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Most research on early writing has focused on lower primary-aged children which means studies on younger children (from 2-5 years) are a little thin. One of the causes of this was the long-held philosophy that very young children would learn what they needed by merely playing within a print-rich environment.
However, research has since shown that this is not enough. The print-rich environment is still a great idea, but children also need explicit instruction. After all, how many children manage the following activities correctly without guidance?
- holding scissors and cutting
- holding a pencil correctly
- tracing the alphabet
- brushing their teeth
On the one hand we’d love to be able to say to parents, “don’t worry, your child will learn everything they need to know once they start Kindergarten.” And it’s true that the large majority of Kinder teachers do an awesome job helping their little ones transition into school. But it’s also true that preparing children for Kinder can be a huge help and confidence booster.
After all, learning and skill development is a process and usually a long one. According to recent studies the foundations for writing start well before Kindergarten and play a major role in a child’s long-term writing success.
I’ll stop writing here and invite you to read through the infographic below. You might like to pin it to keep for later.
The prefrontal cortex
Getting the brain working in this area sounds like a good idea since it’s responsible for self-regulation and executive functioning (attention, impulse control and working memory).
This has led researchers to suggest that:
- early writing difficulties (if associated with executive functioning) may be an early indicator of broader cognitive concerns
- handwriting, or handwriting readiness, may improve executive functioning
The building blocks for writing readiness
Hand and finger strength: writing is tiring and can discourage children from persevering. Try using play dough, squeezing tweezers and pegs.
Crossing the midline: being comfortable to reach across to the other side of your body. Does your child switch writing hands or kick a ball with both feet rather than showing one foot/hand dominance? Try: dance moves where arms and legs cross the body or painting at an easel using only one hand.
Pencil grasp: needs to be correct. I’ve done a separate post on this HERE. It includes a free poster showing the correct hand position and the song to go with it! There are also great ideas on my Writing for Early Learners Pinterest board.
Hand eye coordination: where your eyes and hands work together to accomplish a task such as catching a ball or jumping to touch bubbles that are being blown.
Bilateral integration: using two hands together where one hand is the lead and the other helps. For eg, opening a jar, sharpening a pencil or cutting paper. There are activity ideas and an accompanying free printable HERE.
Upper body strength and postural control: A child’s neck and trunk need to be stable to support the other limbs and prevent fatigue.
Object manipulation: Children need to be able to effectively use their toothbrush, hair brush, crayons, spoon and fork. Encouraging independence will give kids a lot more practice at using their hands with growing efficiency. You can find free line tracing activities HERE and HERE and HERE.
Visual perception: the brain needs to interpret what our eyes see. You’ll find free activity cards HERE.
Hand dominance: the development of a preferred hand for most activities such as drawing or cutting.
Hand division: this is when children only use their thumb, index and middle fingers to manipulate something, and keep fingers 4 and 5 curled up within the hand. Try sorting marbles, buttons or small shells into groups by colour or size. This is clearly a precursor to learning to hold a pencil! There are free hand division mats for kids HERE.
Spacial and temporal vocabulary: words that are often used when children are learning to write letters, such as top, go up to, go down to, around…
Looking for activities?
Check out my review for these hands on weekly activity plans that will give your kids an activity a day for 6 months.
Visit my Fine Motor Skills Pinterest board for ideas!
This post from Powerful Mothering has links to 25 Fine Motor Skills Pinterest boards that will inspire you with hundreds of fun and practically free ideas!
Where does writing start?
Want all these shapes in one handy pack?
Due to the large number of requests, I’ve created a teaching pack that includes all the strokes above. No more need to search around! You can find it at my TpT store.
What’s the fuss?
Lots of children develop these skills in their everyday life without thought or intention. More and more children are entering child care / preschool in the years prior to Kindergarten where their carers make sure children are developing their fine and gross motor skills. Some children move through the development stages easily, but others do not. Two main reasons come to mind.
1. The child is experiencing developmental delays: which means they need more attention, encouragement and intentional engagement. For them, these foundation steps are critical as they will need more time for mastery and to gain confidence. Consulting a paediatrician and occupational therapist early can make a huge difference towards positive long-term outcomes.
2. The child has not had the opportunity to engage in developing pre-writing skills. Children who arrive on the Kindergarten doorstep who have not developed fine motor control will find school a lot more frustrating and tiring than others. Every time they use scissors, hold a pencil, make a craft or draw a picture will take more focus as their mind and body works to make those connections between brain and hands.
Often it’s easier and quicker for adults to do specific tasks for their children: pulling up zippers, doing up buttons, brushing hair, picking up toys, turning pages, putting on shoes and jackets… there’s an endless list of kid-related jobs, isn’t there! But most children can be more independent than we realise, they just need time and opportunity. If we are able to slow things down and wait for a child to at least have a good attempt at one button, we will be doing them a great service.
Some children don’t want to do these tasks themselves because they find them difficult and I’m suggesting that the more a child tries to get out of such a task, the more important it may be that they are encouraged to do it. Of course, start with easier skills first with activities your child enjoys to work on all those building blocks above.
After all, a strong foundation is best way to build a house and being ‘ready to write’ is a great gift to a child.
A final word
There are many ways to prepare children for writing but it’s good to remember that the research is showing that it’s the actual act of putting pencil to paper, writing those strokes and practicing those letters that really gets the brain geared up. For eg, children who largely type letters are much slower at recognising and writing individual letters than those who largely write them. So while computers can be great for kids, don’t neglect that pencil and paper!
Here are my other research-based blog posts.
Research and Credit
The material in this post has largely come from the following sources.
Laura H. Dinehart. (2015). Handwriting in early childhood education: Current research and future implications. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy. Vol 15(1), 97-118. DOI: 10.1177/1468798414522825