Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Emergent Writing in Toddlers

If you worry about whether or not your child is on track, Mother Goose Time has an awesome tool for you.  They have put together what they call the Developmental Continuum of Skills.  There are 33 Skills listed or 36 if you have a child who speaks more than one language.  Each of the 33 skills are then further broken down into goals and are given benchmarks starting with benchmark A and ending out at benchmark H.  Benchmark A is developmentally what an infant should be able to do and benchmark H is called primary, which would be about what a 1st or 2nd grader should be able to do.  This tool is a great tool for all parents, not just homeschool families or preschool teachers. But of course Mother Goose Time has made it easy to use with their curriculum.

The best part about this tool is that your child doesn't have to take a test for you to see where they are at developmentally.  Mother Goose Time strongly believes that learning is a process and they encourage authentic assessment.  Authentic Assessment simply means that you observe the children in the natural flow of the day and collect documentation during everyday experiences to chart learning over time.
This year, to make it easy for the educator, whether homeschool, at a childcare center or preschool, Mother Goose Time has starred one and sometimes two activities for you to save work samples from or take pictures of the process.  These pictures and work samples can then be put in a portfolio for each child to provide a complete picture of their growth over the year.

To record your observations you can print off labels that you can get from Mother Goose Time's resource page, mark the correct benchmark for the child and stick it to the back of the photo or work sample.

I personally, do not need to be quite so formal, but I do use the stars as a prompt to look at the Developmental Continuum of Skills to see where Adam is at.  Each month we start the new theme by creating a new name tag.  This month is all about Winter in the Woods, so we first talked about what marks might be left behind by a deer in the snow.  Day 1 was all about deer after all.  My older sons of course chimed in with "poop!"  I steered them towards the direction of tracks or footprints in the snow.  Then we made our marks on our name tags.
As I always do for Adam, who is two and a half, I first wrote his name on the name tag and then let him trace over it.  He did not want to do his tracing with a pencil this time but wanted to use a marker like me.  So I gave him a different color marker.  I wanted to be able to differentiate between his mark and mine.
Every month when we do this I can see him improve slightly.  Last month he tried to follow one of my lines for the first time!  It was a big deal.
This month, he tried to follow many of the lines in his name.  Curved ones, straight ones, all of them.  He even stayed focused enough to try all the letters in his name.
This activity, on day 1, was marked with a star.  So this would be an item you would observe the children doing, and then save as a work sample, if I were doing portfolios.  Since I am not doing a portfolio but using this tool more casually I decided to look up the skills listed with this activity.  This is easy to do because they are listed right under the title of each activity in the Teacher Guide.  For the activity Snow Names it lists Emergent Writing 14.1 and Fine Motor 5.2.
For the sake of not making this post any longer than it already is I am just going to hone in on the Emergent Writing.  Here is how Mother Goose Time has it defined in their Research Foundation book.
"Emergent writing is a child's ability to convey ideas, thoughts and feelings by using symbols, especially through drawing and writing.  It includes the ability to reproduce and independently construct letters, names and sentences.  Early writing supports alphabetic knowledge, phonological awareness and print concepts (Diamond, Gerde, & Powell, 2008)."
Now the .1 refers to how this skill is broken down and looks at one specific goal with in this skill. The goal here is for the child to write his/her name, words and sentences.  Now the benchmarks come into play.  The first benchmark gives an example of what an infant should be able to do in regards to this specific goal.
  • Benchmark A - (Infant) Grips a writing utensil and uses it with help.
  • Benchmark B (toddler) - Makes continuous marks with writing tools.
  • Benchmark C (toddler/beginning preschool) - Writes letter-like forms and creates his/her own symbols.
  • Benchmark D (Preschool) - Attempts to print or copy familiar symbols and letters, especially those that are in own name. 
  • Benchmark E (preschool/pre-primary)- Prints first name. Copies print.  Uses inventive spelling.
  • Benchmark F (pre-primary) - Prints first and last name.  Prints upper and lowercase letters appropriately. 
  • Benchmark G (pre-primary/primary) - Prints first and last name with proper capitalization.  Writes simple sentences. Begins to use traditional spelling.
  • Benchmark H (primary) - Writes simple and compound sentences.  Use commas, checks and corrects spelling. 
I would look at these benchmarks and put Adam right at benchmark C.  When he is not tracing his name he draws circles and zigzags which I would call "letter-like".  He also points to these marks and tells me what they mean.  Which most of the time is his name.  He easily makes continuous marks with writing tools so I feel he is past benchmark B, another bit of information that makes me comfortably say he is at benchmark C.   Benchmark C is right where he should be at two and a half, phew, we are right on track.
If we were to look at the other skill listed with this activity we would be paying attention to his Fine Motor skills by watching how he holds his writing utensil.  A quick look at the benchmarks for this specific goal makes it clear that Adam would be out at benchmark E because he uses a mature tripod grip almost every time he grabs something to draw or write. I have to say, I thought his tripod grip at this early age was pretty special and it turns out I was right.  But he has always had his older brothers to watch and just followed suit.  

I love being able to do a quick Authentic Assessment to see if we are on track.  It gives me a peace of mind I often need as a homeschool Mother.  But it also helps me to see where we are at and what developmental marker we are supposed to hit next.  This helps me to know how to best encourage him in learning.  In regards to Emergent Writing, I now know we are on the right track.  The next benchmark says he should be copying familiar symbols and letters especially the ones in his name.  So having him practice by following the lines in his name will get us headed in the right direction.

Whether you use Mother Goose Time or not the Developmental Continuum of Skills is a useful tool., made even easier to use by the new built in star and portfolio system which does all the thinking for you.  MGT has made sure to star a perfect variety of activities to get a glimpse at all 33 skills in action.  It's up to you how you want to use it.  You can use the star system formally in a childcare setting and create a beautiful record and keepsake or you can use it more casually like me by simply doing a quick assessment to see where you child is at on the continuum.  Either way, you will learn valuable information to make learning even more meaningful for the child or children in your care.

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