The Stages of Writing Development

writing development

From their first year, young children start their long journey to be able to read and write. However, this journey isn’t a straightforward process. It passes through different stages of development.

Whether you’re a parent or a caring teacher, you’ll find everything you need to know about these stages here. Today, we’re going to explain the stages of writing development and the best ways to make the most out of each stage. Let’s dive in!

What Do the Stages of Writing Development Mean?

When young children learn to write, they pass through a lot of stages. Each one of these steps reflects the growing knowledge in the child’s brain. This knowledge is among other multiple aspects, where they all share in the final process of writing.

These aspects include the different rules of literacy. This also includes the children’s ability to add letters, sounds, and including spacing between words within a sentence.

Almost every interaction a child has with the surrounding world can help them to become a writer and a reader.

Are Stages of Writing Development the Same for Every Child?

It doesn’t necessarily need to happen in the same way among all children. A child may find difficulties through a specific stage, while the other doesn’t. However, the second kid may find a generally easier step a harder task, while the first kid considers it easier.

They can also vary at the time of development. This indicates that there isn’t a definitive barrier between the stages. As a result, we conclude that these stages of development are more fluid than we think.

What Are the Different Stages of Writing Development?

In the past, several models of writing development used different words to label these stages. Not only did they use different labels, but they also had various descriptions for them.

However, they were all close in meaning and carry the same general idea. This helped researchers rename, merge, and expand these stages over time.

Since then, we have more robust terms to describe each stage. These stages are the foundations of writing. Here’s a list with each one of them in order:

  • Drawing
  • Scribbling
  • Letter-like forms
  • Strings in letters or random letters
  • Writing with invented spelling
  • Conventional spelling

Students start in the preliterate stage. This stage includes drawing and scribbling. Then, they move to the early emergent stage, where start making letter-like forms and structures.

By the end of the early emergent, the students mature into the full emergent stages, where they begin writing strings in letters or random ones.

After the emergent stage, students start using inventive spelling, which is known as the transitional stage.

Finally, they reach the fluency stage, where they find themselves flowing writers who can use standard spelling.


This is where most children begin their writing careers. Before this stage, toddlers, aged 1 to 2 years old, hold on crayons but in a clenched fist.

Although they gradually understand the purpose of crayons, they don’t seem to correlate it with writing. This is mainly because they don’t fully understand language yet, as it’s just beginning to take off.

However, this stage is followed by the preschoolers’ stage, in which kids (aged 3 to 4) continue to grasp the crayons with a full fist. But, they start to explore differently as they continue to learn from their surroundings.

When they first begin to draw, they can start anywhere on the page. These drawings are in the form of some wavy lines or large circular strokes. They can also use random marks that don’t resemble anything.

The drawings look like any random assortment of strokes on a child’s paper. Sometimes, these marks are larger or more circular. With time, they shift to the symbolic stage, in which these random strokes might have some resemblance with a drawing or carry a meaning.

They start to tackle different drawings and forms. These drawings are a record of their thoughts and ideas. You might also find them extremely proud of their accomplishments. The best tools at that stage are crayons, thick markers, pencils, and white paper.

When students start drawing, they believe that their drawings represent words and writing. They always convey a message that has a specific meaning.

That’s why whenever you ask them to read out what they’ve drawn, they can always read these drawings as if it were writing to them.

There’s no surprise in that. parents and teachers teach children this technique when they read picture-books to them. Although it’s indirect and there aren’t any words, they start to tell the story by reading these pictures to children.

Even when students are learning to write naturally, they keep doing this behavior. When they shift from drawing to scribbling, these scribbles carry definitive meanings as well.

Helpful Teaching Tips for the Drawing Stage

To help children speed up the transition to meaningful drawing and scribbles, you can do the following:

Set a Regular Time for Drawing Sessions

You should dedicate a specific amount of time every day for this purpose. Give the child a large sheet of unlined paper along with colorful markers and crayons.

Ask them to draw anything they want. These sessions should last for at least 10 minutes every day. Remember to call this session a writing session. “Let’s write!“

Engage with the Drawing

You should be there when they’re drawing. As the children start scribbling, engage them in a conversation about things that make sense to them. For example, ask them to write a “ball” or a “bike”.

After they’re finished drawing these items, ask them what are they. When they say what the drawing means, you can write the word next to the picture. This can help them get exposed to more words.

Scribbling and Letter-like forms

In this stage, they gradually stop holding crayons in a clenched fist. Instead, they start to hold their writing tools in a similar fashion of how they see adults hold them. It’s usually common for kids at that age to use both techniques at the same time.

They can also combine scribbling and drawing together. At this point, kids begin to understand what is a word and what isn’t. This means that from here on, scribbling as well as drawing are both intentional and mean something.

By this stage, the children gradually move towards the directional scribble stage. They become more aware of the direction of words. They know that words are written from left to right in a linear way.

They continue to develop in their writing, in which they reach the stage of the symbolic or mock letters. As children are exposed to more prints, their scribble starts to take more letter-like formations.

This represents the beginning of the early emergent stage. The students also grow more aware of the different symbols and shapes that make up words.

While their scribbles might resemble letters at this stage, it isn’t intentional. It usually features numbers and has less spacing between each scribble.

At this stage, students can talk about their scribbles and drawings. They slowly start moving from mock letters to real letters. However, the letters stay random.

Helpful Teaching Tips for the Scribbling Stage

Similar to the drawing stage, there are some helpful tips that can aid children and students in this stage.

Relate a Story to Words

Write simple stories along with the students and repeat the words as you speak them. This encourages them to be exposed to more letters and words.

Use Labels on Items

You can also add labels to items such as fruits, toys, and school supplies. Additionally, you can label the children’s desks with their name.

Similarly, you can have a morning message every day for the children, and read it out as you write it.

Ask the Children to Write Lists During Pretend Play

For example, if you’re playing shopping, ask them to write a shopping list. You can also ask them to write a list of things they want in other games. This can help them to ad more space between their scribbles, and you’ll notice letter-like forms quicker.

Strings in Letters or Random Letters

Through the late stage of letter-like scribble and the beginning of the random letters, children achieve remarkable growth. They learn how to write their names. They also learn to write the same letters differently and read their own writing.

They become able to write simple forms of writing, such as letters, messages, and lists. Their language is simple and close to the oral structure of the words. This means that they began to correlate between spoken and written words.

They also realize that these printed words carry a message that they should understand. Upon more development into this stage, children become able to write understandable letters. Despite their little development in the sound-to-letter relationship, they still can’t match all sounds.

You can notice long strings of various letters that go left to right. Children at that stage usually write in capital letters and are yet to fully understand the spacing concept. You might also notice that children label the picture with a letter that matches the word.

It’s also at that stage that you’ll notice that they copy letters and words from their surrounding environment. It’s also observed that they use letter sequences that are mostly learned from their name.

Helpful Teaching Tips for the Random Letters Stage

To help children through this stage you should continue using the tips from the previous stage. Additionally, you should add new applications to your method.

Provide a Dedicated Writing Spot

Prepare a writing center at home and provide more chances for the children to use it. It should contain different types of writing materials. For example, it should have glitter crayons, markers, envelopes, magnetic letters, and a whiteboard.

Engage Them with Real Writing

Let them see you write down shopping lists, messages, letters, and fill out forms. Also if they’re students in a class, you can use various methods such as word cards and pen-pals within the class.

Writing with Inventive Spelling

At this stage, the children should know most of the alphabet and correlate them with letter sounds. They’re able to write their names consistently and label pictures with their first letter at the very least.

They occasionally use a single letter to represent an entire syllable. When they don’t know the conventional spelling, they create their own invented spelling to make up for it. However, they advance in using spacing but not completely.

They advance from writing the first sound to writing the final sound. Eventually, they’ll be able to write the middle sound. For example, the word “brown” is initially written as “B”, then “BN”, and finally “BRN”.

Helpful Teaching Tips for the Invented Spelling Stage

Practice makes champions. It’s highly essential to keep the writing time on a daily basis. This provides the children with more time to develop their writing towards the fluency level.

Here are some additional tips to implement on this stage.

Don’t Spell Every Word

Now that the children can have some sort of spelling for each word, it’s advisable to fight the urge of spelling every word for them. Give them time to improve their sound-to-letter relationship.

Alphabet Chart

Bring a simple chart with letters and pictures to give the children a reference for the spelling-sound.

Conventional Spelling

As the writing level matures, the number of invented letters decreases. At a certain point, the children enter the fluency level. At this stage, they’re able to write more words with correct spelling and standard letters.

Helpful Teaching Tips for the Conventional Spelling Stage

Now that writing itself is getting out of the way, it’s time to develop the ability to write for different purposes. You can apply this through the following:

Expand on Writing Structure and Word Sources

Teach the children to use spelling dictionaries when they don’t know how to write a word. Additionally, whenever they’re ready, introduce basic punctuation and capitalization rules to them.

Teach Them Writing for different Purposes

This includes letters, messages, and notes. You can also teach them to write journals and choose topics for them.

Wrap Up

It’s important to remember that every child learns at their own pace. This means that there will be variations between each kid moving through these writing stages.

With that said, you now know everything about the different stages of writing development. By applying the valuable tips we provided for each stage, you’re going to ensure the maximum learning capacity for the children.


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