Pre Writing Skills – The Write Stuff for learning to write!

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A fun way to introduce writing to your children might be on National Handwriting Day. When your toddler or preschooler masters their pre-writing skills, they can begin working on their “John Hancock”, otherwise known as their signature! National Handwriting Day was started in 1977 by the Writing Instrument Manufacturers Association. They wanted people to use more pens, pencils, and writing paper.

John Hancock's signature on the Declaration of Independence.
When will your child sign their John Hancock?

January 23rd was chosen because it is John Hancock’s Birthday.  Mr. Hancock was the first person to sign the Declaration of Independence, and his signature is the largest of all 56 signatures. Putting your John Handcock on something has become slang for your signature. Before you can sign something, you have to develop a sense of the basics of handwriting.

How Handwriting Develops

Handwriting involves more than just making letters on a page. Learners must first develop strong fine motor (small movements of the fingers, hands, wrists)  as well as visual-motor skills (using both vision and the hands to complete tasks). Because every child develops and learns differently, just when, where, and how they develop these pre-writing skills are going to vary as much as when they smiled, walked, were potty trained, etc. Experts certainly have suggested timelines, but as parents working one on one with your children, you know the finite details that matter as far as readiness for writing. I’ll also share some sure-fire tips you can use.

children practicing writing at table
Pre Writing skills are important to developing strong writers.

Tracing and Handwriting

Tracing has long been an effective way to help young learners develop their pre writing skills. Using crayons, pencils, or even markers to trace shapes and dotted paths from left to right, right to left, up, down diagonal (you get the idea) can help learners develop fine motor control. Tracing is also great for focus and concentration. Worksheets for tracing lines come before alphabet tracing for kids.

Tracing however is not for everyone, it can also be a source of frustration. That is why it is so important to check for readiness. There isn’t a “magic” ready light or ding like the microwave. I recommend sitting with the children you feel are age-appropriate for holding crayons and tracing and giving it a go. If the crayon gets gripped in a fist and the page gets scribbled on joyfully, you can model appropriately holding the crayon and tracing. 

tracing worksheets and play dough are pre writing skills
Providing children options when working on pre writing skills is important.

Signs of readiness vs Frustration

When the crayon is held properly (there are many videos on grasp, etc. you can view – and this too can be a source of individual child development), and your child gets JOY out of tracing the lines, does not mind when they go “off” the line, these are signs of readiness.

On the other hand, you may wish to consider different activities for fine motor strengthening if your child has poor or no grip, gets frustrated, cries or fusses about imperfections or going off the lines. Remember, there is no deep learning going on when a child does not enjoy the activity. And tracing does NOT hold the exclusive rights to pre-writing skills and ultimately learning to write.! 

Everyone learns differently – whether you have a tracer or a nonconformist, fear not. Writing will come.  Celebrate all successes.

Teaching Pencil Grip

how to teach pencil grip matters beginning with pre writing skills
Teaching pencil grip is as important as teaching how to use a sharp knife. Supervision is ESSENTIAL.

I often get questions from young mothers teaching their children at home about pencil grip. My 100% honest heartfelt answer is it must be taught correctly from the get-go in a one-on-one situation,. Think of it as if you were teaching your child to use a kitchen knife. I wouldn’t let my kids just use a sharp knife without showing them exactly how to do it because they might get cut – it’s dangerous. Well, a crayon isn’t dangerous, but the wrong grip will never become right.  It’s THAT important.

If you leave your child unsupervised or walk away to check on what your other kids are doing your child will just auto-correct to what they want to do.

You know your child best. Why are they holding the crayon/pencil the way they are? Age, hand strength? Differently-abled? Lack of proper instruction? Only one on one instruction can achieve proper pencil grip a little each day.

If you need activities for your older children to keep busy while you work one-on-one with your pre-writing child check out this post: FREE CHOICE LEARNING IDEAS FOR YOUR HOMESCHOOL

Correcting por pencil grip in older children

If you happen to have an older child who has already developed a poor pencil grasp, all is not lost. As a classroom teacher, pencil grip was a non-issue for me. I taught middle and upper grades. Correcting pencil grasp was not something that was going to happen by the time a learner entered my classroom. I was not going to change their penmanship for that matter. My motivator was and remained to help learners recognize their BEST WORK.

I did have learners self-correct pencil grip, improve handwriting, learn multiplication facts, learn to read, and any number of AMAZING accomplishments. These accomplishments were THEIRS, encouraged by my mentoring of their best work. If it was their best work it was accepted, if it was not, they chose to re-do it. I did not however suffer through papers I could not read. It was pretty hard to convince me THAT was your best work.  You can read more on best work HERE.

When you have a child who isn’t using proper pencil grip, inspire them by requiring best work. As long as you can read what they write and THEY are truly satisfied with the results, there are no concerns.

Feel free to offer pencil grips, trainers, and even shaped pencils if your child wants to use them.

Other ways to develop pre writing skills

Tracing isn’t the only way to develop a “good” writer. Free drawing is also a great skill. Plenty of blank paper and imagination goes a long way. Point out when your child uses curves, zig-zags, straight and diagonal lines so they get used to seeing them and hearing the terms. Let them write and draw about topics they are interested in, even if it is over and over.

making letters in the sand is a non worksheet way to develop pre writing skills
Non worksheet ways to practice writing are just as important

Your child may also prefer to “free write” without the constraints of lines. Provide a model and have them write on plain paper, in the air, into a pan of rice, on a chalkboard (especially with water!) into fun dough, etc. The sky is really the limit.

Sensory writing is also very effective. Painting with water on the sidewalk, using beans, shells, or other dimensional objects like twigs to form letters is unique and fun. You can even shape the letters out of dough. Happy Hive Homeschooling has a set of FREE Alphabet Play Mats, or you can just allow learners to free form the letters on their own.

cover image for dough mats shows clip art of play-doh and sample pages alphabet letters and number pages.
Visit the Homeschool Holiday shop to download the free dough mat printable.

Believe it or not – playing outside, climbing, and bike riding all help a young writer develop as well. Writers need both fine motor and visual motor skills. These non-worksheet, off the page activities are great for improving a variety of skills, including visual motor skills. Take the pressure off and provide learners of all ages plenty of practice with tasks that involve using their eyes and hands together ; and play is the perfect activity to do just that!

Products to save you time with your pre-writing skill building

If your learners enjoy tracing and copying, Happy Hive Homeschooling has pre-writing activities for you!

Our Left to Right Lines to Trace Mega Pack has over 30 different worksheets for beginning to advanced tracing. This pre writing skill involves following the path then coloring a picture. There are “review” pages with a variety of paths on one page for learners to trace.

cover image for line tracing worksheets
Use these worksheets for tracing lines to give little pre-writing hands practice with fine motor skills, pencil grip, and tracking. 39 different worksheets provide you plenty to chose from at a variety of skill levels. Print only what you need. Find these and handwriting practice pages in the Happy Hive Homeschooling shop.

We also have unique Alphabet Tracing activities. Each letter of the Alphabet is on its own page (capital and lower) arranged in boxed rows. Assign by the row or by the page to keep the activity from becoming tiring or boring. These are available in MANUSCRIPT or CURSIVE styles.

A favorite for learners who are already writing is COPYWORK. I consider copywork an essential component to any homeschool curriculum. This blog post explains how you can MAKE COPYWORK PART OF YOUR HOMESCHOOL IN 3 EASY STEPS.

When learners use copywork, they use great pieces of writing, read it aloud, then copy it EXACTLY as it is written in their best writing. We have several copywork activities (Even FREE sets) to choose from. Check out the COPYWORK category in the Happy Hive Homeschooling store.

copywork store category image

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