The aim of this chapter is to look at ways in which we as educators can provide opportunities which will nurture children as writers. Young children are constantly exposed to print in the environment in which they live, whether at home, play group, in the street or at school. They see adults and older children writing notes to each other, lists for a shopping trip and letters both formal and informal. They begin to realise that these marks on paper are regarded as important by those around them and can have many uses. Just as they learn to talk by experimenting with spoken language and imitating those around them, children will often experiment with marks on paper. They will try out patterns and attempt to communicate through this medium themselves.
These independent marks, are often referred to as ‘emergent writing’. This term encompasses the vast number of ways in which young children use marks and letters to make meaning. As Yetta Goodman (1986) described, from a young age children engage in writing tasks for a wide variety of reasons and by the age of two most children have begun to use symbols to represent real things. Therefore, by the time children enter a nursery or reception class they may already be very experienced emergent writers. They may be mark makers or they may be aware of the alphabetic nature of print. It is our job, as educators, to build on these skills, and the knowledge and understanding of writing which the children have. This involves adopting a developmental approach to writing whereby the children’s emergent writing is acknowledged and they are encouraged to ‘have a go’ rather than copy from an adult model. The implications this has for how writing is approached in school, the contexts in which it happens and ways of encouraging children as independent writers will form the basis for this chapter.