Using Software to Support Children's Writing

by Carol Bell and Marisa Beard

An emergent literacy approach stresses that written and oral languages are related and develop together from the very first moments of a child's life. Both are best learned when used for a purpose and when children have opportunities to observe and interact with others who read and write. Stages of children's writing have been documented by many experts, among them Dr. Kathy Barclay, chairperson of Curriculum and Instruction at Western Illinois University, who identified seven stages of children's writing (Barclay, 1996). Each of the stages can be supported through use of early childhood software.

Stages of Writing
The first stage, scribbling,involves random marks that occur on a page with drawings. To encourage children at this stage, adults can offer blank paper and writing tools and talk with children about their writing. Simple drawing programs offer children opportunities to work with a variety of tools to make marks. Consider using drawing tables like SkidDoodle(KB Gear Interactive) or a TouchWindow(Edmark); both offer children a stylus to hold as they make marks.

The next stage, mock handwriting,often appears with drawings. Children produce lines of wavy scribbles. This stage resembles cursive writing and may be revisited at a later time. Adults can help children in this stage by modeling conventional print and offering children programs likeKidDesk Family Edition(Edmark) where they can work with desktop communication tools.

In the third stage of children's writing,mock letters,children make letter-like shapes that resemble conventional alphabet letters. Support children who are at this stage by providing different kinds of writing materials, including typewriters and computers.

Real letters of the alphabet begin to appear as children useconventional letters. The first word to appear is usually the child's own first name. Adults will often see strings of letters across a page that a child reads as a sentence. Software programs to support this stage of writing includeKidDesk Family Edition(Edmark) andKid Pix Studio(Learning Company). Using these programs during a group activity offers an adult the opportunity to model the writing process.

As children write conventional letters, they begin to cluster letters to make words. This stage is known as invented spelling. Although the words may not appear conventional, children will often ask an adult, "What did I write?" Programs that support this stage of writing include desktop publishing programs like Disney's Print Studio(Disney Interactive) and story publishing programs likeUltimate Writing and Creativity Center(Learning Company).

The next stage of writing is represented byapproximated or phonetic spellings. Children begin to associate phonetic sounds with the letters and can be supported in this stage with programs such as ClarisWorks for Kids(Apple) andEasy Book Deluxe(Sunburst). Both programs offer a text to speech feature so children can hear what they have written. Adults may use this program in group activities to model writing as children write stories together.

In the last stage of writing conventional spellings,children's approximated spellings become more and more conventional.

Children usually write their own names first, followed by words such as mom and dad. Adults can support children in this stage by providing simple books with repetitive phrases to facilitate the mental storehouse of words used in writing and by providing access to programs like Just Grandma and Me(Br»derbund),Chicka Chicka Boom Boom(Knowledge Adventure) and authoring programs, such as HyperStudio.

Barclay, K. (1996). From scribbling to "real" writing: stages in early writing development. Head Start emergent literacy training guides. Macomb, IL: Western Illinois University.

Hutinger, P., Bell, C., Beard, M., Bond, J., Johanson, J., & Terry, C (1998). Final report: The early childhood emergent literacy technology research study. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 418 545)

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