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Writing in EYFS, letter formation

Writing in EYFS

Do you know what is expected of your child in terms of learning to write?

We all know children need to learn to write but do you know the process and skills that a child needs to develop before they even begin putting pen to paper.

In this article I plan to summarise this process and let you know what is expected of your child in terms of their learning to write journey.

Learning to write is actually a very important skill that needs to be taught but cannot be rushed or started before a child is developmentally ready.  There are however numerous things you can do with your child to ensure they have the pre-requisite skills to begin learning how to write.

Primarily learning at this age should be through play, nurturing a child to develop the key skills required before they embark on more formal learning however, in a world designed to accelerate their learning journey often driven by numerous targets and tests the play aspect can too easily be overlooked.

So how can you help your child and what should you know?

Firstly let us look at what is expected from our children:

In England, both the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) which focusses on the learning and development of 0-5 year olds and the National Curriculum focusing on 5-16 year olds; both refer to handwriting however the guidance can be confusing, to say the least.

The writing goal that each child will be working towards is an ability to be able to  “write clearly, accurately and coherently”, this will ultimately lead to producing "fluent, legible and speedy handwriting".

This is all well and good but what are the basics that children should know at each stage of their development.

Early learning (ages 4-5):

There is no specific guidance on writing in 2017 EYFS statutory framework other than the following references which also form part of the 17 Early Learning Goals which are assessed at the end of Reception (exemptions do apply), children are also assessed against three characteristics of effective learning. 

The following Early Learning Goals (ELGs) are relevant to handwriting:

Children handle equipment and tools effectively, including pencils for writing.

Children use their phonic knowledge to write words in ways which match their spoken sounds. They also write some irregular common words. They write simple sentences which can be read by themselves and others. Some correctly and others are phonetically plausible.

Further guidance on reaching the statutory requirements mentioned above can be obtained from the document Development Matters which is a non-statutory guide produced by Early Education in 2012 relevant extracts of which have been given below.

Physical Development: Moving & Handling (30–50 months):

  • Draws lines and circles using gross motor movements.
  • Uses one-handed tools and equipment, e.g. child scissors.
  • Holds a pencil between thumb and two fingers, no longer using whole-hand grasp.
  • Holds a pencil between first two fingers and thumb and uses it with good control.

    Learning to write name, letter formation

    Physical Development: Moving & Handling (40–60+ months):
    • Shows a preference for a dominant hand.
    • Begins to use anticlockwise movement and retrace vertical lines.
    • Uses a pencil and holds it effectively to form recognisable letters, most of which are correctly formed.

    Literacy: Writing (40–60+ months):

      • Links sounds to letters, naming and sounding the letters of the alphabet
      • Writes own name and other things such as labels, captions.
      • Attempts to write short sentences in meaningful contexts.
      • Attempts to write short sentences in meaningful contexts.

      Despite the early learning goals including an ability to write words, the national curriculum doesn't specifically refer to handwriting and the teaching of letter formation until the beginning of year 1. For example, the curriculum states that children should begin to form lower-case letters in the correct direction however this quite often has already begun to be taught during pre-school and reception when children start to write their name and simple words.

      All very confusing, I think so... so below as a parent actively interested and studying writing in the early years I have given my view and experiences below on how you can help your child learn to write:

      My view on how you can help your child learn to write

      I don't believe in pushing children making them sit down and complete tasks, instead I believe in encouragement, praise and nurturing any interests that they may have.  If a child isn't interested in an activity try again another day or try something new. No two children are the same and like adults, they all learn differently especially boys and girls.

      I also found it very helpful to know at what age my child may be developmentally ready to start making certain marks and shapes (eg. vertical lines, circles etc) ..... the below diagrams should help you with this and I also refer you to our FREE parent guide.

      pre-writing skills, developmental age, With that said the starting point of nurturing a love for writing is to ensure that children have the key skills required below are some of the important stages that a child needs to go through before physically starting to form letters.

      development of gross and fine motor skills

       Just like a toddler cannot be expected to walk before they have developed sufficient motor ability to allow them to crawl and then stand, equally a child's writing journey starts with acquiring sufficient strength in their shoulders, arms, wrists and fingers. This begins with lots of big movements of the hand as is required with climbing, lots of experimenting and lots of mark-making.
      gross motor skills, handwriting

      recognition of shapes and pattern

      letters are essentially a series of patterns/shapes that when put together make letters.  By ensuring your child can recognise patterns and shapes you are providing them with the ability to pick out distinct characteristics and recognise that each letter is different.

      a language to talk about shapes and movements

      this will visually and verbally help to cement the directional movements required to form each letter.  When discussing letters with your child, I would also make the associated letter sound to reinforce that not only is each letter different in it's appearance but each letter is also represented by a different sound.
      Tracing shapes

      ability to form certain movements to make shapes

      For example forming letters l, c, r, x; once these movements can be mastered the child should be able to attempt to form most of the alphabet.

      and of course reading!

      Reading and writing are mutually beneficially one helps improve the other. 

      Children who read or are read to often become better writers and equally practising writing helps children develop their reading skills.


      So if you take home anything from this article please remember the following key points.

      • Don't rush your child, nurture the key skills required through play
      • Develop their gross and fine motor skills
      • Ensure adequate communication is present
      • Discuss shapes and the movements required to make each shape
      • Promote tracing and drawing of shapes from 'Top to Bottom' and 'Left to Right'.

      I hope this helps!

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