How to Help Children Develop Pre-Writing Skills
Let’s talk writing readiness. Do you want your child to start developing pre-writing skills in the early years? Then take that pencil away from your toddler, avoid pushing your little one to colour inside the lines and start focusing on the skills that they really need to develop from an early age in order to set a good foundation for future writing.
Here are our top tips on how to help young children develop good pre-writing skills which are the stepping stones in their journey towards a good pencil grip and to improve their ability to write, draw and colour.
Let them be active!
Children start developing the skills which they need for writing long before they are introduced to crayons and coloured pencils. Afterall, to write properly we need to rely on much more than just our hands, wrists and fingers. From well-developed shoulders meant to facilitate our arm and wrist movement to a strong core and neck to give us stability and help us sit upright, before children develop the fine motor movements which are needed for writing, they should build strong gross motor skills. As such, the ground-work of writing readiness should ideally start when your child is still a baby! Making ‘tummy time’ an important part of your baby’s daily routine and encouraging your little one to explore by lifting their head, rolling, sitting, crawling, pulling themselves up and moving around is a great way to start developing those strong core muscles and improving postural control.
If your child is no longer a baby and you believe he/she hasn’t developed their core strength enough, don’t despair! Instead, just ensure that you start giving your toddler plenty of opportunities to do what young children enjoy doing the most – playing and being active! Encouraging them to explore playground equipment like slides, swings and seesaws, and motivating them to move in various ways, such as by crawling, running and trying different animals walks, is a simple yet very effective manner to further improve postural control and muscle strength which are essential for writing readiness.
When it comes to young children, more often than not, parents tend to be very tempted to do everything for them either because it’s hard to see our little one struggling to complete tasks or simply because – truth be told! – we are in a rush and don’t have time to wait for a toddler to complete something which we can do at a much faster pace. However, believe it or not, everyday tasks, such as self-feeding, getting dressed, pouring water into a cup, tidying up toys, opening/closing snack boxes, can greatly help children develop skills which are essential for writing readiness. These include: hand-eye coordination, bilateral integration, pincer grasp, as well as their ability to cross the midline. Technical terms aside, what’s important to remember is that, when it comes to developing these important skills, children need plenty of practice! So, avoid jumping to their rescue when they are trying to get dressed on their own and keep calm when they make a mess attempting to take a spoonful of food to their mouth. By allowing your toddler to have-a-go at these self-help skills on a regular basis you are not only helping to boost their confidence but also encouraging them to enhance skills which, when underdeveloped, can lead to lots of frustration and difficulties when it’s finally time for your child to hold a pencil and start forming letters and words.
Make time for sensory play
There are many more benefits to sensory play than meets the eye. Research shows that stimulating a young child’s senses of touch, smell, taste, sight and hearing through play-based activities from an early age can help build nerve connections in the brain’s pathways, support language development, problem solving skills and cognitive growth. Not less important is the immense impact of these sensory activities on children’s gross and fine motor skills development which, as already highlighted, are key in the path of writing readiness. With this in mind, make a point of encouraging your little one to explore the world through their senses as much as possible from a young age. Short of ideas? Here are a few suggestions which won’t break the bank:
- Create a treasure basket for your baby: Add lots of every day objects of different textures to a natural basket and let your baby pull, grasp, squeeze and explore them while sitting down or during tummy time. In addition to strengthening their core muscles (while sitting or lying down), manipulating items in a treasure basket can improve hand-eye coordination and help babies develop the small muscles of their hands and fingers.
- Go on a nature walk: Be it at the beach or at a park, nature walks are fun and very beneficial for young children. During these walks, our little ones get to not only touch and feel things like sand, shells, grass and sticks but also have a chance to develop their gross motor skills and overall balance and coordination while walking on different surfaces, climbing and exploring their surroundings.
- Make your own scented playdough: Most people know that playdough is easy to make and lots of fun but did you know that manipulating it can help children get ready to hold a pencil and write in the future? As your little one plays with this malleable resource, he/she is strengthening all the small muscles in their hands, wrists and fingers.
- Pop bubbles together: Popping bubbles can improve hand-eye and bilateral coordination and, when we encourage children to pop bubbles using just one finger at a time, it can also enhance a child’s ability of isolating their fingers as opposed to moving all fingers together in unison like young children tend to do.
Make pre-writing fun!
Marking marks, such as lines, patterns, scribbles and shapes, is certainly an important step in a pre-schooler’s journey towards writing. So, what can you do when your child – the year before joining school – still doesn’t display an interest towards sitting down and taking part in mark making activities? Think outside the box! Mark making can be done in various different ways and, for an active young child, sitting down to draw and colour with common tools like crayons and coloured pencils might be the least exciting of them all. So, introduce different ways of making marks and writing which will allow your child to use their imagination, move their whole body and explore different media and materials while being creative. For example, instead of using A4 paper and having it on top of a table, stick a long roll of paper to a wall, floor or under the table! This will encourage your little artist to develop their core strength and ability to cross the midline as he/she makes marks and reaches up, down, left and right while standing or lying down on their tummy or back. Making marks with chunky chalks or a brush and water on the pavement, using their fingers to create patterns and shapes in a messy mix of flour and water or shaving foam, and creating their own ice paint by freezing water and food colouring and then using it to create an icy masterpiece are activities which are also much more likely to spark young children’s curiosity and enthusiasm and, consequently, motivate them to improve their pre-writing skills while having a blast!
Build their confidence by valuing the marks they make
Once your pre-schooler starts showing an interest towards making their own marks and drawings, do ensure that you value what they’ve made by showing an interest towards it. Rather than trying to guess what their drawings represent, encourage them to tell it to you themselves. Giving meaning to the drawings they make, regardless of how perfect it might look, represents an important milestone in a young child’s cognitive development: your little one is now beginning to understand that real objects can be symbolized using marks.
To encourage your child to keep on making marks, you can praise their efforts and focus on the process involved in the creation of their little masterpieces rather than on the final product. For example: “I love how you’ve used so many different colours! Tell me more about what you’ve made.” It’s also a good idea to tell your child about the marks you make on a daily basis and allow them to help you with tasks like writing the grocery list and making a birthday card. Don’t forget to encourage them to pay attention to written words that are all around us and to explore writing when role playing – can they write a prescription for the sick teddy bear? How about writing the recipe for the delicious playdough cupcakes which they’ve made? The idea is to motivate children to start mastering strokes like straight lines, curved lines, zigzags and shapes (which most letters, numbers and early drawings are made of!), while also exposing them to the concept that print carries meaning. Who knows?… If all goes well, you might even be able to plant the seed that will transform writing not into a task they dread at school but a pastime which they might come to truly enjoy in the future.
Mrs Carol. Oliveira