking and listening skills because *Talking is the basis for all writing in the EYFS.* listen, if they can’t ‘say it, they can’t write it.’ The thinking that needs to take place before writing, and the quality of the writing, will be affected by the child’s ability to express their thoughts and ideas orally, and then to redirect these oral skills into producing written text. The quality and richness of the child’s expressive language reveals how well they can structure a sentence, and this forms the basis of written sentence construction.

A bit of science here: to fully understand the development of writing, it is vital you know about *bilateral integration* This is the ability to coordinate the two sides of your body, while doing different things with each side. In order to be able to write, children need to coordinate both sides of their bodies together, with one hand holding the paper, while the other manipulates the pen. Furthermore, to be able to write, children need to be able to coordinate both sides of their bodies together, with one hand holding the paper, while the other manipulates the pencil.

Whilst this is going on, they need to develop their fine and gross motor skills as part of the process of learning to read and write. Fine motor skills are small movements — such as picking up small objects and holding a spoon — that use the small muscles of the fingers, toes, wrists, lips, and tongue. Gross motor skills are the bigger movements — such as rolling over and sitting — that use the large muscles in the arms, legs, torso, and feet. There are tons of activities that you can do. As we suggest activities to do, I recommend that you plan these activities into your daily routine so that you are giving the children in your care, ample opportunities for optimum development.

*10 easy activities for gross development*

  1. Hop Skip & Jump
  2. Crawling through tunnels
  3. Carrying mini buckets of sand or water
  4. Jumping Game: See how far they can jump!
  5. Digging in the sand or soil
  6. Dance sessions
  7. Tug of war (carefully supervised!)
  8. Newspaper Throwing: Have a little indoor ‘basketball’ with newspapers!
  9. Bean Bag Toss: Label your stairs with numbers and throw bean bags to land on each stair. Make it harder to land on them in order. I hope your school has a staircase! Use them!

10.Alphabet Ball: Pass a ball back and forth calling out letters, phonic sounds, numbers, whatever they’re learning.

*10 easy activities for fine motor development:*

These fine motor skill activities are a great help when it comes to developing children’s writing. The activities focus on motor skill development by improving the muscles in the fingers and hands, strengthening hand grip, and developing wrist movement.

  1. Writing in sand (how many of you remember doing this in school?)
  2. Finger painting. Children love this. It is messy, but worth it,
  3. Threading beads. Make necklaces, bracelets etc
  4. Stacking, sorting, etch
  5. Paint with Qtips (cotton buds)
  6. Making collages (give children cut up into small pieces; old newspapers, old magazines etc)
  7. Woven Paper Place mats (I loved making these at school!) Little hands get quite the workout as they weave paper under and over to create a pretty place mat.
  8. Hanging Socks and clothes on washing line. Every good early years setting ought to have a washing line, pegs etc. There is so much you can do with a washing line besides just fine motor skills. I will also upload a blank socks template and a blank Tshirt template. Print them, cut them out and use them in your setting. Get the children to make marks, design them etc. Ultimately peg them onto the washing line!
  9. Squeeze out a sponge. Set up two separate bowls, one filled with water and the other empty. Give your child a sponge and have her soak it in one bowl. Then have her squeeze the water out of the sponge into the other bowl.

10. Make paper dolls: Paper dolls have been around for generations, and children still love them. By cutting and folding tabs, your child can strengthen important hand muscles. Start by cutting out larger dolls and outfits, and move to smaller pieces over time. Paper dolls can appeal to boys as well as girls—just look for characters that interest your child. Here is a template for paper dolls. Download and use them, the possibilities are endless. They can be used in maths for adding and taking away! They can even go on your washing line.

These are just a few, there are so many online.

When children in Early Years start trying to write, the underpinning ethos  you must have is to reassure them that anything they create will be valued, *whatever their level of skill*. If children are going to be willing to take risks with their writing, practitioners need to encourage them to ‘have a go’. ‘Getting it right’, i.e. correct spelling, handwriting, the construction of a sentence and most appropriate presentation, is not something which should deter them from writing. These skills will be learned and will improve with focused adult-led activities.  Give praise and celebrate their achievement when they make marks for example, *Your writing looks really interesting. I wonder what it says… Lots of writing, Jamie. It looks like an interesting story. Is it all about Ben Ten?  I can see him in your picture.*

When I taught in Early Years, one of the things I did was to build a strong link between phonics and writing. This meant that as the children were learning their first letters and sounds, they immediately were given the opportunity to spell words, progressing towards sentence building. What I did was basically put sounding, blending and segmenting all together! The outcome: rapid progress into reading and independent writing.

What activities can you use to reinforce these and to ensure that the children are continuously learning, writing and making progress?

  1. Lots of prewriting activities. Start by focusing mainly on straight lines. Then move on to Straight, zig zag and curved lines. Then letter printing. Also, practising writing their names. In my Early Years class, I had every child’s name laminated so that they can practice over and over again until they could write their names themselves without the prompt. See the attached below for an example. Also ‘join the dots’ activities are great for prewriting.
  2. Sentence substitution. Prepare these ahead of time and give children time to explore make their own sentences. For example, your base sentence could be: *Sam sat on a mat.* Give the children words to use to substitute words in this sentence. The words could be; map, cat, hat, pin etc. So they could make a new sentence like *Sam sat on a pin. OR Cat sat on a hat.* This way, you are not just providing opportunities to write, you are also teaching elements of grammar; capital letters and full stops.
  3. Create a context for writing. Every writing must have a purpose. Think about it, why do you write? Do always write letters? No. Do you always write diary entries? No. So you need to give children a meaningful purpose for writing. For example, plan a teddy bears picnic. First they write an invitation card. Next they write a shopping list of what is needed. Then they bring the teddies into school and have a picnic(lot of photo opportunity). Then they write a recount of the picnic. How many pieces of meaningful writing have we had now; an invite, a list and a recount! This is apart from the maths learning that will go into ‘sharing the food’ to ensure that everyone has enough. You could even create a new theme every week so that all your learning is meaningful. You would have picnics, gardening, making gingerbread, making porridge oats etc. There is so much you can do.
  4. Finally! I feel like I am teaching a PGCE class tonight! Lol. Anyways, I saved the best for last; be a model writer. Write a class story ever so often maybe at the end of every topic. Let the children see you write through a shared writing process. I have gone into great detail about shared writing in your updated book; Creative Writing Success.
  5. blank socks
  6. blank tshirt
  7. EYFS tracker
  8. name practise sheet



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