Developing Children’s Pre-Writing Skills 


At Cooee Speech Pathology, our Brisbane north Occupational Therapists work with kids and their families to help children develop their pre-writing skills. 

Where to start with writing?

It is a really exciting time when your child begins to show interest in writing, but often as parents, we may be thinking where do I start and how can I encourage my child to help them further develop this skill?


First of all, what are pre-writing skills? 


Pre-writing skills are the fundamental skills that children need to develop before they are able to write. Pre-writing skills involves fine motor skill development and practicing writing different shapes and strokes. These skills are used to help develop, encourage and support opportunities for children to begin writing.


These pre-writing skills are necessary to master in a child’s early years as they contribute to the child’s ability to use and hold a pencil, as well as their ability to colour, draw, copy and write.


Why are they important? 


Pre-writing skills are the essential building blocks needed in order for a child to be able to develop the ability to hold and move a pencil fluidly, which is required to produce legible and efficient writing. When these skills are underdeveloped, children often become frustrated and resistant to engage in these activities, they may have lowered self-esteem as they compare their work against their peers, or show task avoidance, preferring to get others to complete tasks for them under their direction. 


Research has also indicated that early fine motor writing skills are important for school readiness and can be associated with later academic success. 


What skills are required for handwriting?


  • Hand and finger strength
  • Hand division
  • Pencil grasp
  • Object manipulation
  • Bilateral integration
  • Crossing the midline
  • Hand- eye coordination 
  • Visual perception (our brain’s ability to interpret and make sense of the visual information see by our eyes)
  • Upper body strength and trunk control


When do children learn handwriting skills? 


1-2 years:

  • Randomly scribbles with a crayon or pencil 
  • Spontaneously scribbles and imitates in a vertical/ horizontal and/or circular direction 
  • Hold pencils or crayons in their fist 


2-3 years:

  • Imitates a horizontal and vertical line
  • Imitates a circle 


3-4 years:

  • Copies a horizontal and vertical line
  • Copies a circle
  • Imitates a cross (+)
  • Imitates a square
  • Imitates right and left diagonal lines (/ and \


4-5 years:

  • Copies a square 
  • Copies a cross
  • Copies right and left diagonal lines (/ and \)
  • Imitates a triangle
  • Imitates a cross (x)
  • Draw a person with 3 different body parts 
  • Hold pencil in a tripod grasp (thumb, index and middle finger)


5-6 years:

  • Copies a triangle
  • Copies a X


How do I know if my child has difficulties with their pre-writing skills?


If a child has difficulties with their pre-writing skills they may:

  • Have an awkward pencil grasp
  • Have difficulty controlling their pencil when colouring, drawing or writing
  • Have messy and/or slow handwriting 
  • Have difficulty coordinating both their hands together for two-handed tasks
  • Have poor hand-eye coordination 
  • Have poor endurance or fatigue easily when engaged in pencil based activities 
  • Have poor upper limb strength 
  • Apply inappropriate pressure when engaged in pencil based activities (either too light or too heavy)
  • Use their whole hand to manipulate objects rather than a few fingers 


How can I help my child be ready to develop handwriting skills? 


  • Engage in tasks to help develop and strengthen a child’s fine motor skills. This can include playing with play doh, building blocks, finger games and craft projects. If you would like to know more about fine motor skills and other fun activities to complete at home, please click here
  • Patterned writing: specific strokes that comprise all numbers and letters. These include:
    • Tall lines
    • Short lines
    • Sideways lines
    • Forward circles and backward circles 
    • Zig zags
    • Up and overs
    • Down and unders
  • Encourage your child to interact with pencil and paper by scribbling, drawing, tracing or copying pre-writing shapes and patterns
  • Practice activities that involve hand-eye coordination such as throwing and catching a ball
  • Encourage engagement in activities that require a child to manipulate and grasp small objects such as puzzles, threading and lacing, doing up buttons and playing with construction toys 
  • Develop their hand and finger strength through playing with play doh, scrunching paper, and using tweezers or tongs to pick up objects 
  • Engage in outdoor play to develop upper limb strength, for example, wheelbarrow racing and climbing
  • Praise and encourage your child when engaging in pre-writing and fine motor tasks, especially if they are persistent through a tricky activity 


If you have any concerns about your child’s writing readiness or fine motor skills, please do not hesitate to contact our lovely client care team on 3265 4495 or chat to one of our occupational therapists via our website.


Helena Manicaros
Occupational Therapist