Do you remember what you learned in pre-school? It probably involved pre-math skills, basic shapes, colors, phonics, writing instruction, like letter formation and penmanship, and so on. But when it comes to writing instruction, should it go beyond that?

Researchers at Michigan State University have uncovered that preschool teachers are not spending enough time on communicative writing.

"Few teachers in this study think about writing as communication," Hope Gerde, associate professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies, said. "However, all children have ideas, and when we allow young children to communicate their ideas using whatever type of 'writing' they can produce — whether it's scribbles, drawing or letter-like formations ⁠— writing is an age-appropriate and engaging endeavor."

Fewer studies have been conducted regarding how preschool teachers see writing in early education, this includes child interest and enjoyment, she said. It is essential that teachers’ beliefs are understood because they carry over into instruction. Furthermore, communicative writing is a powerful way to strengthen writing skills while they are young. This proves useful in academic success later on.

To establish how they supported in-class writing instruction, 32 preschool teachers from several programs like Head Start and nonprofit childcare centers were interviewed by Gerde and Tanya Wright, associate professor in the Department of Teacher Education.

They found that 94 percent of classrooms had environmental supports like designated writing spaces. Although materials were available, there was inadequate discussion around teachers explaining to the children how to use them.

Simultaneously, only 22 percent of teachers placed writing materials in other areas of the classroom or permitted children to bring writing materials into play centers. Other meaningful writing opportunities included writing a grocery list or taking orders at the classroom restaurant.

Most classroom activities were aimed at improving handwriting such as writing names on the artwork, reproducing letter writing, signing and tracing their names. In comparison, there were few opportunities for journaling, writing thank-you cards and similar composition-based acitivities. There were few classrooms that encouraged making books through a class effort or writing a note to a family member.

Despite this lack of writing opportunities, teachers found that young children liked writing. There is simply a lack of guidance for it in preschool, despite having research-based curricula.

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