Writing Skills: What to Expect at Different Ages

By The Understood Team
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Learning to write involves many skills. Kids need fine motor skills for handwriting and typing. Getting words on paper also requires spelling and other skills closely related to reading.

Writers need to organize their thoughts. As they get older, they’re expected to use more complex sentence structure and vocabulary. They also have to do more planning, drafting, and revising. Many kids have a tough time using these self-regulation strategies in writing.

Kids develop writing skills at different rates. But they tend to meet certain milestones by certain ages. Here’s how writing skills typically develop as kids get older.

Toddlers (Ages 1–2 years)

  • Hold crayon in clenched fist

  • Understand that crayons are used for making scribbles

Preschoolers (Ages 3–4 years)

  • Draw wavy lines across the page that look like lines of text from a book

  • Make distinct marks that look like letters and that are separated from each other

  • Write some actual letters, especially the letters in their name

  • May write their name

  • May try different kinds of writing, like writing a list or a card

  • May start to draw pictures and label them using letters or letter-like marks

Younger Grade-Schoolers (Ages 5–7 years)

  • Hold pencil correctly and form letters accurately

  • Know the sounds letters make and spell words based on how they sound

  • Spell some common words that aren’t spelled the way they sound (often called sight words)

  • Use different endings for the same word, like walks, walking, and walked

  • In kindergarten, label pictures with a few words and begin to write simple sentences with correct grammar

  • By the end of first or second grade, write a page or more about personal experiences and what they’re learning in school

  • May start using different types of writing like narratives and opinion papers (“Why I liked this book”)

Older Grade-Schoolers (Ages 8–10 years)

  • Spell words using knowledge of prefixes, suffixes, and root words, like helpful, helpless, and unhelpful

  • Write more complex sentences and use a variety of sentences to express ideas clearly

  • Use different structure and content for different kinds of papers (narrative, informative, and persuasive)

  • Understand the process of planning, drafting, and revising, and begin to use strategies for each of these steps

  • May start to use source materials to gather information for writing

  • May begin to type fairly quickly on a keyboard, if the school teaches this skill

Middle-Schoolers

  • Continue to develop typing skills, grammar knowledge, and vocabulary

  • Write more complex narratives that describe personal experiences

  • Cite sources in informative/research papers

  • Write argumentative papers that support claims with reasons and evidence and that consider opposing positions

  • Use strategies for planning and revising, including how to search for accurate information on the internet

High-Schoolers

  • Continue to develop typing skills, grammar knowledge, and vocabulary

  • Write longer and more complex papers on various subjects (science, social studies, literature)

  • Use planning strategies to search for and combine information from multiple sources

  • Continue to develop strategies for revising

Remember that all kids are different. Your child might do well with one skill but still be a little behind with another.

If your child isn’t hitting many of these writing milestones, find out why some kids have trouble with writing. Struggling with writing doesn’t mean your child isn’t smart. Some kids just need more support to thrive as writers.

About the Author

About the Author

The Understood Team 

is made up of passionate writers, editors, and community moderators. Many of them learn and think differently, or have kids who do.

Reviewed by

Reviewed by

Charles A. MacArthur, PhD 

a professor of special education, researches writing instruction, self-regulated strategies, and assistive technology.

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