Children are often really excited to pick up an implement and write, whether it be on paper, concrete or even, to parents’ dismay, the walls and furniture. To write successfully, children need to develop dexterity and strength, which they will achieve through repetition.
Making marks on a surface is inherently satisfying because children perceive the immediate visual input correlated with their movements. This makes fostering a love of writing easy, as, when presented with developmentally appropriate activities, children naturally gravitate towards it. We’ve discussed preliminary writing skills, or pre writing skills, previously in our blog on The Path to Developing Preliminary Writing Skills for Children, and in this blog, we’re going to elaborate on what exactly the pre writing skills are, why pre writing is important, the key shapes and lines that come before writing and the expected pre writing milestones by age.
What are the Pre Writing Skills?
- Bilateral integration – use of the left and right sides of the body at the same time, and having the left and right sides perform different movements
- Upper extremity strength – strength of the arms, forearms, wrists and hands
- Finger isolation – the ability to move each finger independently
- Object manipulation – the ability to manipulate an object with the hands
- Hand-eye coordination – the ability to perform activities that require simultaneous use of the hands and eyes
- Crossing the midline – the ability to move the extremities across the middle of the body to the opposite side
- Visual perception – right and left discrimination, spatial awareness, visual memory and position of objects in space
- Hand dominance – the preference for using one hand over the other
- Hand separation – ability to separate the first two and last two fingers as they have different functions when holding a pencil to write
Why is Pre Writing Important?
Pre writing skills are important for:
- Developing visual tracking
- Improving pencil grip
- Building hand dexterity
- Increasing writing stamina
- Helping to develop reading skills
- Establishing motor skills
- Visual motor integration
The main goal of pre writing is to build competence in the areas needed to be successful in writing, ensuring that writing is a positive experience, and hence building self-esteem and self-efficacy.
Additionally, fine motor activities like those practiced in pre writing stimulate the prefrontal cortex, which is the part of the brain that helps with self-regulation and executive functioning, both of which are important for children to develop.
Pre Writing Shapes and Lines
Before beginning to work on writing letters and numbers, there are a number of developmental milestones that children will move through first. These include imitating, tracing, copying and replicating a variety of shapes and lines which are the building blocks of the written English language. The chart below shows each of the key shapes and lines which children need exposure to and repetition of to have success in their future writing endeavours.
Pre Writing Milestones
1 - 2 Years Old
- Makes random scribbles
- Spontaneously scribbles in an approximate vertical, horizontal or circular directions
2 - 3 Years Old
- Imitates vertical lines
- Imitates horizontal lines
- Imitates circles
3 - 4 Years Old
- Copies vertical lines
- Copies horizontal lines
- Copies circles
- Imitates crosses
- Imitates diagonal lines
- Imitates squares
4 - 5 Years Old
- Traces vertical lines
- Traces horizontal lines
- Traces circles
- Copies crosses
- Copies diagonal lines
- Copies squares
- Imitates X’s
- Imitates triangles
It is vital that children are developmentally ready before learning to write letters, otherwise it is likely to end in frustration and refusal from the child, which does not build positive associations. To ensure writing is a positive experience, focus on the aspects your child enjoys, and support them to master each milestone before encouraging them to move on.