Brisbane Occupational Therapists Helping Kids to Write

Writing skills for children in prep

Did your child recently start prep? Are you wondering how you can support your child to learn to write letters? What things can we do if my child is having difficulty writing their letters?


Your child just started prep! Congratulations!

Prepare for a huge burst of knowledge, excitement and independence! One of the key skills your child will learn in prep is to write their letters. They will learn how to form uppercase and lowercase letters and eventually use them to write their name and words!


But what is the process for children learning to write, and what happens if your child is having difficulty or reversing them.

Fear not, when it comes to writing and forming letters, your child probably started preparing themselves for this when they started scribbling on a scrap piece of paper, or on your walls…


Children first learn that they can manipulate a writing tool and make marks on a page.  This is usually in the form of scribbles and basic, straight, angled lines. As children become more confident, you may have seen some evidence of circles begin to emerge in their drawings, followed by more pronounced and complex angled lines.


As your child reaches ~4-5 years old your child is beginning to develop pre-writing skills.

Pre-writing skills are the fundamental skills that children need to develop before they are able to write letters. A major component of pre-writing skills is the ability to draw pre-writing shapes and lines.

These shapes introduce children to pencil strokes that are prevalent in most letters, numbers and early drawings.

These shapes are typically mastered in a progressive age-specific order, with the following strokes:

│, ─, O, +, /, ‹ X, and lastly, a triangle!


Being able to independently produce these angled lines and shapes are considered a precursor for being able to copy and form letters. Pre-writing skills are also essential for your child to develop the ability to hold and move a pencil proficiently and fluently, and therefore produce clear writing.


How you can support your child’s letter development:

  • Encourage drawing. When children are drawing they are experimenting with all forms of shapes and angled lines. Encourage detail in their drawings! For example, drawing a person with at least 7 features (head, eyes, nose, mouth, body, arms and legs)- bonus points for ears, hair, clothes, shoes etc.
  • Use verbal directional cues and modelling when writing letters. “backwards, around, up and down” for writing a lowercase ‘a’. This helps consolidate the motor pattern when writing.
  • Practice with dot to dots, make sure to help them with where to start and finish!  


What might be happening if my child is having difficulty writing?

There are a number of factors that may be contributing to challenges learning to write some of which include:


  • Non-established hand dominance. Your child may still be switching hands for most activities. This impacts their ability to master the neurological tracts in our brains that help us perform motor patterns. For example, as an adult, we have so much practice using our dominant hand to write that we don’t have to consciously think about what our hands are doing and which hand is in charge of manipulating a pen.
  • Awkward pencil grip– A non-functional or awkward pencil grasp can impact a child’s ability to control a pencil and form fluent, purposeful strokes on the page. Challenges with pencil grip can also lead to pain and fatigue when writing, which may impact a child’s willingness to engage in writing tasks.
  • Developmental fine motor skills: There are a number of fine motor skills required for fluent and legible writing. Some of which include; finger isolation (ability to actively isolate the fingers); object manipulation or manual dexterity; opposition (ability of the thumb to touch each finger); bilateral integration (being able to use two hands together, with one leading); hand division (being able to use the thumb, index and middle finger for manipulation, leaving the fourth and fifth finger tucked into the palm)


If you are concerned that your child is having difficulty with writing or any developmental fine motor skills, an Occupational Therapist can help you understand a little bit more of what is happening for your child and how you can help them at home.  You can easily book a fine motor assessment here!

Check out our next blog here on How Kids Should be Holding their Pencil for more!