Becoming a Writer: What We Learn From a Child’s First Stories

My son’s first story consisted of a series wavy lines and curlicues written in black marker across the back of a leather sofa. Upon completion, he declared, “Look! I wrote my story in grown up writing!” (For those of you who are wondering, yes, it was a permanent marker.)

With great pride, he read us his story. As he pointed to each “word” he shared an action packed and well developed account of Spiderman’s most recent adventure.  Although his first story was unreadable to anyone else, every other trait of writing (ideas, organization, voice, word choice, sentence fluency) was present. It was clear that my son was a writer, he just had to learn how to share his story with others. As a mother, I hoped that the formal school instruction in spelling, spacing, and letter formation did not overtake his enthusiasm for sharing his stories.

While my son’s first story was lost with the eventual replacement of the sofa, my daughter’s first piece of formal writing survived.  Have a look:



I think you’ll agree that my daughter’s story, written to wish her dad a speedy recovery from knee surgery, provides the reader with a clear sense of the event, the details of the event, and the impact of the event. (Yes, that’s just what her dad looked like when he came home from the hospital.)  My daughter was also using some of the conventions of text – a greeting at the top of the page:

Screen Shot 2017-03-21 at 2.51.32 PM

and a closing:

Screen Shot 2017-03-21 at 2.52.43 PM

This somewhat misplaced grouping of letters:

Screen Shot 2017-03-21 at 2.54.15 PM

Screen Shot 2017-03-21 at 2.52.43 PM    is actually evidence of an almost correct spelling of her name, which is Michèle. (Yes, the orientation of “L” is a bit wonky and there are a few extra horizontal lines in the “E”, but she had a clear sense of what she was writing)

Michele was also editing her work, which is clear when she realized she’d made a mistake:

Screen Shot 2017-03-21 at 2.59.02 PM.

The point of this is to illustrate that as soon as children start telling, drawing, or writing stories, they are writers. It’s our job as parents and teachers to acknowledge these early forms of writing, encourage more exploration, and provide timely prompts about how to share their ideas and stories.

As young children start to experiment with print, ask them to read the story to you. Ask questions about the details of the story and acknowledge their developing use of print to share the story.

As a child’s writing develops, it’s important to remember that correct spelling is a component of good writing, not a definition of good writing.  Encourage children to explore and develop their ideas through interesting word choice and sentence structures as they learn how to spell

The process of learning how to write takes time, practice, instruction, and ongoing feedback about what’s been accomplished and what’s next. Effective support maintains the early joy of sharing a story by focusing on the student’s learning, interests, and voice.

If you’re not sure what the developmental progression of writing looks like, check out  Education Northwest Grades K-2 Illustrated Rubric K-2. 

For more conversations about education, please visit: Beyond the Apple . . . Reframing Conversations in Education or contact us at


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