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Learn Pre-Writing Skills at Home With These Activities 

Nov 30th, 2022 | by Katie Dahlerbruch, OTD, OTR/L

Katie Dahlerbruch, OTD, OTR/L

November 30th, 2022

Pre-writing skills encompass all the skills that are required for handwriting. From the outside, it may seem like handwriting is a relatively simple task, however, there are so many foundational skills that begin early in development and contribute to a child’s success when using a pen or pencil.

Pre-Writing Skills Required for Handwriting

Some of the sensorimotor skills required for handwriting include:

  • Motor planning
  • Postural control
  • Bilateral coordination
  • Tactile discrimination

Some of the fine motor skills required for handwriting include:

Some of the visual processing skills required for handwriting include:

Therefore, when addressing pre-writing skills, there is so much that can be done! Occupational therapists may focus on any of the underlying skills when working to address handwriting in children.

Development of Pre-Writing Strokes

Typically, children will develop the ability to scribble around 13-18 months of age and first imitate vertical strokes (18-24 months), then circular scribbles (20-24 months) and horizontal strokes (24-30 months.) Here are a few activities you can do with your child to support pre-writing skill development.

Pre-Writing Activities to Try At Home

1. Imitation of Pre-Writing Strokes

Encouraging your child to use their fingers to scribble in tactile media, like finger paint, can help them learn pre-writing strokes. Find more activities in this blog!

Helps with finger and hand strength, motor planning, and visual processing skills. Model yourself scribbling up-and-down, side-to-side, and in continuous circles. Encourage your child to do the same. Ways you can do this:

  • Use your finger to scribble in different tactile media:
    • Shaving cream
    • Finger paint
    • Foam soap
    • In sugar, salt, or cinnamon
    • Roll out play doh and form it into lines or a circle. Have your child trace their finger over the shape of the play doh.
    • Form pipe cleaners into lines or a circle. Have your child trace their finger over the shape of the pipe cleaner.
  • Place stickers on the top of a piece of paper, and have your child draw vertical lines from the sticker to the bottom of the page. You can do the same with horizontal strokes by placing stickers on the right or left side of a page, and have your child draw all the way to the other side. You can also add additional stickers to form columns/rows, so that the child has to draw lines to connect the stickers.

2. Activities on a Vertical Surface

Activities on a vertical surface, like playing with magnets on the fridge, can help your child learn pre-writing skills.

Helps with wrist stability, upper extremity strength, proximal stability, shoulder strength, and postural control. Ideas include:

  • Playing with magnets on the fridge
  • Using an expo marker on a mirror or whiteboard
  • Wiping down shaving cream on a mirror
  • Playing with play doh or stickers on a window

3. Puzzles

Playing with puzzles with knobs can help your preschooler develop prewriting skills.

Helps with visual motor and visual perceptual skill development. The smaller the knob on the puzzle piece, the more it works on fine motor skills!

4. Hiding Items Inside Putty

Hiding items in putty or play doh is a great prewriting activity.

Helps with bilateral skills and fine motor strength. Make it a treasure hunt- have your child find beads, jewels, figurines, etc. inside play doh or resistive putty, and place the found objects into your treasure pile!

The above pre-writing activities are general and not curated for individual needs. If you are curious to understand more about pre-writing skills or suspect your child may have challenges with any of the above skills, talk with an occupational therapist to determine the activities that may best support your child.

Find Additional Resources and Therapist-Approved Activities in the NAPA Blog:

About the Author

Katie Dahlerbruch is a pediatric occupational therapist at NAPA Center Los Angeles. As a Los Angeles native, she loves soaking up time in the sun and enjoying picnics year-round. When not having fun working with kids, she is checking out new restaurants and exploring local neighborhoods with friends and family.

TAGS: Blogs, OT
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