Please Don’t Say This Isn’t Writing


I drew this picture in 1975 and told my parents it was titled, “My father the King.”

I was three.

Can you see the king in my scribbles? His crown? His cloak? Thank goodness my parents were hip to early childhood education because you know what they did? They told me to sign it. See the H? And they matted it. They held it up and claimed it as my first story.

There are many students in our primary classrooms who didn’t have the same opportunities with tools and encouragement. Sometimes it’s at school that they create their first king scribbles. As educators we are so lucky when we get to be there for that moment.

The earliest cave paintings are dated almost 40,000 years ago. We know that the scratchings represented the first stories, the first histories. There is no question that they capture and convey meaning.

So I am still surprised when teachers tell me their kindergartners aren’t writing. It’s almost as if they’ve said, “They aren’t breathing.” I have to suppress my gasp.

“They aren’t writing?” I’ll ask.

“Well, they are drawing and putting in random letters, but they aren’t writing-writing.”

Oh, writing-writing. You mean transmitting important ideas to others? Hmmm…I’m pretty sure they are. Here’s what happens if we don’t call scribbles, pictures, random letters and swirls writing. We don’t hold it up. We don’t stop the class and say, “Look at this book! Listen to this story!” We don’t say, “Tell me more about what you’ve written here.” We make the club of writers exclusive. Up on the clubhouse door we tack a sign that says, “Kids who write book-like text are the only ones welcome.”

Instead we say, “Come to the carpet, writers. I can’t wait to show you what Isabel has done. She’s got three pages in her book that show how her bunny scratched her. Look at the ears. Look at the details of the scratches on her arm. And look! On this page she added a letter ‘B.’ Isabel, I hope you’ll put your book in the library so we can all read it. And make sure to add your name so we know who the author is.”

That’s how we grow writers.

What do you think?

7 thoughts on “Please Don’t Say This Isn’t Writing

  1. Preach it.

    I always refer to authors by their first names, too… to help our young writers feel like part of the club. They refer to authors like, “Oh, Eric? Eric Carle? Yeah, I write books about caterpillars, too.”

    Thanks for the encouragement!

  2. So important to remember how lucky we are to have the opportunity to let them know they are writers. Love this line: “As educators we are so lucky when we get to be there for that moment.”
    Thank you
    Clare and Tammy

  3. I worked with a kindergarten teacher who would respond, “What is this supposed to be?” when a child proudly presented their writing or drawing. One of my proudest accomplishments was to teach her to respond, “Tell me about your picture” or “Please read your writing to me.”

  4. Tears in my eyes…the power we have is to influence one another, especially our children, is pretty awesome. So glad your parents did this for you so we could enjoy your writing from then and now!

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