What’s in your… writing area?

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By Fe Luton

In this series Fe Luton explores the ways in which you can set up and run areas of continuous provision. Ideas for organisation, resources and planning are explored.

Writing area

Image: Early Years ideas from Tishylishy

How should my writing area be arranged?

Encouraging and supporting children to develop writing (or initially mark making) skills can be a tricky one to get right. Children need to develop confidence in their skills, without feeling that there is a ‘correct’ way to work in a writing area. They also need to be exposed to the purposes of writing and not recoil at the idea of writing for writing’s sake. We generally write for one of three reasons: to communicate something, to remember something, or to create something. We need to ensure that we use these three purposes as a benchmark against what we ask our children to do.

Your writing area may well prove highly popular with many children, but there will also be an array of children who are less keen. Often a lack of interest is reflective of a lack of confidence and skill and you will find yourself having to work hard to entice these children in. This can be done either by incorporating their passions into the area through theme or material (mark making with cars, for example) or by taking aspects of the writing area to those other areas that interest them (for example, wipe pens in the DUPLO).

Consider the following when organising your writing area:
  • Have you got a mobile writing trolley or carriers? You can also use writing belts and themed writing bags that children can carry with them so that they get ‘mobile’ opportunities to write in all areas
  • It’s also important to have static mark making and writing resources available for children to use in every area of the early years provision in your setting – including outside
  • Don’t dictate that children have to ‘write’ in this area as this will put off a large proportion of your class who feel that they can’t do this.
  • Many children will be highly motivated by the availability of embellishing resources – personalising and decorating writing is an easy win!
  • Try to avoid using the term ‘practising’ as this may stifle children in terms of having a go on their own – it may undermine confidence and teach them that writing is only correct when it looks a certain way. By the same token try to challenge children who spend a lot of time in the writing area yet tend to be practising at a level lower than their potential
  • Your writing area needs to be well organised and resources should not be overwhelming but interesting. Try and change the resources on a regular basis so that it doesn’t become stagnant
  • Have you thought about incorporating examples of writing (including those from the children) to inspire children?
  • Offer purpose to your writing table through real challenges – writing notes to the cleaners to apologise for excess mess, or writing shopping lists for a cooking activity
  • Children should have the opportunity to make marks/write on a large scale as much as a small scale – you could use the backs of rolls of wallpaper for this or use chalk or water on the floor outside

What resources should I have in my writing area?

  • Writing utensils – pencils, pens, felt tip pens, wax crayons, chalks, whiteboard pens, coloured crayons – make sure that they are well organised and that pencils are sharpened and pens are working.
  • Paper – ensure you have a broad array of paper available: various sizes, shapes, textures, lined and unlined, coloured and plain, booklets, scraps, blank greetings cards, notepads, sticky labels, sticky notes, postcards, diaries and address books, forms, invitations and envelopes. A range of paper will draw greater interest. Also have themed paper for interest and make sure that you have plenty of white boards and chalk boards available. You may also wish to include small sand trays to write in.
  • Written word – make sure that any words, name cards, and books that you have in this area are purely for reference and not really dictating to children how they should be writing. These resources are for children to use should they wish. Emphasise to children that having name cards for them to copy is more about practising the letter formation than it looking identical to the ‘perfect’ writing that forms their name.
  • Embellishments – stickers, real 1p stamps, Sellotape and string, paper clips, treasury tags, stickers and wrapping paper.
  • Support materials – clipboards, rulers and scissors, glue sticks, examples of writing for a range of purposes, dictionaries, wooden/gel numbers/shapes/letters, sound and formation cards. Themed resources – if your topic, for example, is autumn you may choose to add some leaves into your mark making area so the children can make some leaf rubbing pictures.
  • Outdoors – resources should reflect the larger scale and often more natural resources that children are drawn to outside. Large chalks, clipboards, paint brushes and buckets of water, thick marker pens and rolls of wallpaper could all be available in an outdoor ‘writing crate’.

Continuous provision

When considering continuous provision planning for your writing area, remember that it needs to reflect all abilities and interests. While some children will like direction, it is important that they are given real contexts and suggestions that will inspire them. Try to remind yourself that the end products are less important at this stage than the processes and the development of confidence, imagination and creativity. This area should be planned alongside physical development to support the fine motor skills of handwriting.

Offering ‘real’ challenges for children to explore, and letting them take ownership is a great way to encourage and support the development of early writing skills. Here are some ideas to get you started:

The Hungry Caterpillar Shopping List

  • Children to make a shopping list of things they think The Hungry Caterpillar will like
  • Children to use known sounds or to match sounds for writing where appropriate
  • Creativity
  • Problem solving
  • Sound recognition
  • Letter recognition
  • Shopping list strips of paper
  • Pencils and pens
  • Sound reference cards
  • The Hungry Caterpillar book
  • What do you think the caterpillar might like?
  • What did the caterpillar like to eat in his story?
  • Can you hear any sounds in that word?
  • Can you find the letter for that sound?
  • Can you read your list to me?

A Birthday Card For Bear

  • Have a class bear birthday and encourage the children to create birthday cards for it
  • Children to design a birthday card
  • Children to attempt to write their name
  • Creativity
  • Imagination
  • Sound recognition
  • Letter recognition
  • Blank cards
  • Embellishing and art materials
  • Pens and pencils
  • Name cards
  • Sample birthday cards
  • What sort of design do you think Bear might like?
  • Can you find your name?
  • Can you write your name?
  • Why do you think you need to write your name?

Rainbow Writing

  • Explain that overnight the toys in your classroom have taped some of your pens and pencils together (one of each rainbow colour). Ask children if they would do some rainbow drawing and writing for the toys as they clearly like rainbow colours!
  • Children to use pen/pencil bundles to mark make in the form of drawings or writing
  • Creativity
  • Imagination
  • Fine motor skills
  • Communication
  • Bundles of rainbow coloured pens and pencils taped together to form a ‘rainbow’ writing implement
  • An array of paper types, shapes and sizes
  • Wallpaper rolls
  • Embellishment materials
  • How will you hold such a big ‘pen’?
  • How will you draw/write with such a big ‘pen’?
  • What will you draw/write?
  • What have you drawn/written?
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