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Red-headed young boy outside writing in notebook

Reading 101 for Parents: Writing Basics

From handwriting to personal stories to persuasive writing to explaining how to do something, writing is a critical skill. Developing good writing skills strengthens a child’s vocabulary, comprehension, and spelling skills.

Reading is like breathing in, and writing is like breathing out.”

Pam Allyn, literacy advocate and founder of LitWorld

Becoming readers and writers

A child’s writing development parallels the child’s development as a reader.

Part of early print awareness is the realization that writing can be created with everyday tools such as pens, pencils, crayons, and markers. Children begin to imitate the writing that they see around them. What often starts as scribbling ends up being important clues to a young child’s understanding that print carries meaning.

How writing develops

Young children move through a series of stages as they are learning to write. The stages reflect a child’s growing knowledge of the conventions of literacy, including letters, sounds and spacing of words within sentences. Almost every interaction in a child’s world is preparing them to become a reader and writer.

It’s important to remember that every child is different and there are variations in the way kids move through writing stages — it may not happen in the same way or at the same time and the lines between the stages can be blurry. 


Most children begin their writing career by scribbling and drawing. Grasping the crayon or pencil with a full fist, a young scribbling child is exploring with space and form. He is creating a permanent record of his ideas and thoughts. These first scribbles can be proud accomplishments! Thick markers, crayons, and unlined paper are good writer’s tools for this stage.

Letter-like forms and shapes

At this stage of writing development, children begin to display their understanding that writers use symbols to convey their meaning. Writing begins to include shapes (circles, squares) and other figures. A writer in this stage will often write something and ask, “What does this say?” There’s little orientation of forms and shapes to space (i.e., they appear in random places within the writing or drawing). Tubs of markers, crayons, and paper remain good writer’s tools.


As a child’s writing continues to develop, she will begin to use random letters. Most children begin with consonants, especially those in the author’s name. Pieces of writing are usually strings of upper-case consonants, without attention to spaces between words or a sense that writing moves left to right and top to bottom. At the beginning of this stage, there remains a lack of sound-to-symbol correspondence between the words they are trying to write and the letters they use. Later efforts may include letters for the key sounds in words and include the author’s own name. Different types of paper, including memo pads, envelopes, lined paper and some smaller pens and pencils are good writer’s tools at this stage. Tubs of foam letters and letter magnets are also handy.

Letters and spaces

As beginning writers practice their craft, they are learning many concepts about print. When a child points to individual words on a page when reading, and works to match their speech to a printed word, a “concept of word” is developin — the awareness of the purpose and existence of spaces separating words and that spoken words match to printed words. It’s a watershed event of kindergarten! Adults watch young writers insert these important spaces in their own work. Guided either by an index finger in-between each word or by lines drawn by the parent or teacher, children demonstrate one-to-one correspondence with words.

At this stage, children write with beginning and ending sounds. They also may begin to spell some high frequency words correctly. Vowels may be inserted into words. As children transition to more conventional writers, they will begin to write words the way they sound. Punctuation begins as writers experiment with forming sentences.

Conventional writing and spelling

At this stage, children spell most words correctly, with a reliance on phonics knowledge to spell longer words. Writers use punctuation marks correctly and use capital and lower case letters in the correct places. Writing for different purposes becomes more important. First and second grade students often write signs for their bedroom doors or a letter to a friend. Storybook language, “Once upon a time,” and “happily ever after,” become a part of writing samples as the child joins the league of writers with a storytelling purpose. As students progress through the writing stages, various pieces become more automatic and fluent. Handwriting becomes easier, as does the spelling of a majority of words.

At all stages, it’s important to honor the writing efforts of your young child. Find opportunities to have your child share his work with others. Display efforts on the wall or on the refrigerator. Ask your child to read his work at the dinner table or by sitting in a special author’s chair.

To write well, children need a broad set of skills

  • Basic writing skills: These include spelling, capitalization, punctuation, handwriting or keyboarding, and sentence structure (for example, elimination of run-ons and sentence fragments). Basic writing skills are sometimes called the “mechanics” of writing.
  • Text generation: Text generation means translating your thoughts and ideas into language — the “content” of writing. Text generation includes word choice (vocabulary), details that add meaning, and clear expression.
  • Writing processes: Good writing involves planning, revising, and editing. These processes are extremely important to success in writing, and become even more important throughout a child’s schooling.
  • Writing knowledge: Writing knowledge includes an understanding types of writing (genre) — for example, understanding that narrative writing or descriptive writing is organized differently than informational writing or persuasive writing. Another important part of writing knowledge is understanding the audience you are writing for.

The primary goals of writing are to communicate, to persuade, to inform, to learn, to reflect about yourself, and also to entertain others. What really makes writing motivating for young children is sharing it and being successful with it.”

Steve Graham, Arizona State University

Foster a love of writing at home for your child

This video is from Home Reading Helper, a resource for parents to elevate children’s reading at home provided by Read Charlotte (opens in a new window). Find more video, parent activities, printables, and other resources at Home Reading Helper (opens in a new window).

Raising a writer

To discover simple ways help your child build writing skills at home, click on your child’s grade level in the links on the left.