Mark making and the stages of writing

There are many stages of writing before children achieve recognisable letters and many more until they are actually creating words and sentences. You’ll need lots of patience as the road to writing is a long one!

Early mark making

It’s not writing but instead your baby or toddler will be investigating the sensory and physical aspects of making marks. These early marks do not have meaning as your child is only just beginning to explore the amount of pressure needed to make a mark and what the sensation of moving the crayon across the surface feels like. Any marks they do make should be celebrated and encouraged as then your child will be more likely to continue their exploration.

In order for your child to be successful during this stage they must be developing their gross motor skills (big muscle actions) to enable them to move their arm or wrist with increasing control. This is the reason that we use warm-up songs and dance with pom-poms, scarves or dance rings during all of our classes from babes through to pre-school.

You can support your child during this stage at home by giving them as many different mediums of making marks as you can. Providing trays of sand, glitter, salt or soil can be a really fun way for your child to explore mark making with their finger, a paintbrush or a cotton wool bud! If you’d prefer less mess then try putting shaving foam, soil or sand into a sealable bag and letting them use their fingers over the top of the bag. I use a large roll of drawing paper from Ikea or Amazon that makes crayons and pens feel exciting too. There are so many ways to make mark making different and fun!

Click here for more early mark making ideas to try at home.




Emergent writing

In this stage children will begin to ascribe meaning to the marks that they make. You will start to see your child:

  • create simple drawings
  • tell you what their seemingly random marks mean
  • begin to use recognisable letters
  • use letters from their own name
  • begin to read you what they have written

In order for your child to be successful during this stage they must be developing their fine motor skills (small hand/finger muscles) to improve their pencil/crayon/paint brush control. This is why our classes involve the use of finger exercises and playdough; which are introduced in our MINIS classes and extended in our Pre-school class.

You can support your child during this stage at home by presenting them with lots of fine motor activities; such as building a playdough and pasta face. Or encourage letter formation by placing playdough over the top of a letter to ‘trace’ it. Having dry wipe marker books can also be a fun way to practise letters. You can also support your child by asking them “what does that say?” as this will begin to encourage them to think about giving meaning to the marks they have made. As always, children learn best from copying at this age so if they see you writing/drawing/playing with playdough then they are more likely to come and join you.  

Click here for more fine motor activities and emergent writing ideas to try at home.

Writing a word

This is where the application of your child’s phonic knowledge truly comes in with writing. In our pre-school classes we practise blending the sounds together to read the word. Spelling requires the opposite process of segmenting; this is where the whole word needs to be deconstructed into sounds. You may begin to see your child:

  • write letter strings (random letters making a ‘word’)
  • reverse letters or even whole words (mirror writing)use mixed capitals and lowercase
  • Write their name

In order for your child to be successful during this stage they must be developing their use of phonics. This is the reason that many of our pre-school phonics games focus on identifying the initial sound in the word. So good news is that you’ve already been practising some aspects of spelling in class!

You can support your child during this stage at home by offering activities such as ‘see it, build it, trace it, copy it’. This will help them to focus on the segmenting aspect of spelling separately from the writing part. When your child has become successful at identifying the initial sound then you can start doing activities that encourage them to hear the final sound. Hearing the sounds in the middle of a word is the hardest skill to learn so do this last.

Click here for more ideas on supporting word writing.

Writing a full sentence

The Government’s Early Years Statutory Framework states that by the end of their reception year your child should be able to “write simple sentences which can be read by themselves and others. Some words are spelt correctly and others are phonetically plausible”.

It is proven that children with a wider vocabulary and the ability to speak in sentences are better able to write in sentences. So another way to support your child in writing sentences is to read to them and have conversations with them. It’s a very big ask for some children to reach at the age of 4 or 5 so you’re already giving your child a chance at achieving (and maybe even exceeding) this target by attending our weekly Sounds Right Phonics classes!

Click here for ideas on how to support your child’s vocabulary growth.

Your attitude towards your child’s writing efforts

It is vital that children’s efforts are celebrated during all stages of the writing process. Do not criticise their attempts at writing or overly point out their ‘errors’ as this could have a detrimental effect on their confidence or willingness to try. During my years of teaching I started to see an increase in the amount of young children developing anxiety over making mistakes and refusing to try new things instead of risking ‘failure’. Keep demonstrating how to write letters and draw pictures using positive language and they will eventually be ready to move on to the next stage.

Click here for more support on developing a growth mind-set.


It is a long process but chat to your Sounds Right Phonics Teacher about ideas to use at home or follow my Pinterest page for lots of fun and practical ideas to support your child through their writing journey.


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