Encouraging Pre-Handwriting Skills


Photo courtesy of Clip-Art

While handwriting is an important skill for children to learn, they aren’t developmentally equipped to write letters with diagonals until age 5 and can develop poor habits if asked to try before they’re ready.  However, there are a few tips to encourage PRE-Handwriting skills to children under age 5:

  • Around age 3, children should be using fingertips on a pencil or crayon to color rather than a fist.  However, they may not move to just 3 fingers until age 5.  Encourage your child to use their fingers by using small, broken pieces of crayon to color or bulb crayons, like Alex brand finger crayons.
  • Begin reinforcing good habits as soon as they express interest in writing letters.  Letters are formed most efficiently from top to bottom.
  • Don’t substitute video learning games for fine motor activities like drawing and coloring – they do not build the foundational muscle control needed for writing.  And remember – no more than 2 hours of screen time a day (video, computer, TV, iPad, etc).
  • Good activities for foundational skills include mazes, dot-to-dot puzzles, tracing with color change markers and lacing.
  • You can put maze books or dot-to-dot books in a sheet protector and use dry erase markers over and over.
  • Work on recognizing letters and spelling your child’s name with magnets rather than trying to write.

Here are some fun activities to use with your kids:

Crayola Switchers
String Along Lacing Kit
Melissa and Doug Deluxe Alphabet Stamps
School Smart Dough
Squeeze Rocket
Squeezer and Tweezers
Magnetic Train Maze 
First Mazes

By:  Rebecca Thomas, MOT
Occupational Therapist

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Handwriting: Irrelevant or Indispensable?

When was the last time  you wrote a letter to someone?  Addressed an invitation?  Even addressed a bill?  In today’s digital age, handwriting is a thing of the past, like a giant cell phone with a 6 inch antenna, right?  When you can print anything from address labels to autobiographies on your computer with ease, why would  we want to waste valuable instruction time in our already taxed schools on this antiquated skills?

How many times does a child miss a question on a test because the teacher couldn’t read it or time ran out?  Or lose her place in a lecture because she couldn’t write fast enough to keep up?  Or get a lower grade on an essay because his hand tired out?  Or miss a math equation because the numbers weren’t lined up?  Legible writing and higher grades are inextricably linked, and having good handwriting can be a self esteem booster for the student who struggles in more academically challenging tasks.  How can a child hope to remember that difficult word on his spelling test if he’s too busy remembering how to make the letters?  If we can help them make their writing automatic, we can free their minds to move on to more important things – like learning, analyzing, and creating.

As teachers feel the extreme pressure for test score improvement, a subjective skill like handwriting has little hope of making the list.  However, we ignore one of the three “R’s” at the risk of costing our children an important learning and expression tool.  Instead of lamenting the loss of something that was a critical part of our own education, we as parents can take matters into our own hands, offering our children support in learning this basic skill for better success in their academic careers.  Many ready-made worksheets or home program books are available, or you can ask your teacher or occupational therapist for more information.

My favorite music teacher from elementary school had a saying, “practice makes permanent.”  I quote this phrase to my kids often, much to their annoyance, but it is true – when we repeat a motor skill over and over, the plan for that skill is cemented in our brain.  If our kids are left to flounder, essentially teaching themselves to write, inefficient and labor intensive writing habits will be their fate, diminishing their ability to function in the school setting.  Writing is about much more than that thank you note to Granny for the hand-knitted socks – the ability to think and write, or listen and write, in a way that you or someone else can go back and read later is essential for note taking, test taking, and creative expression for all students.  Until there is a computer for every child in every grade in every school, we fail our children when we fail to teach them to write.  And by the way, they aren’t being taught keyboarding skills, either!

By:  Rebecca Thomas, MOT