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Stages of Writing Development In The First 5 Years

Updated: Nov 14, 2023

De Lascaux à l'écriture: follow our tracks, step into history

Through the course of thousands of years, human communication has evolved from first markings, to cave drawings, to “graphisme”, and finally to the written word.

At The French Académie, students will walk through the same journey in five years: from their very first prints to mastering hand control and movement.

Last week, we shared an exhibit centered on the child's writing development in the first 5 years from first markings to the written word using our original and unique pedagogical approach to developing the motor skills necessary to write. Over the course of five years, students will move through four stages of writing development: markings, drawings, graphisme, and geste d'écriture. Allow us to guide you through those stages.

A Theme of Verticality Through The History Of The World: Verticalité

Stages of Writing Development In The First 5 Years

We chose to open our exhibit with vertical lines because it is the easiest "geste graphique" that children can first produce on a vertical plane by just letting their hands fall down from top to bottom. There is nothing to control. It is a natural movement.

  • Nous avons choisi la verticalité pour ouvrir cette exposition car c'est le geste graphique le plus simple que les enfants vont commencer à produire sur un plan vertical en laissant simplement tomber leur main.

The hanging ribbon tie cascades echo these vertical lines. The hand strength and coordination necessary to tie the ribbons together is also a valuable exercise in the progression toward writing.

  • La cascade de rubans noués fait écho aux lignes peintes par les enfants et aux totems s'appuyant sur un court imagier de la verticalité à travers l’histoire du monde.

Stages of Writing Development In The First 5 Years

We also chose the vertical totem poles to celebrate our school community. Painted by the children, the totems echo the verticality through the history of the world.

  • Nous avons choisi les totems pour célébrer notre communauté scolaire.


Stages of Writing Development In The First 5 Years

The first stage on the journey to writing is tracing in which the child is making marks. This is a very sensorial stage. The little one cannot stop their movement. When painting, they might continue until they make a hole in their paper.

First steps. It is all about the sensory experience.

  • Premiers pas, L’enfant est dans le plaisir sensoriel.

Stages of Writing Development In The First 5 Years

Movement doesn’t stop. The child isn’t concerned with the end result, but rather is focused on the joy of the experience. Le “travail du geste” is at first very rough, frenetic back and forth, circular movements…

  • Le geste ne s'arrête pas. L’enfance ne prend pas en compte sa production, il est dans le plaisir du moment. Le travail du geste: il est d’abord grossier, on fait des allers-retours frénétiques, des mouvements circulaires…

Stages of Writing Development In The First 5 Years

The adult offers different pedagogical scenarios to invite the child to work on mastering their “geste” and to become aware of the final product. .

  • L’adulte propose différents scénarios pédagogiques pour travailler la maîtrise du geste et prendre conscience de sa production.

Stages of Writing Development In The First 5 Years

The adult introduces writing tools to develop a precise grasp.

  • Introduction de l’outil scripteur pour développer la préhension.

The child describes what he has drawn. The adult records what he has drawn in writing.

  • La dictée à l’adulte: L’enfant décrit ce qu'il a dessiné.

Stages of Writing Development In The First 5 Years

Marks can be left in different materials. With the sand, the experience of tracing is ephemeral and allows for practice without limits. Offering other materials/media expands the nature of the experience. Playdough for example will allow for 3D creation and hand musculation.

  • Les traces peuvent être laissées dans différents matériaux. Le sable donne l'expérience d’une trace éphémère et qui permet d'étendre la nature de l'expérience. La pâte à modeler par exemple permet les créations en 3D et le travail de musculation de la main.

Stages of Writing Development In The First 5 Years

The Adult creates a pedagogical scenario to develop the control of the “geste.”

  • Scénario pédagogique pour développer le contrôle du geste

DESSIN: Productions Libres | DRAWINGS: Open-ended Expression

We practice free drawing from the toddler class to the kindergarten class. At the beginning of the artistic experience, it’s really all about engaging with materials. The children learn about the different tools that they have to make art. They explore how it feels with their hands and they move through the creative process in a way that’s completely natural and more about the process than about the end result. In the toddler class, since the main focus is placed on the painting process: the children add paint to paper, combine it in different ways, and are totally free.The final result is a large brown blob. :) Every class produces art in different ways. For the children, the enjoyment comes from moving the paint across the paper, and so the colors are all mixed. There isn’t much weight placed on the final product. We are just interested in the sensory experience. Little by little, we will be paying more and more attention to the end result. This is when, in our Maternelle classroom, we start seeing monochromes. Superposition is still present, but colors are not as combined. It is here that we begin to see complete juxtaposition - no superposition at all. Each color is deliberately placed on its own. What we can also see in our classes is some development of skills that have been worked on in the past like forming lines. We can see some small lines appear. We can clearly see the intent of producing a controlled mark.The more our students grow up, the more they can control their movement, which leads to figurative drawing. You can see a person in the drawing. Verbalization takes a big part in our class. Once a drawing is complete, we present it to our classmates and comment on it using our vocabulary. “I used a paintbrush. I used paint. I traced a circle.” We also use the vocabulary specific to the project. “Here is my family, and here is my dad, my mom, etc.”

Stages of Writing Development In The First 5 Years

The child moves from superposition (left) to juxtaposition (right).

  • De la superposition à la juxtaposition

Stages of Writing Development In The First 5 Years

Spontaneous reproduction of the “gestes” studied in the classroom

  • Re-investissements spontanés des gestes étudiés en class.

Stages of Writing Development In The First 5 Years

Emergence of forms and figures

  • Apparition du figuratif


Stages of Writing Development In The First 5 Years

Graphisme begins when children are a bit older, and sometimes even at the end of petite section.

Stages of Writing Development In The First 5 Years

Before learning cursive writing, practicing is necessary. It takes several years for children to acquire the multiple skills required to develop handwriting: eye/hand coordination, controlling the 4 joints used to hold and guide the pen (shoulder, elbow, wrist, and fingers), and pen stroke control. This is why we offer “exercises graphiques” every day at The French Académie from La Petite Section onward.

Our pedagogical approach: taking inspiration from nature, history, art, and our direct environment.

Stages of Writing Development In The First 5 Years

We are surrounded by “graphisme.” In our school, we take time to observe the beauty of the world offered by nature, history, art and our direct environment. Thereby children develop a keen sense of observation which is the very first skill necessary to start handwriting.

Feeling, experiencing

Stages of Writing Development In The First 5 Years

Motor skills are something most of us do without even thinking about them. Motor skills are divided into gross and fine.

Gross motor skills include standing, walking, going up and down stairs, running…. And other activities that use the large muscles of the arms, legs, and torso. We develop these mostly during childhood through play and physical activity.

Fine motor skills, on the other hand, refer to the ability to use the small muscles of the hands with adequate strength, dexterity, and coordination to grasp and manipulate objects. Fine motor skills are necessary in everyday life: brushing teeth, brushing hair, getting dressed (buttoning, zipping, lacing shoes…) eating ( holding a spoon and fork) and also to cut, draw, and write! While some will be innate, others will have to be introduced at home and in a school environment. At the French Académie, our young students are practicing thei fine motor skills every day to become independent and to prepare them for writing with confidence and joy.

  • Fingerplay songs are offered from the very first year in the Tout Petit Programme to Kindergarten. Beyond the evidence of language interest, they are an opportunity to practice fine motor skills. From a very simple tapping of the hands, it will evolve through the years to movements that will improve dexterity of the fingers.

  • Pincer grasp

  • Hand-eye coordination

  • Lateralization

  • Concentration

  • Precision

  • Hand Strength

  • Finger Strength

  • Self-confidence

  • Repetition


Stages of Writing Development In The First 5 Years

  1. Working with different media is necessary to learn how to constantly adjust the find hand movement.

  2. Thematic projects are offered all year long.

  3. Drawing “step by step” is not art. It is a technique and a tool used to refine the hand movement!

  4. This is the final state. Now students are able to control the pen stroke from left to right between two lines. Therefore, they master the technique to write in cursive.

    1. the cursive mmm will be m (see photo)

    2. the cursive llll will be l and e (see photo)

    3. the cursive rrr will be r (see photo)


Language is an oral code, and writing is the capacity to encode language. In other words, the ability to write is a double coding exercise. This is the archetypal activity of Grande Section (Kindergarten): coding sounds, including complex sounds, to make words. These skills, that appear natural to us, are extremely complex for a 5 year old who is just entering the world of writing.

As if coding sounds wasn’t complicated enough by itself, children also need to have developed the fine motor skills necessary to be able to make adequate letters. What a complicated task for a 5 year old!

Our unique approach throughout our students’ 5 year journey at The French Academie frees them from the burden to control their pen stroke: by the time they are learning to write, they have mastered “le geste d’ecriture” without even knowing it!

Research says it is a “cognitive discharge” freeing children from the burden of the “geste” gives them the full mental availability to concentrate on the coding exercise.

Writing naturally emerges:

Stages of Writing Development In The First 5 Years

  • Mock handwriting imitates cursive writing and appears as a wavy line.

  • Conventional letters! Usually the first ones that appear are those in the child’s name. The letters may be written across the page in a string looking like a sentence or if repeated may appear to be a paragraph.

  • Mock letters are children’s first attempts at making conventional alphabet letters.

Writing projects:

Stages of Writing Development In The First 5 Years

  • Writing projects are offered on a daily basis all along the “maternelle” years. Our motto: joy, pleasure, and fun!

  • I like/I dislike… project connected to our cooking class.

  • With the support of horizontal strips, the students create a short sentence from left to write and with correct syntax.

  • “La Classe fictive”, Mirelle Brigaudiot: This is a problem resolution exercise based on first names; syllables. Children at The French Academie start to work on first names in written forms (theirs and their classmates) in the Tout Petit Programme.

    • Step 1: The teacher describes a fictive student.

    • Step 2: The teacher names the student, using syllables of classmates' first names.

    • Step 3: The children will write the first name, using all the tools they have in their bag: phonology, label names…

La Tenue Du Crayon: Pencil Grip

Stages of Writing Development In The First 5 Years

As children begin to learn how to write and draw, it is crucial to teach them how to hold a crayon and get a solid “pencil grip.” At The French Académie, children develop fine motor skills that will help and support them with the correct pencil grip. It is important to support the right grip at home too! Why? To have a fluid, fast, legible and comfortable writing, it is much harder to correct a wrong grip than to take good habits from the beginning.


Berninger of the University of Washington advocates for teaching multimodal writing. By studying kindergarteners and first graders she and a team of researchers at UW were able to show that handwriting plays an important role in reading. “We found an advantage for cursive. The children spelled better when they could use cursive. They wrote more, they wrote faster. They wrote better in their compositions when they could use cursive than when they printed or when they used the keyboard,” she reflects.

The future of handwriting skills is in question in the age of increasing technology. Below, evidence is presented that brain activation during letter perception is influenced in different but important ways by previous handing letters rather than typing or tracing those same letters. Preliterate, 5-year old children printed, typed and traced shapes and letters, then were shown images of those stimuli while undergoing MRI scanning. A previously documented “reading circuit” was recruited during letter perception aly after handwriting, not after the tracing or typing experience. Such findings show that handwriting is important for early recruitment in letter processing of brain regions known to underlie successful reading. Handwriting therefore may facilitate reading acquisition in young children.

Écrire en cursive, vraiment? 5 Benefits of Writing in Cursive:

  1. Once letter formation is learned, cursive is faster than printing and even keyboarding for many students.

  2. The connected letters result in increased fluency (speed and smoothness).

  3. Cursive writing has been shown to benefit learners with language difficulties like dyslexia and dysgraphia and fewer letter reversals common with dyslexics.

  4. Cursive results in better spelling as words are visualized in units.

  5. The ability to read cursive gives you access to many historical primary sources like the Constitution. Without it, you are missing out on a lot of historical information.

Stages of Writing Development In The First 5 Years

At The French Académie, we truly value the partnership between the school, the parents, and the teachers as we work together to shape our students’ hearts and minds.

We are passionate and dedicated to providing students with the highest quality, research-based education. If you have any questions about our original and unique approach to developing the motor skills necessary to write, please ask!

Our exhibit was just the tip of the iceberg behind the expertise that develops our whole curriculum; we feel privileged to offer this snapshot into the pedagogical process for you, the parents, that play a key role in supporting your child’s development.

Stages of Writing Development In The First 5 Years

Interested in visiting The French Académie of Minnetonka?

We offer a high-quality french immersion daycare and preschool in a play-based structured learning environment for children 18 months - 6 years. Our students not only benefit from the priceless gift of a second language, but also weekly forest school, Montessori activities and practical life skills, Reggio Emilia creative project explorations, steam and cultural learning in our on-site learning kitchen, and musical engagement that is built into our curriculum alongside weekly piano lessons offered to our preschool, pre-k, and kindergarten students.

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