Handbook of Language and Literacy Development - a Roadmap from 0 to 60 Months

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Developmental Milestones

Written by: Dorothy Steffler, Concordia University College of Alberta, and Sarah Critten, University of Hertfordshire

13-24 months
Interest in Print Activities

Especially interested in imitating parents and siblings at printing and writing activities.

Initiates activities of own interest.

Develops an interest in print activities – books, drawing, using writing tools to make marks.

Fine Motor Skills

Fine motor skills necessary to hold a marker or crayon are developing.


Around 13 months of age, the ability to use his or her thumb in opposition to the forefinger is developing. This development and skill makes it easier to grasp a writing instrument such a crayon, pencil, pen, or marker.

Eye-hand co-ordination becomes more refined.

Between 18 and 24 months the ability to hold and use a writing instrument continues to become more refined.

Cognitive Development: Symbolic Representation

Continues to refine and use symbols to represent objects. Shows he or she understands use of symbols by using marks on a page to represent words and objects in the child’s environment.


Demonstrates goal-oriented writing when he or she intentionally uses a crayon or pencil for a specific purpose such as to make marks.

Trial-and-error Exploration
Cause-and-effect Relationships

Trial-and-error exploration leads to understanding cause-and-effect relationships.


Continues to learn the relationship between their actions and external effects.


Continues to learn that marks on a writing surface leave a visible trace is an exciting and important milestone in toddlers’ understanding of the purpose of writing.

Implicit Knowledge of Writing

At 13 to 24 months of age children continue to learn implicitly (or unconsciously) about print and its uses.


With constant and varied exposure to books and printed materials as well as environmental print such as stop signs, toddlers develop an implicit understanding of print that prepares the foundation for explicit knowledge of writing.

25-36 months
Implicit Knowledge of Writing

Begins to imitate cursive writing with continuous strings of wavy lines, and discontinuous print (such as print found in books, on signs and cereal boxes)with circles and stick-like marks.


Continues to develop the ability to differentiate between pictures and print and between drawing and writing.


When drawing, 25-36 month-old children make big and wide, continuous, circular movements.


When writing, 25-36 month-old children use less fluid motions than when they are drawing, lift their pencils more frequently, grasp their pencils more intently, and hold their heads closer to the page.


By 36 months of age, children produce writing that is visibly different from their drawing

Invented Writing:
Linearity and Spatial Appearance of Writing

At 30-36 months, children begin to understand some of the conventions of writing: linear form, left-to-right directionality, distinguishable units, and blanks between blocks of writing

Attempts to imitate individual alphabet letters
Writing Own Name

By 30-36 months, children attempt to write their own name by using the first letter of their name


Children often identify the first letter of their name as their “own” letter


Attempts to write other letters of the alphabet using curves or sticks similar in shape to the first letter of their own name


Beginning Stages of Spelling: Precommunicative, Prephonemic, or Emergent spellers


At 30-36 months, children use one letter to represent an entire word.


They include spaces among strings of wavy lines to represent individual words as a unit of speech and writing, thus demonstrating an understanding of the connection between spoken and written words. A very important development in understanding the relationships among sounds, writing and spelling.

37-48 months
Writing Constraints: Linearity, Variety, and Multiplicity
U-shaped Developmental Trajectory

Connecting Speech to Writing - A Monumental Leap in Children’s Understanding of Written Language


Knows the differences between writing from other markings on a paper, sign, picture, or computer.


Knows that writing is usually constructed from left to right, with a variety of letters, and multiple letters in a string.


Temporary regressions in outward expression of knowledge often indicate cognitive advancement. Sometimes when children are learning one new thing they appear to forget something they had learned before. This phase is temporary.


For example, it may appear as though they have regressed in or forgotten their knowledge of writing. Now concentrating on printing various letters so their expression of linearity may not be as pronounced compared to earlier strings of wavy lines.


Producing symbols that resemble conventional letters, variation in height within the line of writing, a variety of units, separated by spaces, indicating knowledge of individual words.


Generally, the minimum number of letters in a string is around three. Four-year-olds will avoid having identical marks one after the other, indicating knowledge that usually there are a variety of letters in a word


When children are attempting to read they may follow a line of print in a storybook with their finger, and stop when they stop “reading” aloud. They are searching for the correspondence between what is spoken and the marks on the paper.


Children may represent longer spoken words with longer letter strings, e.g., kangaroo may be written with a longer string than bear even though they are not correctly spelling either – they just hear more sounds in kangaroo than in bear so they will make more marks on the paper for kangaroo.


Stages of Spelling: Semiphonetic, Early Phonemic, or Early Letter-name Spellers


Children write recognizable letters. They will use one letter to represent an entire word. Between 37 and 48 months of age, children will generally progress to using more than one letter when writing a word.


By 48 months, children will include a variety of letters when writing isolated words.


Children show awareness that writing is used to represent meaning.


Familiar letters are favoured, such as various letters in their own name, their parents’ or siblings’ names because these letters have meaning attached to them.

 49- 60 months
Cognitive Development: Decline in Egocentric Thought

Children develop the understanding that others have different points of view from their own. They begin to understand differences between the subjective (what child think and feels) and objective (what others might think and feel) perspectives.


They learn that writing contains objective meaning. In order to express meaning, children will create variety in their writing by using a variety of letters or reordering familiar letters.

Connecting Speech to Print: Letter-sound Correspondence
Letter-name Knowledge

A qualitative change occurs in children’s writing when they attempt to assign sound values to parts of words or individual letters.


Children begin to realize that there is a connection between individual sounds and letters: the letter M sounds like mmmmm.


Letter-name knowledge facilitates the acquisition and development of the alphabetic principle - understanding the link between letters and sounds, a major step in writing acquisition.


Beginning Stages of Spelling: Semiphonetic, Early Phonemic, or Early Letter-name Spellers


Children show a preference for identifying letter-names or identifying syllables with a specific letter.


When children first begin to use sounds to write words they rely on the letters that make the most “noise”. They usually represent the consonants in words before the vowels, the first letters of a word (usually easier to hear) and then the first and last letters of a word. The middle of a word is the most difficult to hear. Children confuse letters that are articulated at the same place in the mouth, e.g., dr and j.


Children include spaces between words and this spacing is a precursor to more sophisticated attempts at representing all the sounds in a word.