I have a lot of fun encouraging a love of writing in my three year olds:
- I play a variety of group games where children have to guess what is different?, what has changed?, or ask questions for more details. Although there may be nothing written during these exchanges, we are thinking like writers – working on our observation skills.
- I make storytelling a routine part of gathering circles. We write simple stories together and act them out – often changing them, doing some parts a little differently, and noting what changed.
- When children arrive, one of the first things they see is a "question of the day." Children work with their family member to read the message and write a response. (Please note - it is important for children to have the pleasure of exploring writing without anyone standing over them insisting they print words in a certain way.) Everyone seems to enjoy this daily ritual. When we meet as a large group at morning circle, I read everyone's responses aloud and we discuss the question some more.
- I continually draw children’s attention to details and the need to write down special accomplishments; for example, “Did you see how you swung from one bar to the next, all the way across, on the monkey bars? That was the first time you’ve done that! We need to write that down on our ‘What We Did Today’ list for the families.”
- I try to be intentional about introducing writing practices – “Let’s see if we can look that up? Is there anything in this room that tells us about this? How about writing this down, so that we can do it again tomorrow, so that we can remember it forever? So that we can revisit?”
- I frequently write down what children talk about at the sensory table, in blocks, and at the playdough. Similarly, I take time to interview children about what they are building or painting and I write down these descriptions for them. Later, I read their words back to them and encourage them to draw pictures to accompany the words. (Often I provide a photo or a sketch of what they were doing or take – both of these actions, when presented with the child's own words, honor the child's thinking and do much to cultivate a love of writing and storytelling.)
- Often, I post the children's words (with the accompanying picture, sketch, or photo) near where they were working, at children's eye level. This will draw the attention of all the children and encourage their questions, comments, and remembering. Sometimes, children will repeat their earlier efforts or, better yet, extend them.
- I also like to make a game of what I heard - for example, using my written observation notes, I read “Overheard in the Block Corner” during snack later in the day and I encourage children to guess who was saying what, why they might have said that, and/or what happened next. Here, children aren't holding a writing tool, but they are thinking like writers.
As you can see, most of these writing ideas are simply a matter of letting children see and explore writing at their own pace. This is so important in our three year old classrooms.
A final reflective note - there is one "Catch-22" with which I constantly wrestle:
I also believe too much emphasis on observation notes can lead to a "distancing" from the children themselves. It is a delicate balancing act to decide -
How much do I observe and record?
How much do I stay present and "in relationship" with the children?
With young children, the emphasis must be on the latter. I love writing, I love observing, I love catching children's words, but I am continually reminding myself to err on the side of being present. The children benefit more from my engagement and play than from pages of notes about the day and my detachment.
(This mental wrestling is one reason why I have placed clipboards and notepads at the ready throughout my classroom, so that I may catch their words when I am so moved - but the decision is mine, not an absolute.)