Developing pre-writing skills in early childhood is perhaps more important today than ever before. Similarly to how children must learn to walk before they can run, they also need to get the hang of pre-writing before they can work towards building their own handwriting skills. 

In the 21st Century, opportunities to practice pre-writing and scribbling for children are becoming more scarce. The age of the iPad and smart technology has meant that youngsters are becoming more accustomed to tapping on screens rather than gripping pencils and pens, meaning that it may be vital to present more opportunities for kids to hone their skills.

What Are Pre-Writing Skills?

Pre-writing skills, or handwriting readiness, are vital in a child’s early years development. It involves practising drawing different shapes and steadily developing fine motor skills. 

This helps kids to steadily improve their literacy from the foundations of learning how to make marks on paper. When developing their pre-writing skills, children will first learn to scribble on paper before discovering how to make specific patterns and shapes. Typically from around two years of age, young children can begin to draw recognisable lines and shapes, such as: 

  • Vertical, horizontal and diagonal lines
  • Circles
  • Squares
  • Intersecting lines to form an ‘X’ or ‘+’
  • Later in their development children will begin drawing shapes like triangles

Although the act of scribbling and drawing shapes may seem like a straightforward part of a child’s early development, the ability to draw squares, circles and lines demonstrate that children possess a sufficient level of pencil control, good muscle strength in their fingers and hands, stronger visual-motor integration skills, a healthy attention span, cognitive awareness and enough coordination skills to hold a piece of paper still with one hand while drawing with another. 

Writing in The Digital Age

Growing up is such a technologically advanced age has made it more important than ever to ensure that young children spend time working on developing their pre-writing skills

The development of tablets like the iPad has made learning more accessible to children, but the use of gestures like swipes, pinches and twists fail to help kids from developing many of the skills that they need to develop their literacy. 

Children’s’ author, Julia Donaldson decided against creating an ebook for The Gruffalo when it was launched in 2011, citing fears over how much of a distraction multimedia content can be from the story itself:

“The publishers showed me an ebook of Alice in Wonderland. They said, ‘Look, you can press buttons and do this and that’, and they showed me the page where Alice’s neck gets longer. There’s a button the child can press to make the neck stretch, and I thought, well, if the child’s doing that, they are not going to be listening or reading, ‘I wish my cat Dinah was here’ or whatever it says in the text – they’re just going to be fiddling with this wretched button,” Donaldson explained to The Guardian.

Donaldson’s anecdote illustrates how efforts to ramp up young children’s exposure to pre-writing skills is vital in ensuring their development in an increasingly digital world. Fortunately, there are plenty of approaches that teachers, parents and nurseries can use to encourage more handwriting readiness among kids. 

What Can be Done to Improve Pre-Writing Skills?

To help improve the writing readiness of young children, it’s important to encourage hand dominance in task performance. This can be aided by poking or pointing games and activities that involve building hand and finger strength like using play dough, scrunching paper and using tweezers.

Upper limb strength exercises such as climbing ladders and wheelbarrow walking can also be highly useful in helping young children to generate enough strength and control to comfortably hold pens and pencils to practice pre-writing

Hand-eye coordination is another key skill that you can help kids to develop. Throwing and catching soft objects can be a fun way to help improve the accuracy of a child’s coordination as well as reaching to pick up items. 

How to Encourage Pre-Writing Skills in a Learning Environment

When it comes to committing pen to paper, there is plenty that can be done to help children to hone their skills. 

One of the best ways of introducing writing into play activities piece by piece is to encourage youngsters to sign for imaginary deliveries or to take an order as if they were in a restaurant. This can steadily introduce them to drawing while gradually building their confidence. 

Another important consideration to make is that it’s always worth engaging with children about their drawings. By talking to them about parts of their scribblings, it can help to validate their efforts and encourage them to draw more. 

In the activities that you choose to help encourage pre-writing skills, it’s worth remembering that a little praise can go a long way. There are few better ways of spurring children on than to describe how impressed you are with their efforts. 

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