Pre-writing skills

Last week I wrote about teaching activities that promote independence and life skills before teaching more typical “preschool skills”. Today, I’d like to share the ways I’ve successfully taught pre-writing skills once my students were ready to learn them.

I won’t be mentioning the ages that I did each of these activities at, but rather a rough order in which they should be completed. This is because, as I spoke about before, if different independence skills have not yet been mastered, your preschooler may not be ready for writing.

These activities can be done at home and in the classroom, and your preschooler may have some experience with them already.

One of the key things about pre-writing skills, I believe, is to make it fun and interesting for them so that they stay engaged and interested.

Initial skills

Strengthening the muscles in your child’s hands and fingers is key before they can be expected to hold a pencil. Forget about writing implements for the time being and try some of the ativities below:

Playdough – you may not immediately think of playdough being a part of pre-writing, but it is so useful when building manipulative skills and muscles in the fingers and hands. Making playdough is also a super easy and fun activity to do with children at school or at home.

Baking– Baking with your preschooler is not only a fun and easy activity but it builds so many skills. Listening to and understanding directions are added bonuses, as your child strengthens their finger and hand muscles by kneading dough, mixing, and stirring.

I like making apple crumble with children where they cut apples independently and get to work the ingredients between their fingers – such a simple and delicious task!

Tearing paper – this may come across as a bizarre activity, but it develops fine motor skills well and is also good fun.

Try making suncatchers with your child by asking them to tear paper into small shreds and gluing them onto pre-cut shapes.

Lego/Duplo – hours of fun can be had with these materials and they are great for independent play, group play, and imagination. Most recently, the children in my class enjoyed making spaceships. I was so impressed with their attention to detail and how well they focussed on this child-led task.

Here, children are using very small pieces and improving their dexterity in a way that gives them tangible results – developed fine motor skills are a great by-product of this activity.

As fine motor skills develop

As your child’s fine motor skills develop and the muscles in their hands and fingers strengthen, you can move onto some more complex activities and games.

Threading beads – this can be done with wool, yarn, pipe cleaners, etc. This can be a short filler activity or a longer, more thought out part of independent play. Threading is also a fun way to work on cognitive skills like patterns – something your child will be working on at preschool too as part of their early maths skills.

Finger puppets – the children in my classes have always loved finger puppets whether they are made from paper, card, felt, or shop-bought puppets.

While manoeuvring the puppets and making up or retelling a story, your child is strengthening their fine motor skills. This task also helps practice recalling stories, which is a part of early literacy.

Painting – you can use a thick paintbrush, your fingers, pegs with pompoms on the end, or even cotton earbuds to paint with. This is a great creative activity where children can mix colours, explore patterns, and get good and messy!

Tracing in sand or shaving foam – here you may find that your child starts to make patterns, draw shapes, or they may just make a mess.

Each of these are important steps for pre-writing as they help children move from left to right, up to down, and vice versa.

Sensory tables – this is another messy one where children can have a lot of fun exploring. Sensory tables can be made up of many different items to encourage a variety of skills. When developing fine motor skills, a sensory table with small beads, beans, rice, pasta, pompoms, and some tweezers is great.

Indicators your child is ready to move on to the next step

If you see that your child’s drawings start to form shapes and look different from scribbles, this is an indication that their motor skills are ready to move onto the next step.

Another indicator is that your child shows an interest in letters and numbers that they see around them; perhaps asking what words say. I often see, living in Prague, that children start to show an interest in tram numbers around the time they are ready to start writing too.  

Pre-writing ready

If and when your child is ready, try the two techniques below and see how they work for you. I will also add links so you can see for yourself.

Crocodile technique – the children I’ve taught really love this as I initiate it as a game. The way I teach it is that your hand and fingers are a crocodile and they are hungry and want to eat fish (a pencil or a pen).

It is also very easy to correct or to enforce by saying “remember the hungry crocodile”, and children correct their finger position themselves.

Here’s a link for you to see this technique in action:

Sock on the hand technique – this one really is as it sounds. All you need is an old sock to cut a hole in!

Cut two holes in the sock and have your child place their hand inside with their finger and thumb sticking out.

Put a pencil in your child’s hand and have them hold it with their thumb and forefinger. This trains muscle memory and, once the sock can be removed, your child will find holding a pencil much easier

Other methods to teach pre-writing skills

These are just the ways that I teach pre-writing and writing skills but there are so many more out there. Why not ask your child’s teacher for their methods, too?

You may find that your child has well developed fine motor skills already and doesn’t need the help of these methods to start to write. That’s fine!

It’s also fine if your child needs to try all of these techniques and even more before they can hold a pen or pencil and start writing their name.

Remember that all children learn at their own pace and that it is our job, as teachers and parents, to help them along the way.

How did your child get on with these techniques? What was successful for you? Please leave a reply to share your own tips that worked for your child.

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