Emergent Writing Activities for Preschoolers

Writing together can be so fun!
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Have you ever asked your child about a picture she drew, only to have her haughtily say, "It's not a picture, it's writing!"? Emergent writing includes those first scribbles all the way to the invented spelling stories that you can almost read. Writing is complex: children have to remember what they want to say, then understand and replicate the symbols that represent their thoughts. The more opportunities they get for practice, the better off they'll be.

1 Shared Writing

Writing your preschooler's words for them is a powerful experience for young children. Not only do they learn that their thoughts matter, they learn what words look like on paper. If your child always has a long story about his pictures, then write the story down on the top or the back. You can also make cards together, with your child suggesting the words--you writing and her decorating.

2 Play Writing

Emergent writing activities don't have to be formal. Children can understand the purpose of writing through imaginary play. You can provide pencils and paper so that kids can take orders while playing restaurant, write grocery lists while playing house, write research notes while playing scientist and whatever other imaginary games your children enjoy. If you're worried about play writing winding up on your newly painted walls, you can try Color Wonder markers, which only show up on Color Wonder paper.

3 Functional Writing

Preschoolers may not be writing their own grocery lists or thank you cards, but that doesn't mean they can't help when you do. Let them scribble a bit on the grocery list and tell you what snacks they hope you'll buy at the store. For understanding family and friends, let your preschooler "write" on the card, then translate for them down below. Get them in the habit now and in a few years they'll be able to write their own thank you notes.

4 Mailbox Writing

Chances are, your family's real-life mailbox is filled with junk mail and bills most of the time. But if you create a just-for-family mailbox, where everyone can leave happy notes and reminders for each other, your preschooler can learn about what mail was like before the Internet. Even if you can't quite read what your preschooler wrote, it will still get him excited about writing.

Jennifer Zimmerman is a former preschool and elementary teacher who has been writing professionally since 2007. She has written numerous articles for The Bump, Band Back Together, Prefab and other websites, and has edited scripts and reports for DWJ Television and Inversion Productions. She is a graduate of Boston University and Lewis and Clark College.