Once toddlers see the magic that appears when they use a neon orange marker, they are fascinated with writing and the tools to do it.

Children experiment with writing, as they do everything, because they are curious. They grasp crayons and markers in various ways and in a wide range of motions — fast and furious to slow and steady. Most people call these beginning marks “scribbling.” Instead, try calling children’s first scribbles “magic marks” and see how proud they are.

Given the opportunity, children as young as 18 months will experiment with writing — especially if the effort is easy and the result is dramatic. Before long their marks progress from picture-like, to print-like, or include both types in one drawing, explaining that the small wavy lines are words, and the bigger marks are pictures. By 4 years old, your childr may try making the initial letter of their name, or “M” for the beginning of mom. Encourage their progress by modeling writing often. Write shopping lists, a thank you note to a friend or holiday cards together.

Learning to read and write happens at the same time. As they progress through the stages of writing, every child is unique. There will be variations from one child to another. At all stages, it’s important to respect their efforts and be amazed by their accomplishments.