Learning About Print

When three-year-old Ella misses her grandparents, her mother suggests they write a letter and invite them for a visit. Here, enthusiastic Ella dictates—down to every detail—what she wants to say.

While her mother transcribes Ella’s words, she takes the opportunity to demonstrate some ordinary conventions of letter writing, like starting at the top of the page with “Dear” and writing the body of the letter in the middle.

They hit a little stumbling block when Ella, who already knows how to recognize her own name in print, protests when she sees the pronoun “I.” She insists that her actual name be added. Her mother does so in parentheses.

When reminded that her purpose is to invite her grandparents for a visit, the child takes the marker away from her mother and makes scribbles on the page while saying,“Please come visit Sophie and Sasha” (her pets). Gently, the mother takes back the marker and explains that she must write words in order for the grandparents to understand. After this, Ella dictates all they will do on their visit, such as play a game and eat a fruit roll-up.

“Now we have to say that this is from you. We write that down here at the end of the letter. We write Love.

Love who?”

“Love Ella!” she declares.

The mother goes on to explain that the letter will go to the post office and that the letter carrier will deliver it to Papa and Grandma’s house so they can read it. Whether or not Ella is listening is unclear. Already she is off to the next thing, picking up a doll, beginning a game of pretend.

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