The Parish School Blog

Getting Ready to Write

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Handwriting readiness is one of the many important skills we look for in the early childhood years. Like all areas of development, getting there is a journey that begins at birth. With remarkable synchrony and amazing speed, little ones grow from babies batting at toys to preschoolers writing letters. But a lot happens in that time to prepare young children for such precise fine motor work.

Handwriting requires a solid foundation and the integration of many systems; among preschoolers, there is a wide range of “typical” when it comes to fine motor skills. While there are some 3-year-olds who are interested and skilled in drawing, coloring and printing their names, many 5-year-olds are less eager and able. This is especially true of children with learning differences and delays in language, gross motor and attention skills; mastering the ability to print may develop later for them. Fortunately, here at The Parish School, students engage in a variety of fine and gross motor activities meant to promote writing readiness AND the ability to use their hands in all the ways they will need to.

When considering whether a child is ready to write, early childhood professionals look for the following skills:

  • Adequate attention and self-regulation to engage in drawing, coloring, arts and crafts, and other fine motor work
  • Functional pencil grasp (holding a pencil with fingers instead of the whole hand)
  • Ability to draw most prewriting strokes and shapes (horizontal and vertical lines, diagonal lines, circles, crosses, and “x”)
  • Interest in letters and words
  • Ability to identify many letters as well as the child’s own name


young girl writing


Every time children use their hands and eyes together, they’re building the foundational skills for writing, even if they aren’t holding a crayon or pencil. Outdoor play climbing, pushing, pulling and digging builds body, arm and hand strength needed to sit up straight, and to hold and control a pencil. Construction with Legos and other blocks strengthens fine motor muscles, refines grasp and works on visual discrimination. Scribbling and drawing encourages a child to imagine and to convey messages through creative means. Squeezing, rolling and mashing Playdoh and cutting with scissors builds manipulation skills as well as attention, focus and strength. Play with letters and words builds visual memory and connection between print and the spoken word.

There are endless, creative ways to promote prewriting skills and writing readiness at home that may or may not require pencils. Here are some tried and true favorites:

  • Use small stickers or stamps to follow the outline of the first letter of the child’s name, starting at the top.
  • Use a paintbrush and a bucket of water to “paint” a fence or sidewalk or to erase letters on a chalkboard following the letter formation.
  • Practice strokes and shapes in shaving cream with an index finger on the shower door or in pudding on a tabletop.
  • Build letters using small toy cars, toy animals, blocks or sticks.
  • Print coloring pages of favorite book and TV characters for your child to color.
  • Engage your child in cooking and baking activities (pouring, stirring, cutting, cracking eggs, etc.).
  • Have your child “mark off” or circle items on your grocery list after they go into the cart.
  • Create simple dot-to-dot pictures with numbers or letters for your child to complete.
  • Find shapes, letters and words in their environment: traffic signs, billboards, restaurant and grocery store signs.
  • Draw “race track” letters on large construction paper and “drive” small cars following each letter formation.

The most important thing is to keep it fun and short! Demonstrate and model. When the activity is too difficult or not very motivating to your child, you will know it. Sometimes it just takes a small adjustment to make an activity more appealing and successful. If you have questions about your child’s fine motor development or need more ideas for home, please contact your child’s teachers or occupational therapist.