ArticlePDF Available

Parental strategies to scaffold emergent writing skills in the pre‐school child within the home environment



Joint writing activities between parent and child can enhance literacy skills in young children. This paper describes the strategies used by a mother to scaffold her daughter’s alphabet letter shaping, word and story writing in the years before formal schooling. The strategies included identifying alphabet letters embedded in environmental print and books, tracing letter shapes with fingers whilst using directional language, and using whole‐arm movements to form letter shapes in the air. Writing samples and examples of parent–child interactions were collected at three to four years of age and are described within the framework of Gentry’s writing stages. The joint writing techniques and activities illustrated in this case study emphasise the use of letter names and letter shapes and may provide effective strategies for parents and early childhood educators to scaffold emergent writing development in young children.
Emergent writing 1
Parental Strategies to Scaffold Emergent Writing Skills in the Pre-School
Child within the Home Environment
Michelle M. Neumann & David L. Neumann*
School of Psychology, Griffith University, Gold Coast, Australia
*Corresponding author. Email:
Emergent writing 2
Joint writing activities between parent and child can enhance literacy skills in young children. This
paper describes the strategies used by a mother to scaffold her daughter‟s alphabet letter shaping,
word, and story writing in the years before formal schooling. The strategies included identifying
alphabet letters embedded in environmental print and books, tracing letter shapes with fingers
whilst using directional language, and using whole arm movements to form letter shapes in the air.
Writing samples and examples of parent-child interactions were collected at 3 to 4 years of age
and are described within the framework of Gentry‟s writing stages. The joint-writing techniques
and activities illustrated in this case-study emphasize the use of letter names and letter shapes and
may provide effective strategies for parents and early childhood educators to scaffold emergent
writing development in young children.
Key words: emergent writing; joint-writing activities; alphabet knowledge; parent-child
interaction; scaffolding strategies; environmental print.
Emergent writing 3
Emergent writing skills include a positive attitude towards writing and print, an understanding
of the concepts and functions of writing, representation of ideas through scribbles, drawings
and rudimentary letter formations, copying print from the environment, and linking of letters
to sounds when experimenting with writing (Chan, Zi Juan, and Lai Foon 2008; Mayer 2007;
Otto 2008). From an emergent literacy perspective, learning to write begins very early in a
child‟s life (Stellakis and Kondyli 2004) and the home environment can provide many
opportunities to develop emergent writing skills (Aram and Levin 2002; Neumann, Hood, and
Neumann 2009). However, especially when compared to parental story book reading
relatively little research has examined parental involvement in emergent writing (Aram 2008).
This may reflect the spontaneous and functional nature of home writing activities (e.g.
labelling one‟s clothing, making a birthday card; Burns and Casbergue 1992), which do not
occur as systematically or frequently as storybook reading (Wood 2002). Nevertheless, the
critical role parents play in supporting their children‟s early writing, providing writing
materials, mediating and clarifying writing interactions has been established (Aram 2002;
Aram and Levin 2001 2002; Burns and Casbergue 1992; Neumann and Neumann 2009; Otto
2008; Stellakis and Kondyli 2004; Yang and Noel 2006).
As early as 2 to 3 years of age, children begin to understand the symbolic nature of
print (e.g. differentiating print from pictures/drawings; Lavine 1977; Yamagata 2007) and
experiment with representing rudimentary features of written language in the forms of
horizontal lines, arcs, circles, and dots (Stellakis and Kondyli 2004). Educators have used
scaffolding techniques to support emergent writing in children. Scaffolding refers to the
interactional guidance provided to a child within their Zone of Proximal Development which
is the space between a child‟s level of mastery with and without assistance (Vygotsky 1978).
Emergent writing 4
Scaffolding also describes the process by which a learner moves from assisted to independent
performance (Bodrova and Leong 1998).
Scaffolding can use visual or verbal cues to help a child develop writing skills.
Bodrova and Leong (1998), for example, used visually highlighted lines as a scaffolding tool
to help kindergarteners represent their units of oral speech in written form. Eventually, this
scaffolding tool was no longer needed when the children were able to plan and monitor their
own writing process. Gentry (2005) also described the benefits of stretching out the sounds in
words to verbally scaffold a kindergarten child‟s early word writing. In addition, letter
formation was scaffolded by using verbal descriptions of letter shapes to help the child
remember how to form it (e.g. the lower case n was described by the kindergarten teacher as a
stick with a hump. The verbal description was no longer needed when the child could
independently write the letter on his own.
Stellakis and Kondyli (2004) suggest that learning to write is facilitated through real,
daily, meaningful, and interactive print rich experiences and activities. In this context, parents
can play an important role in scaffolding their child‟s emergent writing skill acquisition
(Aram 2002; Aram and Levin 2002; Burns and Casbergue 1992; Yang and Noel 2006). For
example, Aram and Levin (2002) examined mothers‟ scaffolding strategies (e.g. word
segmenting, retrieval of letter shapes and printing) during joint writing activities with their
kindergartner children. Mediation in joint writing activities was strongly linked to basic
literacy skills such as word writing/recognition and phonological awareness.
Other researchers have examined the strategies used by parents to support their pre-
school children‟s emergent writing development (e.g. Aram and Levin 2001; Aram 2002;
Bissex 1980; Burns and Casbergue 1992). The guided writing strategies have included the
parent holding and leading the child's hand to write the letters and words (Aram and Levin
2001 2002; Aram 2002), the parent writing a letter or word and encouraging the child to copy
Emergent writing 5
it (Aram and Levin 2001, 2002; Aram 2002), and the parent dictating the names and sounds
of letters for the child to write their word (Aram and Levin 2001, 2002; Burns and Casbergue
1992). Aram and Levin (2001) also reported how a mother verbally scaffolded her child‟s
formation of an unknown letter by saying a word that included this letter or by explaining
how to change a known letter to make the unknown one (e.g. this could be done by changing
an L to make E).
The present research reports on the interactions and scaffolded writing strategies that
one parent used with her preschool aged child over a 2 year period before her child began
formal schooling. The young age of the child required the parent to use strategies that
emphasised the use of letter names and letter formation as a way to help the child identify and
write letters. The parent-child interactions are described within the framework of Gentry‟s
(2005) early writing stages. Gentry‟s (2005) writing scale begins with non-alphabetic writing
consisting of non-discernable marks and scribbles. Stage 1 is pre-alphabetic writing where
children show some control of letter formation (pre-communicative spelling) consisting of
random letter strings with no letter-sound correspondences. Stage 2 is partial alphabetic
writing and involves writing a few letter sound matches mixed with random letters (semi-
phonetic spelling). Stage 3 is labelled full alphabetic writing where children use a letter for
each sound (phonetic spelling). Stage 4 consists of consolidated alphabetic writing where
about two-thirds of words are spelled correctly (transitional spelling). The description of
parent-child interactions during this case study spans from the non-alphabetic stage through
the pre-alphabetic and into the partial alphabetic phase of writing.
Description of the child
Roseanna was from a middle income Australian family. Her mother and father were teachers.
She had two older sisters (5 and 6 years older), one older brother (2 years older), and one
younger brother (2 years younger). Her cognitive and physical development were normal.
Emergent writing 6
During her pre-school years at home, before beginning full-time preparatory school at 5 years
of age, Roseanna did not experience any letter drills, phonics instruction, or formal reading or
writing instruction.
Data collection
To examine the parental strategies and interactions during joint writing activities, a
longitudinal case study approach was used. Parent-child interactions were recorded in note
form by the parent when the child was between the ages of 3 years 1 month to 4 years 11
months. This age range was used because it spanned the child‟s development across Gentry‟s
(2005) non-alphabetic writing, pre-alphabetic, and partial alphabetic stages. It also spanned
the age before the child began formal preparatory schooling. The notes made by the parent
recorded information about the type of task the parent and child were engaged in, the objects
that were being used, what behaviours occurred, and the dialogue that occurred during the
interaction. A total of 40 writing samples were also collected. Due to the spontaneous nature
of the joint-writing activities in the home environment it was not possible to record every
interaction. From the data, vignettes and writing samples were selected that were indicative of
the general nature of the interactions that occurred during the entire duration of the study. The
majority of the parent-child interactions were with the mother. Some writing samples also
contained the child‟s drawings. Children drawing when they write has been noted to occur
naturally during young children‟s early writing development (e.g. Baghban 2007; Clay 1975;
Temple, Nathan, and Burris 1982). However, it is the child‟s written products and parent-
child interactions that will be focussed upon in this report.
Observations and writing samples
Non-alphabetic writing stage
Roseanna‟s non-alphabetic writing stage occurred between 3:1 and 4:0 years. Examples of
parent-child interactions and joint-writing activities included: making letter shapes out of
Emergent writing 7
play-dough, tracing environmental print with fingers, forming letter shapes in the air, singing
songs with whole body and arm and hand movements, and learning of directional language
up, down, around and across. These activities share the common elements that they made use
of gross (whole body and arm) and fine (finger) motor skills, directional language (up, down,
around and across), and introduced simple letter shapes (e.g. M, O) (Neumann 2007).
Environmental print (e.g. labels on food products, clothing, toys) was used extensively
to scaffold emergent writing activities. The parent pointed out environmental print and print
on story book titles on a daily basis. Roseanna quickly became aware of print in the
environment and began pointing it out herself. This environmental print was mostly in upper
case form and for this reason the parent emphasized upper case letters during the interactions.
Research has also shown that knowledge of upper case letters develops earlier than lower case
letters in young children (Worden and Boettcher 1990). This suggests that upper case letters
should be used frequently during instruction (Bowman and Treiman 2004).
During the interactions, the parent always said the letter name that accompanied the
printed text. There were also some instances in which the parent incorporated letter sounds
during the interaction. In most cases, this occurred when the interaction incorporated alphabet
books, story books, or singing songs (e.g. snake slides in the sun s,s,s,s snake slides having
fun) but it also occurred during some interactions with environmental print. The parent-child
interactions may thus be said to have emphasized letter names over letter sounds.
In addition, the parent took the opportunity to occasionally point out both letter names
and sounds when appropriate and where possible, the environmental print letter the child was
focussed on. There was occasionally an intermix of both with the parent using previous letter
names and sounds discussed before to prompt Roseanna in remembering a feature of the letter
in a new context or word. The parent would also refer to letters associated with familiar
Emergent writing 8
objects Roseanna had previously read about in her alphabet story book (e.g. A is for apple.
The A is in the word OATS see!”).
Below is an example of a parent-child interaction with environmental print.
[At breakfast Roseanna pulls out a cereal box from the pantry and her Mum points
out the print on the box.]
Mum: Look Roseanna! There‟s an O for Oats it goes around and around like the
wheels of a car. Let‟s trace it with our finger.
[Roseanna traces the O on the box then forms it in the air].
Roseanna and her Mum begin to sing their car song that goes round and round
and round and round and round goes the wheels of a car whilst moving their arms
around in a circle.
Roseanna: Points out the next letter and begins to trace it with her finger.
Mum: Yes! It‟s an A for apple and goes up, down and across. And look the next
letter is a T for toy, it goes down and across.
Roseanna: There‟s a snakey SSSS! [Roseanna makes the snake sound]
Mum: Great work! [Mum points to the word on the box again whilst running her
finger under the word]. That word says OATS! We are having oats for breakfast.
Later that day Roseanna, pointed out and traced the letter T with her finger on a
Thomas the Train toy label.
Mum: That‟s a T for „THOMAS can you find an M for Mum? [Mum points to
Roseanna: [She points to the M]
Mum: Yes! M for Mum goes up, down, up, down. [They trace the M on the label
with their finger then form the M shape in the air].
Emergent writing 9
Roseanna transferred her knowledge of letter shapes to different contexts as she
independently pointed out the same letter shape embedded within a variety of
environmental print words (e.g. she pointed out M: in McDonalds, in the toy label
THOMAS and in the chocolate drink label MILO).
The parent also helped Roseanna form letter shapes with cookie dough and play dough
and traced over the letter shapes with their fingers using directional language (up, down,
around, across). The use of play dough to form letters transferred to other objects in the home.
The parent observed Roseanna forming her own letter shapes out of household materials such
as wool, string, and food (e.g. an F out of fish fingers, an O for Octopus from a hair ribbon,
making an S for snake out of spaghetti, and using twigs in the garden to make a T).
The parent provided Roseanna with a range of writing tools (e.g. crayons, paints,
pencils) and she enjoyed playing with them whilst exploring and experimenting with mark
making on a variety of materials (e.g. paper, cardboard, blackboard). Roseanna was
encouraged to form patterns and shapes on paper that went up, down, up, down as the
mother modelled and drew shapes on a vertical chalk board using the up and down language.
Round shapes were introduced by drawing the wheels of a car and singing round and round
goes the wheels of a car. The term across was introduced by the parent modelling and
encouraging Roseanna to draw a round sun with lines that go across, across and across as
the example shows in Figure 1. These joint drawing activities helped Roseanna make the link
between the physical hand movement and shape and pattern formations that go up, down,
around and across.
Insert Figure 1 about here
Emergent writing 10
After Roseanna had mastered basic shapes and patterns, the parent helped her
experiment with writing a few simple letter-like shapes such as an M for mum that went up,
down, up, down then stop! A for apple that went up, down and across and O for octopus
that went around. Figure 2 shows examples of the marks that were produced during this
interaction. The letter-like shapes that were produced during this interaction might be taken as
evidence that Roseanna had entered the pre-alphabetic stage. However, the child was not
considered to have entered this stage because they were produced only through the parent‟s
use of directional language to guide the child‟s patterns and shapes. There was no evidence
that the child could write letter-like shapes when unassisted by the parent. Rather, the
directional language used by the parent may be interpreted as the parent scaffolding the
child‟s writing development within their zone of promixal development.
Insert Figure 2 about here
There were instances in which the parent and child did not have writing materials with
them such as driving in the car. In these interactions, the parent made use of alphabet letters
embedded within environmental print signs. The parent would encourage the child to form the
letters in the air using the directional language up, down around and across (e.g. Roseanna:
„There‟s an “M” in McDonalds. Parent: „And it‟s also an “M” for Mouse. Let‟s make an M in
the air with our hand. M goes up, down, up, down‟).
Pre-alphabetic writing stage
At 4 years 1 month, Roseanna showed evidence of entering the pre-alphabetic stage by
forming discernable letter shapes independently. For example, Roseanna began writing the
first 3 letters of her name unassisted in uppercase letters. However, she requested parental
assistance with the remaining letters. To assist her, the mother used directional language (up,
Emergent writing 11
down, around and across) to verbally scaffold (e.g. “the next letter E goes down, across,
across, and across) formation of the final letters in her name. When writing the names of
familiar objects such as Apple or Cat, Roseanna just wrote an A or strings of random letters
with no letter-sound associations. However, she accurately and independently copied simple
words such as MUM and COW and story book titles, but could not reread her writing. When
asked if she could write her own story, Roseanna spontaneously drew a continuous up and
down pattern to represent her story (see Figure 3). The zigzag-like pattern that was shown
may represent Roseanna‟s understanding that a story represents continuous speech.
Insert Figure 3 about here
Many of the words in her birthday card greetings for friends and family and shopping
lists were self-initiated writing activities with the letter shapes and spelling scaffolded by her
mother. Sometimes Roseanna wished to write a favourite word or label for one of her
drawings. For example, after watching the movie Scooby Doo, she drew a picture of Scooby
Doo and wanted to write his name (see Figure 4). Through parent scaffolding she was able to
do it immediately, as follows:
Roseanna: How do I write Scooby Doo?
Parent: What letter do you think comes first?
Roseanna: [She says the word to herself emphasising the first letter]
Parent: That‟s right, an S. Move your pencil in a snakey shape.
Roseanna then formed the S correctly and the parent continued to orally scaffold
each letter shape in the name as Roseanna wrote them.
Emergent writing 12
Insert Figures 4 and 5 about here
Environmental print surrounded Roseanna every day and her awareness of it was
evident in the independent writing samples that were collected. Roseanna showed her intrinsic
motivation to spontaneously copy words in her home environment. Samples of unassisted
copying of favourite environmental print labels included a juice bottle label (e.g. POP TOPS),
movie titles from CD-ROM and DVD cases (e.g. MR HAPPY, ET), and toy labels (eg, My
Little Pony). These unassisted writing samples with no parent scaffolding of the letter shapes
are shown in Figure 5.
Figures 4 and 5 also show examples of the child making a drawing to accompany her
writing. Temple, Nathan, and Burris (1982) note that drawings may be related to a child‟s
writing in two main ways. First, the drawing may be unconnected to the text and does not
help the reader‟s understanding. The top panel of Figure 5 in which POP TOPS is written
represents an instance of this. The “people” that accompany the writing were not present on
the product packaging. The second use of drawing is when the picture is intricately related to
the text. The remaining drawings in Figure 5 are instances of a close relationship with the
text. The “people” that accompanied the MR HAPPY text represent the Mr. Men characters
and these characters were also on the CD-ROM case from which the child copied. The “pony”
that was drawn with the MY LITTLE PONY text also represents a character that was present
on the toy label that the child copied from.
Roseanna’s partial alphabetic writing stage
Roseanna showed movement into the partial alphabetic phase by 4 years 11 months through
evidence of independent word writing with invented spellings and some phonetic
representations. For example, Roseanna used some letter-sound correspondence knowledge to
Emergent writing 13
spell and read simple words by sounding out the letters, such as CAT and DAD. However,
during her early invented spelling attempts she wrote for example, „MP‟ for „MUM and
SFM for „SAM‟ indicating that she had entered the partial alphabetic stage and her letter-
sound knowledge of initial and final letters in words was developing. Roseanna was able to
form all the letters in her first name without assistance and recognise her name in different
contexts (e.g. on a birthday invitation, Christmas present label etc.). However, she was unable
at this stage to write her surname without assistance. During these instances the mother
guided the writing of Roseanna‟s surname by using directional language (up, down, around
and across e.g. U goes down, around, and up) to verbally scaffold the formation of the letter
shapes and the spelling of her surname. This approach boosted Roseanna‟s confidence and
motivation to write new words with her mother‟s assistance
The parent-child activities during this stage included name writing, making birthday
cards, shopping lists, labelling drawings, copying environmental print, and story writing.
During these activities the need for parent scaffolding of letter shapes decreased as the child‟s
knowledge about letter names and shapes increased. Roseanna continued to develop her
ability and confidence in accurately copying product labels in the home environment (e.g.
without assistance. In one instance, Roseanna was seen copying the label Baby Wipes. This
label was printed in upper and lower case letters. It was interesting to note that Roseanna
copied the lower case b in Baby and correctly orally identified the lower case e in
Wipes but chose to write it as an upper case E. This suggests that although Roseanna had
been introduced mainly to upper case letters by her parents, her knowledge of lower case
letters was also developing through her exploration of print in alphabet books, story books
and a variety of environmental print labelled products. Figure 7 shows samples of Roseanna‟s
unassisted copying of environmental print, including that of Baby Wipes.
Emergent writing 14
Insert Figure 6 about here
On other occasions, Roseanna spontaneously and orally dictated a story to her mother
and asked her to help write it down. For example, one of Roseanna‟s stories was: One day
there was a boy and a girl playing in a park. The boy tripped over and hurt his leg and then
Mummy saw him and put a band-aid on him. The mother spelt out each word and dictated
each letter. Roseanna knew many letters already and wrote them down as her mother said the
letter names (see Figure 7). However, sometimes Roseanna had forgotten how to shape a
particular letter (e.g. E) or did not know how to form an unfamiliar letter (e.g. Y, G, P and R)
so her mother orally scaffolded Roseanna‟s letter shaping using directional language (up,
down, around and across). For example, in the word DAY within her story, Roseanna had
forgotten how to write the letter Y. The mother explained Y is for Yo-Yo it goes down, up
and down, let‟s form it in the air together. Roseanna formed the letter in the air with her hand
then wrote the letter Y on her page. Roseanna confused a B with a P, leading the parent to say
it‟s „P for PLAY, remember P is for Pig puh, puh, puh, it goes down and around. But B is
for Boat and B is for Boy in your story. B goes down, around and around. This verbal
scaffolding allowed Roseanna to write the correct letter shape.
Roseanna was also encouraged to make a finger space in between each word, but this
was difficult for her to remember and manage as seen in Figure 7. When Roseanna had
finished writing one page she drew a picture, then the parent and child read the story together.
However, it was difficult for Roseanna to point to and differentiate one word from another as
the spaces between the words were narrow or absent. Other researchers have also noted that
children have difficulty in rereading their writing if they omit spaces between words or put
spaces within words (Clay 1975; Kamberelis and Perry 1994).
Emergent writing 15
Insert Figure 7 about here
The mother scaffolded Roseanna‟s writing further by using lines. Initially, individual
lines were used to indicate each letter within a word (e.g. _ _ _ _ _). As shown in Figure 8,
this guided not only the placement of each letter within a word but also the spaces between
words. With the visual guidance of these lines, Roseanna did not need to use finger spacing
when writing and was able to focus more on thinking about matching sounds to letters and
forming each letter shape. On completion of writing her story, Roseanna enthusiastically read
her story back to her parent pointing to each individual word as the words were now visually
clearer to differentiate from each other. This technique was much more effective than using
fingers to make spaces between words. When Roseanna showed that she no longer needed to
have the scaffolded individual lines to guide the placement of each letter within a word, her
parent used one long line (e.g. ________) to represent all the letters within a word. As shown
in Figure 8, in most instances a short line was used for short words and a longer line was used
for long words. Using lines to represent whole words that a child intends to write is an
effective scaffolding technique devised by Bodrova and Leong (1998). This technique was
also useful in scaffolding spacing between each word and helping Roseanna remember the
next word she had intended to write.
Insert Figure 8 about here
With parental scaffolding of her letter and word formation and numerous rich joint
writing experiences, Roseanna had become a motivated and competent emergent writer in the
early partial alphabetic phase. Furthermore, although Roseanna possessed only limited letter-
Emergent writing 16
sound knowledge at this stage, she had mastered most of her alphabet letter names, possessing
the fine motor skills to form letter shapes and had begun linking letter names to shapes and
sounds. It is possible that these essential emergent literacy skills may assist her movement
from the partial alphabetic to the full alphabetic stage during her first years of formal literacy
learning at school.
Summary of the scaffolded emergent writing strategy
The main writing strategies used by the parent are summarized as follows:
(a) Introduced and pointed out print in the child‟s environment (e.g. food/clothing/toy product
labels, storybook titles).
(b) Used songs and nursery rhymes that incorporated directional actions and arm movements
(e.g. Incy Wincy Spider climbed up the water spout, down came the rain)
(c) Traced letters in the environment with fingers using directional language (up, down,
around and across), named letters and made their sounds, formed letter shapes in the air, and
made letter shapes with household materials (e.g. string, cookie dough).
(d) Associated each letter name with a familiar word and directions used when writing it (e.g.
M for mummy‟ goes up, down, up, down)
(e) Used directional language to verbally scaffold the child‟s writing of letter shapes (e.g. E is
for Egg it goes down, across, across).
(f) Guided the child‟s letter shaping and spelling (e.g. FLOWER starts with an F for Fish it
goes down, across and across, then L for Lion it goes down and across and so on).
(g) Scaffolded word writing by using individual lines to represent each letter and scaffolded
sentence writing by using individual lines to represent each word (Bodrova and Leong 1998).
It has been well established that parents play an important role in supporting their child‟s
emergent writing development (Aram and Levin 2001 2002; Aram 2002). The parent-child
Emergent writing 17
joint writing interactions and simple strategies reported in this study detailed many practical
ways in which parents can scaffold their child‟s emergent writing skills. The strategies used
by the parent provided many rich opportunities for Roseanna to communicate and interact
with her parent in a meaningful way about print and represent letter shapes in a variety of
ways (e.g. forming letter shapes in the air or making letter shapes out of house-hold
materials). The directional language (up, down, around and across) used by the parent also
scaffolded Roseanna‟s letter shaping during their joint writing activities such as writing a
shopping list, labelling a drawing or during story writing activities. In addition, Roseanna did
not become frustrated when she did not know how to form the next letter shape in her word
because she knew that her mother could scaffold the shape using directional language (e.g. F
for fish goes down, across and across). Finally, Roseanna evidenced her intrinsic motivation
to experiment with writing and explore print further in a range of contexts and genres through
self-initiating her own writing activities and copying environmental print.
It is essential that joint writing activities in the pre-school years are child-directed but
parent guided so the child remains interested and supported during each activity (Aram 2002;
Chan et al. 2008). The strategies described in this study may be better suited to literacy
interactions between child and parent than between child and early childhood educators.
Parents may be more aware of what interests and motivates their child and can structure
literacy interactions accordingly. It is also likely that the quality of the relationship (e.g.
degree of sensitivity, responsivity, guidance, and attention) between the parent and child may
influence the quality and frequency of parent-child literacy interactions (Dodici, Draper, and
Peterson 2003). If the strategies described in this study are to be adopted by early childhood
educators, it is crucial that they use developmentally appropriate drawing and writing
activities that are adapted to the individual child‟s needs and abilities to foster each child‟s
interest, engagement, and motivation to explore print further (Elliot and Ollif 2008). Baghban
Emergent writing 18
(2007) also suggests that early educators use flexible and open-ended opportunities to write
and draw in and avoid stating that there is a “correct way” of doing either.
The need to motivate young children‟s interest and awareness of print is particularly
important in pre-school age children who are at risk of developing future reading and writing
difficulties, such as children who are language impaired (Justice et al. 2003). For example, a
recent study by Cabell et al. (2009) has shown that children with language impairment lag
significantly behind their typical language peers in emergent writing abilities. They also
describe how language impaired children may be more likely to actively resist participating in
shared writing and reading activities. Cabell et al. (2009) stress the importance of giving
parents of language impaired children emergent literacy strategies that motivate their children
to be intrinsically interested in exploring print and participating in joint writing activities.
The types of joint writing activities described in this case study coupled with the
scaffolded letter shaping strategy based on the use of tracing environmental print with fingers,
whole body movements and forming letter shapes in the air, use of directional language (up,
down, around and across) and using lines to represent letters and words, may provide useful
tools for parents to scaffold their child‟s alphabet letter shaping, emergent writing, alphabet
knowledge, letter-sound knowledge and print motivation. As many parents may find an
emphasis on using letter-sounds unfamiliar, early literacy strategies that emphasise letter
names and shapes may be more appealing to them. Further research could examine the
effectiveness of these strategies by comparing them with other naturally-occurring parental
strategies (e.g. the parent writing a letter or word and encouraging the child to copy it; Aram
and Levin 2001 2002). Future research could also examine the use of these joint-writing
strategies in a pre-school educational setting.
Emergent writing 19
This article includes a word or words, logos, or brands, that is, or is asserted to be, a propriety term or trademark.
All trademarks remain property of their respective holders, and are used only to directly describe the products.
Inclusion does not imply it has acquired for legal purposes a non-propriety or general significance, nor is any
other judgement implied concerning its legal status.
Short biographical note on all contributors
Michelle M. Neumann is a school teacher for Education Queensland and a Doctoral student in the School of
Psychology at Griffith University, Queensland, Australia
David L. Neumann is a senior lecturer in the School of Psychology at Griffith University, Queensland, Australia
Emergent writing 20
Aram, D. 2002. Joint writing in Hebrew of dictated words versus proper names: Analysis of
low SES mother-kindergartner dyads. Journal of Research in Childhood Education
17: 47-61.
Aram, D. 2008. Parent-child interaction and early literacy development. Early Education
and Development 19: 1-6.
Aram, D., and I. Levin. 2001. Mother-child joint writing in low SES sociocultural factors,
maternal mediation, and emergent literacy. Cognitive Development 16: 831-52.
Aram, D., and I. Levin. 2002. Mother-child joint writing and story book reading: Relations
with literacy among low SES kindergarteners. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly 48: 202-24.
Baghban, M. 2007. Scribbles, labels, and stories: The role of drawing in the development of
writing. Young Children 62: 2026.
Bissex, G. L. 1980. Gnys at wrk: A child learns to write and read. Cambridge, MA: Havard
University Press.
Bodrova, E., and D.J. Leong. 1998. Scaffolding emergent writing in the zone of proximal
development. Literacy Teaching and Learning 3: 1-18.
Bowman, M., and R. Treiman. 2004. Stepping stones to reading. Theory into Practice 43:
Burns, M.S. and R. Casbergue. 1992. Parent-child interaction in a letter-writing context.
Journal of Reading Behaviour 24: 289-312.
Cabell, S.Q., L.M. Justice, T.A. Zucker, and A.S. McGinty. 2009. Emergent name-writing
abilities of preschool-age children with language impairment. Language, Speech &
Hearing Services in Schools 40: 53-66.
Chan, L., C. Zi Juan, and C. Lai Foon. 2008. Chinese preschool children‟s literacy
development: from emergent to conventional writing. Early Years 28: 135-48.
Emergent writing 21
Clay, M.M. 1975. What did I write? Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Educational Books.
Dodici, B.J., D.C. Draper, and C.A. Peterson. 2003. Early parent-child interactions and early
literacy development. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education 23: 124-36.
Elliott, E. M., & Olliff, C. B. (2008). Developmentally appropriate emergent literacy activities
for young children: Adapting the early literacy and learning model. Early Childhood
Education Journal 35: 551-556.
Gentry, J.R. 2005. Instructional techniques for emerging writers and special needs students at
kindergarten and grade 1 levels. Reading and Writing Quarterly 21: 113-34.
Justice, L.M., S. Chow, C. Capellini, K. Flanigan, and S. Colton. 2003. Emergent literacy
intervention for vulnerable preschoolers: Relative effects of two approaches. American
Journal of Speech-Language Pathology 12: 320-32.
Kamberelis, G and Perry. M. (1994). A microgenetic study of cognitive reorganization during
thre transition to conventional literacy. In D. F Lancy (Ed. Children‟s emergent
literacy: From research to practice (pp. 93-123). Westport, CN: Praeger.
Lavine, L.O. 1977. Differentiation of letterlike forms in prereading children. Developmental
Psychology 13: 89-94.
Mayer, K. 2007. Emerging knowledge about emerging writing. Young Children 62: 34-40.
Neumann, M.M. 2007. Up Downs: A fun and practical way to introduce reading and writing
to young children aged 2-5. Sydney: Finch.
Neumann, M.M., M. Hood, and D.L. Neumann. 2009. The scaffolding of emergent literacy
skills in the home environment: A case study. Early Childhood Education Journal 36:
Neumann, M.M., and D.L. Neumann. (2009). More than just story books: Promoting
emergent literacy skills in the home environment. Childhood Education, 85, 257-259.
Emergent writing 22
Otto, B. 2008. Literacy development in early childhood: Reflective teaching for birth to age
eight. New Jersey: Pearson Education.
Stellakis, N., and M. Kondyli. 2004. The emergence of writing: Children‟s writing during the
pre-alphabetic spelling phase. Educational Studies in Language and Literature 4: 129-
Temple, C.A., R.G. Barnes, and N.A. Burris. 1982. The beginnings of writing. Boston, MA:
Allyn and Bacon Inc.
Vygotsky, L.S. 1978. Mind and society: The development of higher mental processes.
Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Wood, C. 2002. Parent-child pre-school activities can affect the development of literacy
skills. Journal of Research in Reading 25: 241-58.
Wordern, P., and W, Boettcher. (1990). Young Children‟s acquisition of alphabet knowledge.
Journal of Reading Behaviour, 22: 277-295.
Yamagata, K. 2007. Differential emergence of representational systems: drawings, letters and
numerals. Cognitive Development 22: 244-57.
Yang, H., and A.M. Noel. 2006. The developmental characteristics of four- and five-year-old
preschoolers‟ drawing: An analysis of scribbles, placement patterns, emergent writing,
and name writing in archived spontaneous drawing samples. Journal of Early
Childhood Literacy 6: 145-62.
Emergent writing 23
Figure Captions
Figure 1. Through parent scaffolding, Roseanna learnt to draw lines that go across, as in the
letter A, by drawing lines for the rays of the sun.
Figure 2. Roseanna‟s scribbles and letter formation when the mother scaffolded the writing of
basic patterns and shapes and basic letters of e.g. O, A, and M.
Figure 3. The spontanaeous up and down pattern produced by Roseanna when she was asked
to write a story in the pre-alphabetic phase.
Figure 4. Parent Scaffolding of Scooby Doo‟, a label for Roseanna‟s drawing.
Figure 5. Unassisted copying of environmental print from various items. The left panel shows
the items of environmental print and the right panel shows the child‟s writing. The copied
print were Pop Tops from a drink product label (top), Mr Happy from a CD-ROM case
(middle), and My Little Pony from a toy label (bottom).
Figure 6. Unassisted copying of environmental print from commercial product labels. The left
panel shows the items of environmental print and the right panels shows the child‟s writing.
The copied print were „Nutrigrain‟ (top) and „Baby Wipes‟ (bottom).
Figure 7. Roseanna‟s story produced by the parent scaffolding in which each letter was spelt
out and directional language used to help form unfamiliar letters.
Figure 8. Techniques used to scaffold Roseanna‟s story writing used lines to indicate each
letter (top) and lines to indicate whole words (bottom).
... PI which refers to the connection between school and family is a constituent of an effective education merits to be particularly considered because of its contribution to creating a successful home environment and to children's success (Epstein, 2011). In fact, the importance of strong relationships between the child's family and the school environment for both child development and education has been acknowledged by many researchers (Epstein, 2011;Hornby, 2011;Lau, Li, & Rao, 2012;Jeynes, 2005;Marjanovič-Umek, Fekonja-Peklaj & Podlesek, 2014;Neumann & Neumann, 2010;Robinson & Harris, 2014;Wheeler & Connor, 2009). Research conducted in this field has convincingly revealed that PI is critical for the child's learning process and attitudes toward school, and children who have parents participating at the school and fostering their learning at home environment are more successful regardless of the educational status or social class of their parents (Epstein, 2011). ...
... Indeed, parent involvement can be carried out at home, at school and in the community (Hindman et al., 2012). In homebased parent involvement, parents carry out academic reinforcement activities such as reading books with their child or listening the child's reading (Hornby & Lafaele, 2011), scaffolding the child's writing skills (Neumann, Hood, & Neumann, 2009;Neumann & Neumann, 2010), getting involved in educational games or supervising the child's homework (Calzada et al., 2015;Mora & Escardíbul, 2018). On the other hand, school-based involvement includes parents' voluntary participation in classrooms by means of some activities, such as teaching participating parent-teacher meetings and parent education workshops organized by the schools (Hornby & Lafaele, 2011). ...
... Indeed, in the literature, a large body of research evidenced the positive effects of scaffolding provided by parents on their preschool children's education (Clegg & Legare, 2017;Neumann & Neumann, 2010;Skibbe, Behnke, & Justice, 2004;Sun & Rao, 2011). ...
The purpose of the current study was to design and develop a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) based engineering design curriculum that addresses to preschool children, parents, and preschool teachers (EDCPI). In this context, the first aim of this study was to identify the key design principles in designing a STEM-based engineering design curriculum for parental involvement (PI) in early childhood education. The second aim was to explore the possible contributions of the developed curriculum to preschool children, parents, and preschool teachers. In line with the purposes of the study, design-based research methodology was utilized, and the study was carried out in three iterative phases: preliminary research, prototyping, and assessment. The designed content was revised, evaluated, and redesigned through three different iteration cycles in the prototyping phase of the study. The study was conducted with participants from two different public schools in Kastamonu. Findings validated eight main characteristics of EDCPI identified in the relevant literature and revealed that EDCPI made a wide variety of contributions to preschool children, parents, and preschool teachers. Based on the findings obtained from the study, it can be concluded that EDCPI can be helpful not only in supporting preschoolers’ STEM-related learnings but also in building a bridge between families and schools. Therefore, the curriculum designed and developed within the scope of the current study provides a new and alternative way for the integration of STEM into preschool settings and for PI in early childhood education.
... This helps to involve the child in a meaningful literary activity because it requires little or no second language proficiency. Neumann and Neumann (2010) noted that parental scaffolding is a strategy parents used to support children to develop emergent writing skills. It also helps to develop 'visual cues'. ...
This study examines the role of the Children’s Centre, University of Nigeria, Nsukka in enhancing literacy learning among primary school age pupils of Nsukka Local Government Area. The study is a case study that employed qualitative method. Four specific objectives guided the study. Five members of the Children’s Centre were purposively selected to participate in the study. An unstructured questionnaire and oral face to face interview were used for data collation. The data collated were coded, sorted, interpreted and presented in narratives. Findings revealed that Children’s Centre contributed in enhancing literacy development among primary school pupils in Nsukka Local Government Area, Enugu State, through school library development, workshops for head teachers and teacher librarians amongst others. The study concludes that the Children’s Centre has contributed immensely in transforming the lives of Nsukka children and at the same time helped to design a world free of child poverty for future generations as being literate is a condition for gainful employment and better living condition.
... Preschoolers are interested in the written system and, in Western cultures, they learn about it through informal literacy interactions with their parents (e.g., writing names; Neumann & Neumann, 2010;Wasik & Herrmann, 2004). According to the ecological theory, the home represents the contextual layer closest to the child; hence, parenting practices at home are of great significance to the child's development (Bronfenbrenner, 1986). ...
We observed the nature of parents’ writing support and studied their reports about their parenting practices. Participants were 130 middle-SES parent-preschooler dyads in the United States and Israel (69 American). Parents were videotaped while helping their children write an invitation to a birthday party in English in the United States and Hebrew in Israel. We analyzed the degree to which parents helped children segment words into their respective sounds (graphophonemic support) and print letters independently (printing support). Parents also filled out a parenting practices questionnaire about their Home Learning Environment (HLE), Warmth, autonomy Support and Expectations (WSE), and Management/Discipline (MD). Across cultures, parents valued WSE the most, followed by MD and HLE. In both cultures, parents prioritized WSE most, followed by MD and the HLE. Across cultures, higher MD related to higher writing (graphophonemic and printing) support. Our findings stress the importance of cross-cultural studies when investigating how parents guide and support young children’s early literacy development.
... Moreover, another study in second language adult learners of Japanese found a similar learning effect of air-writing and handwriting on recognizing kanjis. However, there is a dearth of studies exploring the specific contribution of VMI to word recognition in typically developing children (e.g., Kushki, Schwellnus, Ilyas, & Chau, 2011;Neumann & Neumann, 2010). ...
... Teknik ini dikemukakan oleh Neumann (2014) di mana teknik ini akan mengaktifkan seluruh modalitas sensori anak. Penggunaan environmental print yang dikombinasikan dengan strategi multisensori juga diketahui dapat membantu perkembangan anak dalam membentuk huruf dan menulis cerita secara efektif (Neumann & Neumann, 2010).Selain itu, Rule et al (2006) meneliti tentang penggunaan environmental print yang dikombinasikan dengan pendekatan multisensori yang dapat membantu meningkatkan kemampuan literasi anak yang mengalami kesulitan dalam membaca. ...
Full-text available
This research developed “Rumah Ramah Literasi” training program to improve parent’s stimulation of literacy skills using environmental print as a media. The research hypothesis is the “Rumah Ramah Literasi” training program can improve parent’s stimulation of literacy skills. The experimental design employed in this present study is The Untreated Control Group Design with Pretest and Posttest Samples.The subject of this research are 18 mothers which is 9 mothers in experimental group and 9 mothers in control group.The data were analyzed by using Mann Whitney U-Test. The result of this study was found that gain score literacy stimulation was significantly higher, U(n=18) =0,001, p<0,05 in the experimental group (M=14) than in the control group (M=5).This indicates that “Rumah Ramah Literasi” training program could improve parents’ literacy stimulation. Effect size of “Rumah Ramah Literacy” training program was 0,84. Keywords: environmental print; literacy; literacy stimulation; parents
... Case studies reveal that parents do point out and read environmental print to their children at home (Lass, 1982;McGee and Richgels, 1989;Sinclair and Golan, 2002). For example, Baghban (1984) describes how her 2-year-old daughter pointed out the letter 'K' on the cereal box 'Special K' and Neumann and Neumann (2010) describes how 3-year-old Roseanna pointed out letters and words on her toy labels at home such as 'My Little Pony' and 'Mr Happy'. ...
Full-text available
Young children are surrounded by ubiquitous environmental print (e.g. signs, product labels) on a daily basis in their homes and communities. Parent–child interactions with environmental print has the potential to foster emergent literacy. A randomised controlled pre–posttest study was conducted to examine the effects of a parent–child environmental print programme on emergent literacy skills (letter knowledge, letter and name writing, print concepts, environmental print reading, numeral name knowledge). Parent–child dyads (N = 32, M child age = 3.63 years) participated in an 8-week (30 minutes per week) programme that used multisensory strategies to identify, trace and write letters and words embedded in environmental print. At post-test, the environmental print group showed improvements across all measures, making significant gains in letter knowledge and environmental print reading. These findings highlight potential benefits of coaching parents to use environmental print to support aspects of young children’s growth of emergent literacy skills.
... Scaffolding referred to the ways in which different types of books might serve as a scaffold for parent-child interactions around storybook reading. Neumann and Neumann (2010) Preschool Literacy activities in the home Scaffolding defined generally as visual or verbal cues/maternal mediation. Reutzel, Fawson, and Smith, (2008) 3 ...
Despite its appeal and widespread use, the term scaffolding has been inconsistently invoked across the field of education, particularly in literacy research. Indeed, its meaning has become so broad that its impact on learning is unclear. This review elucidates the theoretical tenets that underpin the metaphor and critically examines the impact of scaffolding on literacy learning by interrogating the existing literature in terms of its adherence to the theoretical tenets of the construct and the methodology used to determine the relationship between teachers’ scaffolding and students’ literacy learning. Guidelines for future research are offered to advance understanding of the role of scaffolding in literacy learning. In offering these guidelines, we endeavor to adhere to the theoretical underpinnings of the concept and address methodological weaknesses in extant empirical research.
This article describes how early childhood preservice teachers can develop sensitivity toward and confidence in working with children who are homeless through a service learning project. The 14 weeks intervention provided an opportunity for undergraduate early childhood teacher candidates to gain real-life experience working with among the most vulnerable of all children—those who are homeless. Results of this project suggest that through implementing art integrated literacy activities with children in a homeless shelter, teacher candidates alter their deficit views of homelessness and at the same time develop confidence in their ability to work with homeless children and their families.
Full-text available
בחברה אוריינית ילדי גן מביעים עניין בשפה הכתובה עוד בטרם למדו קרוא וכתוב בבית הספר. כתיבה היא משימה מאתגרת הכרוכה בהפיכת מילה דבורה לסמלים. כאשר ילדי גן מנסים לכתוב הם זקוקים לעתים קרובות לסיוע מהוריהם אשר מתגייסים ומתווכים לילדיהם כתיבה. המאמר מציג סדרה של מחקרים שנערכו בישראל המתארים את אופי תיווך הכתיבה של הורים לילדיהם הצעירים ומשמעותו להתפתחות אוריינות הילדים בעברית ובערבית. המחקרים בוחנים כיצד הורים מסייעים לילדיהם להבין ולהפנים את מערכת הכתב תוך התייחסות לאופי משימות כתיבה וכלי כתיבה שונים. הם בוחנים כיצד מגדר ההורים ואמונותיהם בנוגע לניצני אוריינות כמו גם מאפיינים של הילדים (ויסות עצמי, לקות שמיעה או לקות קשב) משמעותיים לתיווך הכתיבה של ההורים. בנוסף, המאמר מבהיר כיצד לקדם תיווך כתיבה של הורים לילדי גן. ממצאי המחקרים המתוארים במאמר מאירים את התועלת המושגת מתיווך כתיבה הורי יעיל בגיל הרך ומעודדים יוזמה להדרכת הורים מסודרת בתחום זה.
Full-text available
Mothers play a key role in scaffolding children’s writing using traditional tools, such as paper and pencil. However, little is known about how mothers scaffold young children’s writing using touch-screen tablets (e.g., iPads) and the associations between maternal scaffolding and emergent literacy. Mother-child dyads (N = 47; M child age = 3.43 years) were video recorded as they wrote words using an iPad and a paper and pencil. Maternal print and grapho-phonemic mediation behaviors were measured. Children were assessed on letter name and letter-sound knowledge, letter writing and name writing, and print concepts. No significant differences were found in the level of maternal mediation provided in the tablet or paper-pencil condition. Maternal print mediation was positively associated with letter name and letter-sound knowledge and emergent writing in the tablet and paper-pencil conditions. Grapho-phonemic mediation was significantly related to children’s understanding of letter-sound correspondence and print concepts in the paper-pencil condition, but not the tablet condition. Supporting parents in using grapho-phonemic mediation during tablet use to foster early literacy learning should be considered in future research.
Full-text available
The drawings of 17 four- to five-year-old children from two points in time, age four and age five were analyzed. At both ages four and five, the most commonly used scribbles were single vertical lines, single horizontal lines, and single curved lines, whereas the two least used scribbles were spiral and circular lines spread out. The subjects in this sample were most likely to use a centered placement pattern and least likely to use horizontal half, two-sided balance, and extended diagonal half placement patterns. They made significant progress in emergent writing skills from age four to five. At age four, only two children wrote their name on the drawings, while there were fourteen children who did this at age five. In addition to writing their own names, the five year olds often added the names of their family members or friends as well as letter-name elements.
Full-text available
This study investigated the interactions between 26 parents and their 3- to 5-year-old children as they collaborated to write a letter to someone during a 10-minute videotaped session. Observations of these sessions were coded using categories designed to indicate: (a) the manner of the exchange of information, (b) the types of information that parents and children exchanged during the writing, and (c) the nature of the children's written input into the resulting letter product. Regression analyses were used to examine how the parents' level of control was associated with: (a) the nature of the children's communicative input into the literacy exchange, (b) the type of information about writing upon which the interchange was focused, and (c) the nature of each child's written input into their letter product. Parents exhibiting higher levels of control tended to have children who exhibited higher levels of response and recognition that they heard the parents, had exchanges that focused on spelling, and had written products that were conventional in nature. Parents demonstrating lower levels of control tended to have children who exhibited higher levels of initiations and verbal input, had exchanges focused on the content of the letter, and had written products that were emergent in nature. These results are discussed in terms of the parents' perception of the experimental task and the amount of instructional support needed to complete the task.
This article describes six instructional techniques that support emerging or struggling writers. The techniques are first modeled in a vignette of a kindergarten writing conference and then explicitly defined. A writing scale is presented for tracking the development of emerging writers with suggestions for the type and timing of instruction supportive of a particular level of writing development.
The relationship between parent—child interactions and early literacy skills for 27 families living in low-income households was examined. Parent—child interactions in “simulated” daily experiences were videotaped when the children were 14, 24, and 36 months old. These tapes were coded with the Parent-Infant/Toddler Interaction Coding System (PICS; Dodici & Draper, 2001), a scale that rates child language, parent language, emotional tone, joint attention, parental guidance, and parental responsivity. These behaviors were related strongly to early literacy skills in the areas of receptive vocabulary, symbolic representation, and phonemic analysis, which were measured in the spring prior to kindergarten entry. In addition, observed parent—child interactions were better predictors of early literacy skills than was a parent report of home literacy experiences.
A Chinese script is represented by Chinese characters and each character is a square‐shaped configuration with condensed strokes. Children in Hong Kong are explicitly taught to write at a very young age. They are guided to draw vertical and horizontal lines at age three, and are required to write simple characters with few strokes at age four. When children are ready for formal schooling at age six, many of them can write around 50–60 characters. Typical writing lessons consist of penmanship drills and assigned character copying tasks, but in some preschools teachers have begun to change the writing curriculum and make a distinction between emergent literacy and conventional literacy. Early writings are marked by scribbles, drawings and invented spellings, and these are regarded as signs of active exploration for children to understand the writing system. The present study introduces the learning experience of a four‐year‐old girl who was encouraged by her teacher and parents to be an emergent writer. Her writings went through several stages of development within a year, and her spontaneous experiments with writing in the initial stage contributed significantly to her becoming a fairly independent and confident writer.
This study documented children's acquisition of the following critical aspects of alphabet knowledge: letter recitation, naming, printing, and association of letters with sounds and words. These skills were tested for the entire set of upper- and lowercase letters in 188 children whose ages ranged from 2 1/2 to 7 1/2 years. Performance improved with age, at different rates for the different tasks, and the tasks were all highly correlated with one another. The children performed better on upper- than lowercase letters, and there were no sex differences in alphabet acquisition. Rank order correlations showed the degree to which letter difficulty was consistent across the age groups and across the various alphabet tasks.