Early Literacy – Pre-Writing Skills


Are You Providing Enough Opportunities To Develop Pre-Writing Skills?

child writing on the wallWe know children learn best through active, hands-on play.

In order to be ready to write, children need to have developed hand skills. This means they need to have the strength and dexterity to handle, and control, small objects with their hands. But, they will also need to develop the muscles in their forearm and upper body to provide the strength and stability that will allow them to use their hands to manipulate and control writing instruments.

Eye-hand coordination is another pre-writing skill, as is the ability to process sensory information. The brain coordinates tactile and movement sensations as a child is writing, which allows him to make changes as needed to maintain muscle control.

We know that activities like painting, coloring and even finger painting help prepare the muscles and brain for writing. On this page, I will share some more activities and resources to help you provide the children in your program with opportunities to develop pre-writing skills.

First, let’s focus on ways to strengthen the upper body, shoulder, arm and wrist. Here are some activities that will help develop these muscles:

  • Outdoor and gross motor play is vital to developing the fine motor skills needed for writing. Be sure to provide the children in you program with plenty of opportunities to climb, hang, swing, and dangle from monkey bars or other playground equipment. Twisting, turning, pushing, pulling, tugging, and lifting himself up are other activities that help to develop the muscles used for writing.
  • Use vertical spaces for drawing and other activities such as flannel boards, chalkboards, and letter and number magnets to strengthen the upper body while standing.
  • Provide lots of opportunity to work with Play-Doh and clay which helps develop finger and hand strength and control. When they are playing with these materials, children are squeezing and kneading, poking and pinching, rolling and pressing – all excellent strength building movements.
  • Provide comfy spaces to encourage tummy-lying on the floor with arms propped on forearms to read books, color or do puzzles.

Don’t Assume That Parents Are Making The Connection Between Play And Pre-Writing Skills

child swinging upside downDid you notice that all of the activities above that help develop and strengthen the muscles necessary for writing probably look to parents like their child is “just playing”?

Don’t forget to always be talking to parents about your curriculum. Make sure they know that every activity, experience and routine that takes place in your program is an opportunity for learning and development. Don’t assume that parents are connecting outdoor and gross motor play to writing skills. You have to help them make that connection.

A Pincer Grasp enables a child to pick up small items using the thumb and index finger. When a child has developed strong fine motor skills, he is usually able to use a pincer grip to easily twist dials or door knobs, turn the pages of a book, zip and unzip a zipper, and use crayons or pencils with precision. Here are some activities and materials you can make available to the children to help develop a strong Pincer Grip, necessary to develop pre-writing skills.

To encourage and support pincer grip development:

  • Include activities that involve using tools such as tongs, tweezers, clothespins, and eyedroppers.
  • Let the children practice using chopsticks.
  • Provide alternatives to paint brushes that require the child hold the tool between his thumb and index finger such as Q-tips and make-up sponges.
  • Include activities that involve dropping small items through a slot ( for example, depositing pennies into a piggy bank).
  • Have the children tear paper into strips. You can always use the strips for an art project!
  • Have the children pop bubble wrap between their thumb and index fingers.
  • Have wind-up toys available, and encourage the children to wind them themselves.
  • Include beading and lacing activities.

What are some activities you do in your program?

Developing Pre-Writing Skills – The Squeeze Factor

The muscles in the palm of our hands control the movements of the thumb and fingers. When a child has developed strong fine motor skills, he is able to control the thumb and fingers individually, rather than just grasping items with his entire fist as an infant does.

To develop and strengthen the hand muscles:

  • Do art and science activities that involve squeeze paint or glue tubes and bottles, turkey basters or bulb syringes (like you would find in the infant section at Target). Children can use these with liquids or do experiments with air.
  • Provide plenty of opportunity to cut with scissors.
  • Introduce children to using a hole punch and let them make the dots for a future art project!
  • Give the children spray bottles and let them help clean, water plants or do spray bottle painting. You can put food coloring in the water for art and science projects.
  • Provide plenty of squeeze toys, such as stress balls, foam balls and squeaky toys.
  • Have the children help clean up and let them squeeze out the sponges. Again, you could add a little color to turn this into a science or art activity!
  • child with spray bottle

  • Provide lots of opportunity to work with Play-Doh, silly putty and clay.
  • Have the children crumble large pieces of paper.
  • Provide large interlocking and construction materials like
    mega blocks or large Legos, as well as cars and trucks.
  • Include activities that involve using tools such as tongs, tweezers, clothespins, and eyedroppers.

Who knew science and art activities played such a huge role in preparing children to write!

Now, Let’s Put Those Writing Skills We’ve Developed Into Practice!

Now that we’ve talked about activities and materials you can provide to help develop strong pre-writing skills for the children in your program, check out the links on this page to resources and fun activities that provide opportunities to practice writing skills.

Here’s to having fun with writing!





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