For many little kids, writing comes first. Not writing words but writing pictures to tell stories.
I was with a four-year-old recently, and listened as he explained his drawing on a white board in his house. On the left were three smiling stick figures—a tall one who was waving, a medium-sized one with long hair, and a short one. “That’s my dad, that’s my mom, and that’s me,” he said.
Next was what looked like a rocket ship in motion. “We are flying,” he explained.
Farther along in the drawing was a circular object. “That’s the moon,” he said.
“Are you going to the moon?” I asked.
“No!” he said, rather disgusted with my reasoning. “We are going to Brazil.”
At the far right of the white board were the long-haired stick figure and the short stick figure, almost falling off the edge of the white board. “Now me and Mom are in Brazil.”
This story’s ideas came from the child’s head—he will be traveling to Brazil soon with his mother—but also from the many books his parents have read to him (and the many cartoons he has watched). From those sources he has unconsciously learned that stories are written in English from left to right; that they have a beginning, middle and end; that they are told in chronological order; and that they contain characters who do something.
This child can write his name. He knows the alphabet in English and in Portuguese. He can read some sight words in English. But he cannot write a story in words.
Yet he can write a story in pictures, incorporating many of the fundamental aspects of story-telling.
So which comes first—reading or writing?