Saturday, March 18, 2017

sol17-18 How do you become a writer?

I am participating in the
Slice of Life Story Challenge (SOLSC).
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day, every day of March 2017. 
A big thank you to Two Writing Teachers for providing this unique opportunity
for teacher-writers to share and reflect.

At a recent early childhood team meeting, we had a terrific discussion about early writing. Our early childhood team is six classrooms - two each of kindergarten, pre-K 4, and preschool (or pre-K 3 - as it is frequently called in our district.) I'm a preschool/pre-K 3 teacher. The kindergarten teachers were sharing about Writer's Workshop, and I was riveted by focus of their teaching - getting students to think about punctuation, space between words, stretching out the words to hear all the sounds.
Writing materials in preschool dramatic play

We talked about how these concepts can be a developmental stretch for many kindergarteners, sharing anecdotes of students who are still not connecting that letters create words, who struggle to hold a pencil, who have very little interest in sitting still and focusing. We saw a video clip of one kindergartener who was reading his own writing aloud and - rather than recognizing or connecting letters he himself had written on the page - closed his eyes and tried to recall his story from memory. 

We wondered, are we pushing children to read and write too soon? How do you know when it is too much to expect? How do you recognize what a student really needs?

We talked about how writing isn't simply a 45 minute workshop block. Students should see themselves as writers, all the time. Early childhood classrooms should have writing tools available throughout the classroom, no matter where a child plays - clipboards at the ready in science centers and in the block corner; pads of paper, notebooks, schedules in dramatic play; sign-ins at arrival; sensory tables that emphasize fine motor skill development through tools such as tweezers, tongs, or hiding small beads and sequins in sand; writing centers stocked with pencils, crayons, alphabet tools, more.
Writing materials in the block center

We shared what we know about writing tools, things we've learned from occupational therapists that have worked with young children with fine motor issues, such as triangular and chunky crayons, short 'golf' pencils that force you to pinch the end of the pencil. It is essential to have a full array of writing tools - and opportunities to build those fine motor muscles.

Of course, writing is language in print. How can you be expected to write if you haven't the words to share? From their earliest days in school, we must give them opportunities to share, converse, tell stories, to build their oral language - and we should capture and document their words.
Writing materials in the art corner

I walked away from this early childhood meeting really excited about teaching. I was struck by the true art of teaching: 

  • knowing each child individually - personality, temperament, family, routines, likes, desires, fears, hopes, more; 
  • seeing the big picture (knowing the developmental milestones of writing skills, Common Core standards, curriculum expectations) and able to identify the smaller, personalized goals for students;
  • having a keen understanding of development, how large and fine motor, cognitive, oral language, and social emotional skills all play a role in the 'academic' goals;
  • having an awareness of those 'zones of proximal development' - knowing when it is good to push, stretch, instigate 
  • having time to focus on individual students and their learning struggles, and living with the tension of the disproportionate time and attention you give to certain students (teaching can be so much more efficient with our higher level learners)
  • collaborating with our colleagues, learning about their approaches, considering questions together, and continually improving one's own practice. 

I also think - not only is teaching an art, it must be activism. We early childhood teachers must be activists. We must speak up for play and exploration, defend developmentally appropriate practice, and remind our administrators and legislators about the individual children behind the data. 


  1. Activism is key these days, isn't it? You made some great points in this post. Sometimes we forget about what is developmentally important and best for the child.

    1. Thank you! I rarely hear administrators or legislators speak about "developmentally appropriate practice" and it is so important.

  2. Someone wrote about the importance of play and the inherent learning earlier today. I'm glad you mentioned that in the part you and your colleagues play in actively sharing (or teaching) about the needs of the pre-Ks. There is a lot to be cognizant of in early childhood, well, at any age, of the broad differences in a same age child's learning. Great post, Maureen.

    1. Thank you! I think we sometimes lose sight of the children when we make our plans.

  3. your post stands out like a light on a hill Maureen. Play, exploration, risk taking, and a growing sense of self as a learner are all most worthy aims. you are right, teachers must be advocates for all these things on behalf of there students and the integrity of their own practice. One thing I have often done upon entering these junior classrooms is to merely sit among them and write. It often acts as a compelling force to have another writer in proximity. These curious little learner lean in and ask -what are you writing about? -and the conversation goes from there. Within a short time the space is alive with writing energy.

    1. I do this, too! They see me with my writer's notebook and they are fascinated, knowing I am writing observations. They often ask me to read it to them. Thanks for commenting!

  4. I love your 'teaching as activism' insight, Maureen. We can get so lost in meeting benchmarks and standards achievements that we forget who our focus is...the children!

    1. Isn't that the truth - let's remember the children!

  5. Love this post.. so much to apply to my 6th graders, thank you!