Writing is so much more than knowing the shapes of letters and copying them. Set your child up for success by incorporating these fun and simple pre-writing activities into their week.
It’s easy for us adults to underestimate just how much goes into writing. It’s so simple for us. We sit down and our pen just flows across the page. For kids it is a lot more difficult.
There is so much more to writing than simply learning what the letters look like and how to draw them.
Writing takes strength and skill.
We can help our children get off to a good start by spending time with them developing their pre-writing skills. This doesn’t mean drilling letter recognition or buying them early handwriting books. It doesn’t have to look like a lesson at all.
In fact, you will no doubt find you have more success if you don’t treat this like school. It’s simply play that we are intentionally introducing to help our children along.
Doing these activities with your preschool child will help them avoid frustration when it comes time to start writing for school. And less frustration equals less resistance.
What parent doesn’t want that?
In this post you will:
- see how gross motor skills relate to writing
- learn why crossing the midline is important
- understand the role of visual motor function in learning to write
- find out how fine motor skills impact writing
- come away with my TOP 10 fun pre-writing activities to help your child develop these skills and get them ready for writing
Why Gross Motor Development is Important for Writing
When my eldest was preschool aged I made sure to set up activities at home that would help him develop his fine motor skills. I knew they were important for writing. I thought I was winning at this mum gig.
What I hadn’t realised is that fine motor skills are only one part of what it takes to be able to write.
I hadn’t realised gross motor development plays a big role too.
Children require strength in their upper body to be able to sit upright in their chair while they write. They need their shoulder to be strong enough and stable enough to support the movement in their arm while their hand moves across the paper.
They also need an arm strong enough that they don’t tire quickly when they write.
I didn’t know so I didn’t prioritise this.
Can I say oops again?!
Fast forward a few years and I wound up with a kid who can read well above grade level and can write legibly but is still resistant to completing written work because he tires so quickly.
I won’t make that mistake again.
Child number two is reaping the benefits of having her brother as a guinea pig and has lots of gross motor activities built into her days. I can already see how much easier drawing is for her than it was for her brother at the same age.
Include lots of physical activities in your child’s day to help them develop strength and co-ordination in those larger muscles of their core and their arms.
Some of our favourite pre-writing activities that assist gross motor development include yoga (we adore Cosmic Kids on Youtube), climbing over rocks and up trees, playing on swings, hanging from monkey bars and crawling around on hands and knees.
I bet you can think of lots more!
What is Crossing the Midline and Why is it Important for Writing?
This is another one I had never heard of when my son was little but now know is so important.
Crossing the midline.
Have you heard of it? Lots of us never come across this word unless our kids end up seeing an OT for one reason or another.
You can visualise the midline as an imaginary line that runs vertically up our body. From the top of your head, down your nose, through your belly button all the way to the ground between your feet. Basically it’s a line that cuts you into a right half and a left half.
You cross the midline every time you move a hand or foot from one side of the body to the other.
Why is that so important to writing?
Well writing is a complex task that requires a child to use both sides of their brain at the same time. The brain learns to co-ordinate like this by crossing the midline over and over and over again.
On a more obvious level, we physically cross the midline when we write as our hand moves from one side of the page to the other. We need to be able to co-ordinate the two sides when one hand holds the paper while the other writes (go ahead and see how hard it is to write without holding the page still!). AND we cross the midline when we draw the diagonal lines in our letters and symbols.
The tricky thing is, we don’t always notice when our kids are having trouble with this because one hand can become very dominant and our kids can learn to compensate. We think they are co-ordinating the two sides but really one side is good at hiding the fact it is doing most of the work.
I did not even notice that my son was having this problem until an OT pointed it out when he was near the end of second grade because he was so good at compensating.
The other problem kids can run into here is that by never crossing the midline they actually don’t develop a strong dominant hand because neither hand is getting the practice it needs. They end up not having a hand strong enough to write properly with. Imagine how frustrating that must feel!
But there are plenty of ways you can help your child practice crossing the midline.
I use pre-writing activities for crossing the midline with my preschooler and my fourth grader who needs that bit of extra practice. Games that involve crawling around are perfect. Simon Says is a huge favourite and works well if Simon asks kids to touch their opposite shoulder, etc.
They both enjoy clapping games like Miss Mary Mack which is just full of midline crossing.
Drawing or painting with an easel or using a blackboard on a wall encourages midline crossing as well.
Visual Motor Function
When we co-ordinate what we see with how we move we are utilising visual motor function. Sometimes this is called visual motor integration.
You probably just thought of hand-eye co-ordination, right?
It is that and more!
Any time we see something with our eyes and then respond with a movement we are using this skill. Like when we see the letter b and copy it.
First our kids see something. Then they use their eyes to track what they are seeing. Their brain has to make sense of what they see and decide on a response. Then the muscles in their body move. Now they need to co-ordinate their movements.
That is a whole lot that needs to happen almost instantly!
So what pre-writing activities work on developing visual motor integration?
All games and activities that co-ordinate seeing with doing will help.
We include games with tossing beanbags and balls in morning circle and playtime to help develop this skill set. We double up with some fine motor practice at the same time and use lacing cards or beads for threading. Stacking blocks on top of each other, building with Magnatiles, colouring in books and peg boards are other favourites in our house that are great for developing visual motor integration too.
Which brings us nicely to fine motor skills.
Why Fine Motor Skills Matter
Fine motor skills is probably the most obvious area children need to develop in order to learn to write. It’s the one I focused on, remember (again, oops).
I touched on the importance of fine motor skills a couple of weeks ago but I’ll mention again that fine motor skills means all of those movements we make with our little muscles. In this case we are talking about the muscles in our hands and fingers. The muscles we use to hold and manipulate a pencil when we write.
Which is why it’s the skill parents tend to focus on.
There are a lot of pre-writing activities that focus on developing fine motor skills. In fact, many of the activities mentioned already in this post are going to be helpful. Even something like climbing, that we think of as a gross motor activity, can be helpful because it builds hand strength as well!
I really love incorporating activities that work on more than one area at a time.
There are a few specifics in my top ten pre-writing activities list below but if you are looking for more I have an entire Pinterest board devoted to fine motor activities. I’ll be adding more to it as I find activities I think you will like so make sure you are following me on Pinterest.
While these are the major skill areas that affect a child’s physical ability to write, there are other factors that play a part too. Read more about the building blocks of writing readiness to give your child the best foundation you can.
10 Pre-Writing Activities To Include In Your Child's Week
Here are my preschoolers current favourite pre-writing activities to get you started:
- Use playdough to strengthen your child’s fingers, hands and upper body.
- Give your child lacing cards to work with and then progress to finger knitting as they get a little older
- Threading activities are fun. It can be beads on a string, pasta on a stick or even helping you put spools of thread on the sewing machine. My 3 year old loves threading pipecleaners through the holes of our pasta strainer.
- Playing with tweezers is a firm favourite here. You can walk into our home on any given day and you are likely to see Wynter wandering around with the ones that came in her Brilliant Box 😀 Try giving your child some large tweezers and pom poms to sort. They can work their way up to using small tweezers to sort beads for an extra challenge.
- Who doesn’t want a little helper to hang the washing for them? Pegs are great for strengthening little hands and fingers. They don’t have to hang your washing though. Kids love hanging dolls’ clothes on a little line, pegging up their artwork or making up games with their pegs. They are so cheap so why not grab a pack next time you’re at the supermarket and see what your little one comes up with 🙂
- I remember loving fingerplays as a kid and now my kids love them too. Everyone knows the classics like Twinkle Twinkle but you can find heaps of fingerplays online if you can’t remember many from your own childhood.
- Construction games are another perennial favourite with kids everywhere. There is always the traditional wooden blocks but you can mix it up with Magnatiles, sensory blocks or add in some tree blocks or river stones. The uneven surfaces make balancing trickier so you child will have to work harder to make it work. Which means even more skill building 😉
- There are so many skills that go in to crafting; cutting, gluing, painting, stickers… just to name a few. Have a wide range of materials available for your child. Let them see what they can come up with or lay out a few items as an invitation to create.
- Free drawing comes before structured hand writing. In fact, there is a general progression in the types of marks they make that is common to most children! This one is so easy to do with your kids. Simply provide them with paper and a variety of pencils and crayons. Start with thick and stubby crayons that are easy for little hands to hold.
- Drawing on vertical surfaces like blackboards or paper clipped on to an easel is another great activity that is easy to do at home. It encourages crossing of the midline and gives the upper body a good workout which we now know is so important when it comes time to sit at a desk and write. We painted the bottom half of our hallway wall to encourage our kids to draw this way more often.
Those are ten of our current favourite pre-writing activities but there are so many more you can try. Just make sure you are addressing all of the skill areas mentioned above and keep it fun!
If you have concerns though, please don’t put off seeing someone for help. It is much easier to address problems early. Ask your family doctor or take your child to see an occupational therapist. They are so helpful in getting to the root of the problem and coming up with fun solutions.