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Writing – preparing your child for learning how to write

Children enjoy making marks, drawing and painting. These activities help them to develop hand and finger coordination and prepare them for learning how to write.

How to help your child prepare to learn how to write

There are lots of fun games and things you can do to help them.

Making lines and shapes

Create lots of opportunities to make lines and shapes on a wide range of surfaces.

Use something like a plastic tray, biscuit tin lid or other easy to clean surface. Fill it with different textures such as sand, dry rice, shaving foam and talcum powder. Or try making your own finger paints (see the recipes below).

Encourage your child to make marks with the index finger of their preferred hand (or either if they do not have a dominant hand).

Finger paint recipes

Snowflakes finger paint

Combine washing flakes with enough water to make it ‘gloopy’. Mix with a whisk or electric beater until it forms a gooey finger paint.

Arrowroot finger paint

Put 2 cups of arrowroot powder into a pan and add water. Stir until it is the consistency of glue. Heat, stirring constantly, until it forms a clear gel. Cool, then add optional food colouring or flavouring to give it a smell.

Flour and salt finger paint

Mix 1 cup of flour with 4 teaspoons of salt and just under one cup of cold water. Add food colouring or powder paint. Mix well. Store in the fridge.

Practice circular movements

Mix a cake (real or pretend). Holding the bowl with one hand and stirring with the other will help your child make circular movements. Or use a scarf, ribbon or kitchen roll so your child can draw in the air in anti-clockwise movements. You could try singing a song to go along with the actions.

Try different positions

Your child should not always sit down to practice making shapes.  Encourage them to make lines and circles in a variety of different positions, such as lying on their tummy propped up on their elbows, on all fours, standing up, or kneeling up at the table.

You can also try standing using an upright surface, such as a window, mirror or easel.

Make lines and shapes without drawing them

Try using things like cooked spaghetti, rolled out Play-Doh or string to make lines, shapes and basic pictures.

Mark out lines on the floor and ask your child to move along them in different ways, for example walking, crawling, hopping, jumping, big steps and little steps.

Use a toy car and a road mat (or create your own) and ask your child to drive the car along the roads and around roundabouts.

Draw without a pencil

Drawing does not always have to be with a pencil and paper. Using different things to make marks on surfaces will stimulate your child and help develop their skills. For example, draw patterns or faces on biscuits or cakes with tubes of icing, or use a bucket of water and a large paintbrush to ‘paint’ on outdoor surfaces.

Try using a variety of writing implements, such as crayons, chalks, washable felt-tip pens, paintbrushes and soap crayons for the bath.

Give your child the opportunity to experiment with both thick and thin chalks and crayons. This will help develop their skills and encourage them to practice holding them with their thumb and finger tips.

Different textures for making marks could include sugar paper, chalkboard, paving stones, sand paper and bubble wrap.

Learn to form shapes for writing

Once your child feels comfortable using pens and pencils to scribble on paper, encourage them to copy simple shapes. They usually learn (in order):

  • a horizontal line ( | )
  • a vertical line ( – )
  • a circle
  • a plus sign (+ )
  • a backslash ( \ )
  • a square
  • a forward slash ( / )
  • a multiplication sign ( x )

Start by making large shapes on large pieces of paper, to emphasise the direction of the line, before progressing to smaller ones.

Encourage your child to watch you closely as you make the shapes, and then copy your drawing. If your child needs help, try putting your hand over theirs to show them the necessary movement. Talk about the movement at the same time, for example ’round, up and down.’

Take it in turns. Ask your child to make a mark for you to copy and encourage them to ‘keep looking’ at what they do.