Is He Ready? – Prewriting and Writing Readiness

Is he ready? He’s starting to ask about letters. He’s starting to form circles and lines together. Does that means Jack is ready for writing? Something as fundamental as establishing a positive approach to learning and literacy weighs heavily on me. Do you have a little writer? How did you know they were ready for writing?

I used to teach literacy to high school students who had somehow fallen through the gaps. Teenagers who couldn’t read ‘blue’ or ‘chair’, who would pour all their effort into reading a sentence and yet were unable to tell me the meaning, or even repeat the sentence back to me. These students wanted so desperately to understand but were petrified of putting themselves out there, to ask for help, for fear of being ridiculed or pitied. They had decided they were stupid. After all, they had struggled for so many years, they must be. How did this happen?

Then I saw a documentary a while back about the lost magic of childhood. In it a group of researchers shared their findings of a 25 year study which showed that children who were pushed into early literacy (aged 2-4) performed no better than their classmates at high school and interestingly were more likely to resist school and study having developed a negative approach to learning. By pushed they meant structured literacy lessons/activities often using worksheets and flashcards.

So how do you know?

Well, I think there is a difference between an interest in letters and a readiness for writing. Montessori uses a series of manipulatives to teach letters and letter formation long before the child picks up a pencil. Reggio uses the environment to stimulate and encourage language and literacy through exposure, documentation and reflection.

And what about physically? Hand and wrist muscles? Coordination? Core strength? I asked Jack’s OT whether she thought Jack was ready for writing. She gave me some very helpful points to consider.

This is what she said:

1: Most importantly, has a hand preference been determined? Does Jack have a noticeable ‘precision’ hand and a ‘helper’ hand?

No. After a few days of observations in different situations – eating, cutting, drawing, brushing his teeth – Jack has not yet determined a hand preference. He tends to favour his left hand but not consistently.

She suggested I put things – pens, cutlery, brushes etc. – in his midline (in front of him) rather than to one side. This will encourage him to use his preferred hand when reaching.

She also suggested we continue with the bilateral coordination activities – using both hands at the same time. This will help Jack to determine which is his precision hand and which is his helper hand.

2: Pencil Grip – What does his pencil grip look like?

Jack doesn’t use a consistent pencil grip.

She suggested I wait until I notice him using a loose grip on the pencil, ideally with his thumb pointing down. This suggests that he has enough hand, finger and wrist strength as well as shoulder stability to manipulate a pencil efficiently. If I introduce writing prematurely, Jack can establish bad habits as his body tries to compensate for his lack of muscle strength and stability.

She also suggested we continue with lots of finger isolation activities (using fingers individually) and hand-strengthening activities like playdough and clay.

3: Is he able to move the pencil with a degree of control? Can he draw a circle and connect his line accurately? Can he draw a line and finish it with control (rather than just drifting the pencil off)?

No. Jack can draw circles but his lines don’t nearly connect. He can also draw lines but they tend to drift off.

Jack tends to draw what things do, so a volcano erupting, a rocket taking off, a person playing drums, as opposed to what things look like. So often his drawings simply look like scribbles. You’ll also notice up in the very top photo, that when he is drawing pictures, he is quite focussed but his movements are still rather quick. Jack has only recently made the developmental step to drawing people with bodies, let alone the more precise control needed for letter formation.

She suggested that we continue with lots of finger activities, like finger painting, that will allow him to develop some control over his marks without introducing the pencil with the intention of forming letters.

So it would seem that even though Jack has started to show an interest in letters he is not ready for writing. I guess there are still many other ways to encourage language without writing letters.

For now we will continue to work with the sandpaper letters and the sand tray. I’ll encourage him to paint and draw freely. I’ll keep out our alphabet puzzles and manipulatives. We’ll talk about letters and words in our home and our lives. But no, I don’t think he his ready for writing.

If you’d like to leave a comment, please click the speech bubble up the top. Thanks xx.

13 thoughts on “Is He Ready? – Prewriting and Writing Readiness

  1. Thank you for sharing this! I was wondering if my twin girls were ready. They are almost 4 but they are developmentally delayed, one with autism. They have known the alphabet since before they were 2 but they haven’t chosen a dominant hand yet and their grip is still incorrect. I am getting ready to introduce sandpaper letters and I am wondering if it is time to start working on reading with them. I want to use the Pink Series from Montessori for Everyone. Do you have thoughts on early reading?

    • I didn’t realise that there was more to it too than just an interest in letters. When Jack’s OT asked me these things and pointed out some of the things she had observed from their sessions it was clear that he wasn’t ready for writing.

      With reading, from my experience with children who struggled with reading, the most important thing is to make reading a way to find enjoyment, a way to find information. If you want to find out more about something, or delve deeper into your imagination, you read. You don’t read for the sake of reading. It’s the process, not the end result.

      I think if you follow their interests, find books which truly capture their attention and their imaginations, they will want to know more. Eventually they will want to know what the words say.

      If your girls are starting to ask about what words say then they might be ready for reading. Definitely follow their lead. It is much easier and more effective to wait until they are truly ready to learn. Don’t feel pressured to teach them to read, they will enter their own developmental stage at their own time. When that time comes, the Pink series is a nice simple place to start. I think I would use real objects with the words though instead of the flashcard. This way they can attach meaning to the word, making it more relevant; they are more likely to retain the information this way.

  2. What is the name of that documentary? It sounds so interesting! As a teacher at a Montessori & Reggio preschool, I’d love to see it and show it to colleagues and parents.

    • It’s called ‘The Lost Adventures of Childhood’. I put a link up the top. It was so affirming and I highly recommend it. One of the key contributors was Carl Honore. I was so intrigued by his words that I bought his book ‘Under Pressure’. The book is about hyper-parenting and the push to get ahead. I have read it several times over.
      I can’t recall the name of the study but it talked about hyper-parenting, structured childhoods and child burnout. I know it really made me think again, to think about play, just play and to let learning occur more naturally in these early years.

  3. Interesting post. I’m not sure about the handedness thing, though; I personally didn’t decide on my dominant hand until I was at least six. One of my uncles is perfectly ambidextrous; me, well, I am right-handed most of the time, but I learned to print with my left, thanks to a perfectly timed broken arm. I draw and paint with both hands though now that I think of it I hold my drawing/writing tool differently with each hand, and, apparently, both are “wrong”. Anyway, at almost four my boy hasn’t declared a dominant hand yet and honestly I’m not really expecting him to. I’m in no rush to teach him to write, but if he decides to go for it, things like which hand and how he holds his pencil won’t stop him.

    • I was thinking the same thing too about hand preference. I asked Jack’s OT and she said that it is common for children to switch between hands but at around 3-5ish they start to figure out which is their strength hand and which is their helper hand (although it is common, like yourself, to do things like cutting with their ‘helper’ hand) even though they will still try out different activities with different hands. I don’t hold my pencil ‘correctly’ either – and have a rather yucky lump on my left ring finger because of it.

      Jack has started to write, mostly numbers but still he is definitely interested in writing. But like you, I’m not in a rush to sit down and teach him how to write, especially since we are still working on his shoulder stability and strengthening his hand/wrist muscles.

      How is your little guy going by the way? 😀 Jack started preschool today and the house is strangely quiet.

  4. Hello – new reader and I’m loving your posts! I’m hooked thats for sure!
    Just wondering if you could tell me the brand/where you bought the alphabet/word puzzle that Jack is doing in the last photo? Thanks!!!

    • Yeah, we play a lot of sound games. It’s one of those things that we don’t have to but too much effort into with Jack. He has such a passion for music and sound and will happily play these games with us all day if we could keep up with him. He’s starting to recognise end and middle sounds now. We have a very simple guessing game, like ‘I spy’ I guess where we say a word and he has to say the last or middle sound. He tries so hard to listen for each sound. It’s quite endearing really 😀

  5. Pingback: This week…. | An Everyday Story

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