Pre-Writing Skills

What are pre-writing skills?

Pre-writing skills are the building blocks children need to develop before they are able to write. These skills contribute to a child's ability to hold a pencil correctly, as well as draw, copy, and colour. The development of these skills is essential to the development of a child's ability to hold and move a pencil effectively, and thus produce legible handwriting. A major component of pre-writing skills are pre-writing shapes. 


Under developed pre-writing skills can contribute to,

  • Frustration
  • Resistance to drawing or handwriting tasks as the child is unable to keep up with their peers
  • Low self-esteem
  • Poor academic performance
  • Slow hand writers can find it difficult to put their ideas onto paper
  • Increased cognitive effort when writing as the brain needs to focus on both the movement of the hand and the content. When pre-writing skills are developed efficiently, handwriting becomes automatic allowing the brain to concentrate on higher level skills


What are pre-writing shapes?

  • Pencil strokes that most letters, numbers, and early drawings are comprised of
  • Typically mastered in a sequential order

If a child is unable to produce pre-writing shapes they will experience difficulty producing legible writing. 

Examples include;

  • If a child is unable to produce a triangle (#9), it is likely they will have difficulty producing letters incorporating these pre-writing strokes such as M or N
  • If a child is unable to produce a cross (#8), it is likely they will have difficulty producing letters such as X or T

How can I help my child to develop their pre-writing skills?

  • Set up a child sized table and chairs - This encourages an upright sitting posture so the child can place their feet flat on the floor. This assists to stabilise the body so the child can focus their efforts into using their hands to hold a pencil, colour, and draw
  • Work on a vertical surface - Many art and craft activities can be completed on a vertical surface such as an easel, a blackboard secured to a wall, or paper sticky taped to a wall. Make sure the child's elbow is below their hand level to develop appropriate hand and arm skills
  • Clothes pegs, tongs and tweezers - Help to increase hand and finger strength and the child has to squeeze to open/close the peg/tong/tweezers using their thumb and index finger. Children can help hang out the washing, place pegs around the edge of a contained in a 'peg race', write the letters of their name onto pegs and have them peg them to a container in the correct order, use pegs to pick up and sort/transfer small items such as pom poms, cotton balls or beads into an empty egg carton or ice cub tray. Tongs are also found in many board games including 'Operation'
  • Play dough - The opportunities are endless! Things you can make include, 

    Break off small pieces and roll balls between the thumb and index finger

    Use both hands to roll larger balls and sausages. This also improves bilateral coordination or a child's ability to use both sides of the body together

    Roll the sausage up into a snail 

    o Play dough snowman or person

    o Play dough caterpillar (roll multiple balls)
    o Play dough octopus (ball + strips/sausages) 

  • Art/Craft - Rip, scrunch and crumble coloured paper, tissue paper, or newspaper to glue and create a picture. Have your child copy shapes you make when finger painting or drawing in shaving foam. Encourage your child to colour precisely within the lines. 
  • Commercial games - Play games such as snakes and ladders, trouble, or snap which involve the child having to hold and manipulate small playing tokens, dice or playing cards. 
  • Tracing, mazes and dot to dots - Completing these activities improves a child's ability to form precise and accurate lines, just like those that are needed to form shapes and letters! A great activity is rainbow writing which could also be adapted for drawing shapes, lines etc. Write the child's name using a black texta. Have the child trace over their name multiple times using different coloured pencils, texts etc to create a rainbow effect. 

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