Developing pre-writing skills

Handwriting is a skill that is important throughout school. There are lots of fun ways to help preschool children develop the skills they need to be ready for learning handwriting when they begin school.

Handwriting is a complex skill which requires a number of pre-requisite skills including:

  • Trunk control: A steady trunk is needed as a base for the finely controlled movements of writing. A trunk which is floppy or unstable or one that is too rigid and stiff makes controlling movements difficult.
  • Shoulder stability: This requires many muscles to work together to hold the shoulder steady so that it can move in slow, controlled movements. Children who find this difficult struggle to produce the fine motor movements required for writing and may try to brace their arm against their side as they work.
  • Visual motor skills: This skill requires the eye and hand muscles to work together to copy and to form shapes on a page.
  • Visual perceptual skills: These skills involve the ability of the brain to make sense of information taken in by the eyes. This includes the ability to recognise and remember the shapes of letters and to see differences between letters with similar shapes such as b and d.
  • Fine motor skills: These skills involve the muscles of the hand and fingers working together to produce the small, controlled movements required for making marks on a page to form letters.

When do children learn handwriting skills?

12-16 Months: Toddlers begin to want to hold pencils or crayons and make scribbles on paper

16-20 Months: Toddlers are able to copy up/down and side to side marks on paper

20-24 Months: Toddlers are able to copy circular scribbles as well as up/down and side to side marks

2-3 Years: Younger preschoolers can copy single lines going up/down and side to side as well as copy a circle with a single line

3-4 Years: Older preschoolers can copy crosses, squares, and diagonal lines

4-5 Years: By the time a child is getting closer to starting school they can copy some letters and numbers and may begin to copy their name.

5-6 Years: In the first year of school children learn to copy most letters, write their name and begin to make letters from memory.

How can I help my child to be ready to develop handwriting skills? "There are lots of fun activities that you can do at home to develop your child's skills while playing or helping out with daily activities. It doesn't need to seem like hard work.

Help your child to develop gross motor skills to help develop trunk stability and shoulder control by:

  1. Playing wheelbarrow races
  2. Jumping on the trampoline
  3. Practicing yoga positions (rocket, tree, ninja)
  4. Swinging themselves on a swing
  5. Gym ball exercises
  6. Walking on stilts
  7. Playing twister
  8. Playing hopscotch
  9. Animal walks (duck, crab, kangaroo)
  10. Climbing on playgrounds

Give your child lots of opportunities to develop fine motor skills by:

  1. Doing craft activities such as painting, cutting and pasting, drawing, collage and stickers
  2. Playing with toys such as building and construction sets, Lego and threading beads
  3. Practicing aiming at a target, such as throwing bean bags or rolled up socks into a container, balls at a target drawn on a wall or through a hoop
  4. Playing games such as barrel of monkeys and Jenga
  5. Playing with tweezers, eye droppers and squeeze bottles
  6. Playing with play dough, plasticine, putty and gloop
  7. Cooking together and cutting, rolling, mixing, stirring and pouring
  8. Playing with pipe cleaners and pegs
  9. Playing with sand and water, digging, pouring and building
  10. Threading beads, coloured pasta, cut up straws or cardboard shapes punched with a holepunch.

Provide opportunities for your child to practice paper and pencil activities:

  1. Drawing mazes
  2. Doing dot to dot puzzles
  3. Using puzzle books
  4. Playing iPad drawing and tracing apps using a stylus pen
  5. Exploring different writing tools, wiggle pens and scented textas
  6. Drawing with pencils in a tray filled with flattened plasticine
  7. Drawing on a white board
  8. Drawing with chalk on a chalk board, wall or concrete
  9. Painting with a brush and water on the ground or wall
  10. Searching google images for pictures of favourite characters, printing and colouring them.

Provide opportunities for your child to develop visual skills by:

  1. Doing jigsaws
  2. Playing ‘I Spy’ games or books such as ‘Where’s Wally?’
  3. Looking at "spot the difference" pictures
  4. Playing "Guess Who?"
  5. Playing "Connect 4"
  6. Going on treasure hunts
  7. Doing tangram shape puzzles
  8. Sequencing patterns of shapes, toys, beads or coloured objects
  9. Catching and throwing balls
  10. Doing mazes or dot-to-dot puzzles

Develop your child's hand and finger strength by:

  1. Playing with play dough, clay or plasticine with a variety of tools.
  2. Cooking activities involving kneading and mixing, rolling, beating, sprinkling, decorating cakes or biscuits.
  3. Doing hole punching, stapling activities, stamping and stamp textas.
  4. Doing water play involving squeezing sponges, pouring cups and spray bottles. Spray flowers in the garden, fill with paint for a different art experience, and knock small plastic animals down. Encourage your child to use their index and middle fingers in the trigger.
  5. Playing games involving the use of tongs, teabag squeezers or tweezers. Fish for items such as sponges/ping pong balls in water, or move small objects from container to container (beads, peas, smarties, and blocks. Pick up small items like mini marshmallows.
  6. Put pegs on a line or around the top of a container according to colour.
  7. Playing Games such as Trouble, Hungry Hippos and Beetle that involve lots of firm pressing with fingers.
  8. Scrunching paper such as pages from old magazines. Scrunch paper into a ball and “shoot a hoop” into a washing basket or similar. Start with using two hands to scrunch then try one at a time. Tear paper or magazines and to make a collage
  9. Playing hammering and screwing activities (into soft wood or foam). Screwing/Unscrewing jars or containers. Place fun items inside such as craft materials or small toys. Play with wind-up toys or a jack in the box.
  10. Doing constructional activities such as Lego, Duplo, Meccano, Kinnex or Origami. Playing with elastic bands.

If you are concerned about your child’s handwriting occupational therapists can assess the underlying skills your child needs and develop any areas where your child needs extra support.

For more information about how an occupational therapist can help your child visit talkingmatters.com.au or call us on 82557137.

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