Writing milestones

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Learn about the development of writing skills at different stages.

Key points

  • Your child goes through a series of steps, or "milestones" as they develop their writing skills.
  • Not all children learn at the same pace.
  • You can help your child develop their basic skills for writing using a variety of activities.

Once children start speaking, they move on to develop reading skills and later writing skills. This page describes the typical writing achievements for a child at different grade levels from kindergarten to Grade 3.

The "milestones" below are a general guide.

Writing skills

Writing skills fall into two broad categories:

  1. The mechanics of writing, such as holding a pencil or making the shapes of letters.
  2. Written expression, which uses written language to communicate ideas.

Developmental milestones

By the end of Senior Kindergarten (SK)

By the end of SK, many children are able to:

  • show they understand that text is written left to right, words have spaces between them, and words have capital and lowercase letters
  • print most letters of the alphabet
  • print their own name, names of family members, and some short words (e.g., "cat" and "dad")
  • use a variety of instruments to communicate, including crayons, markers, pencils and paper; computers or tablets; and chalkboards or whiteboards
  • contribute words or sentences to a class story written down by the teacher
  • write messages using a combination of pictures, symbols, and letters

By the end of Grade 1

By the end of Grade 1, many children are able to:

  • use phonics to decode or spell basic words
  • write simple but complete sentences
  • correctly form the plural of single-syllable words
  • use periods and capitals when writing
  • correctly spell high frequency words that have been taught in the classroom (e.g., “and", "the", "as", "it")
  • print recognizable letters
  • leave spaces between words when writing

By the end of Grade 3

By the end of Grade 3, many children are able to:

  • use correct subject-verb agreement when writing
  • use nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs correctly
  • use irregular plurals correctly such as deer, children
  • use apostrophes in contractions, for example cannot = can't
  • use exclamations
  • use phonics (letter sounds) and spelling rules when spelling
  • use different sources to check how to spell unfamiliar words
  • divide words into syllables
  • use prefixes, suffixes and compound words
  • use titles and subheadings to organize writing
  • print words clearly

How to help your child develop skills necessary for writing

Play with symbols

Young children benefit from copying simple shapes such as vertical and horizontal lines, circles, and squares. As they progress their writing skills, help your child develop symbol-name association by introducing letter and number shapes that they can trace, including their own name or the names of family members.

You can also help your child develop their writing skills by encouraging them to write simple words from dictation. When your child is telling a fun story, stop and exclaim, “Let me write that down!” to support the association from the narrative to the written word.

Read to your child on a daily basis

Talk to your child about what you are reading together. Ask them questions about the story and write down their thoughts about the narrative.

Reading to your child also presents the opportunity to talk to them about the things that they would like to write about. You can show them different types of written materials as examples such as comics, game cards, jokes, song lyrics, graphic novels, fiction and non-fiction books, and newspapers.

Encourage writing activities

Make writing fun, and engage in activities together:

  • Draw pictures
  • Print your child’ s name on birthday cards
  • Write greeting cards, thank you notes, letters, emails and text messages
  • Create “to do” lists with your child
  • Be a good writing role model

Quick tips for helping your child learn


For more videos from SickKids experts in collaboration with Youngster, visit Youngster on YouTube.

General tips

  • Praise your child for engaging in writing activities.
  • Encourage your child to ask for help when they need it.
  • Include writing activities in daily life.

For more information on how to support your child at home, see Visuomotor skills: How to help your child.

What if I have questions about my child’s writing development?

Your child may be struggling with both aspects of writing—writing mechanics and written expression—or one of the two. Any struggle with these skills can hinder your child’s writing skills overall:

  • Your child may be able to make letter shapes, but they are unable to clearly express their ideas in writing.
  • Your child may have good ideas, but their difficulties with the mechanics of writing prevents them from getting their creative ideas onto paper.

If your child is having trouble mastering either or both of the fundamental writing skills, talk to their teacher to discuss a plan of action. Your child’s teacher can provide support, which might include providing you with a better understanding of where your child’s difficulty with writing lies and further activities you can do with your child at home to promote their writing skills.

Last updated: April 29th 2020