Developing Early Writing Skills in Preschoolers.

What most eager and encouraging parents don't realise in this aspect of development is that it's not just a case of popping a pencil in their preschoolers hand and it's not simply a matter of practise makes perfect.

For young children to develop the skills to hold and manipulate a pencil (or any other writing tool for that matter), young children need to first work on their physical development; both fine and gross motor skills.

This is something we will explore a little deeper in todays article 'Developing Early Writing Skills in Preschoolers'.

As a qualified Primary School Teacher, and Early Years Specialist, its taken many years to develop a good understanding of the physiology involved in supporting children's writing skills. The best way I have found to explain it is to start from the top down.

For children to learn how to hold a pencil and move it in a way that makes intentional and meaningful marks on paper they must first master their shoulder movements. This is why you will often see the dancing scarves out during the sessions at 'Raising Rounded Rascals'.

By making large circular movements with our arms we are working the muscles in the child's shoulders, supporting the pivotal movements and developing their gross motor skills.

Activities to support these movements can include painting at an easel or outside on garden walls (large scale). Other activities can include sword play, dancing with and pointing fairy wands or rough and tumble play that involves crawling, bear walking etc

To compliment these larger movements, skilled practitioners will then follow the arm down and look at supporting children to develop their elbow pivot.

When a child is becoming more confident with their shoulder movements they will naturally focus on moving to their next stage in writing skills and this is the time when you often see them making large lines from one side of the paper to the other. This is a natural movement of the elbow and can sometimes look like a window wiper effect.

Activities to support children's elbow pivots can include army crawling, patio chalking, car cleaning and washing the pots amongst offering a variety of mark making tools such as crayons and paints.

Continuing to move down the arm, children will then look at building muscle and movement in their wrists, and this is when children will be more inclined to have a go at holding writing utensils like pencils, pens and felt tip pens. Anything before this stage would benefit from thicker handles on their brushes and mark making resources, like chunky chalk and chubby crayons (easily found on Amazon and many other selling sites).

Developing wrist muscles contributes to pencil control as this is the part that controls the movement of the pencil, in particular for those anticlockwise and curly caterpillar letters they will be asked to form in school Nursery and Reception years.

PLEASE NOTE as much as we would like our youngsters to start writing their name at this early stage, it is far more important to work on these physical skills than it is to simply push a pencil on them. This is the key to mastering pencil control.

Great things to try at home to support this time can include baking (stirring and scooping), water play (filling and emptying), action songs and rhymes like wind the bobbin up or car/train play.

Children will move onto more purposeful mark making when they have begun mastering the stages mentioned above. Only then will they be ready to fine tune their fine motor skills and develop all those little muscles in their fingers and hands.


When we talk about fine motor skills we are talking just that: the smaller and 'finer' movements our hands and fingers are making and are necessary for many aspects of self care like washing their own face, putting on shoes and pulling up a zip. You often find when a child is working hard on these skills that they become fiercely independent, wanting to do everything for themselves as their confidence in their own abilities grow.

The perfect activities to support the development of these little muscles can include threading, tweezing and playdough play. You can also try developing scissor skills and anything else that will work on those little fingers. At our Little Learner classes, carefully selected resources are prepared so children can practise these skills and master the movements that they will later need to effectively begin writing. Not only does this give attending children time to explore but it provides a skilled practitioner modelling effective use of the resources and also gives parents the opportunity to steal ideas to try and continue at home.

As parents begin to support the varying areas of physical develop that contribute to writing skills, they may then start to notice the different stages in pencil grasp pictured below. These naturally depict where about along the pencil control journey they are, moving to the correct pencil grasp between fingers and thumb, when they have successfully worked on all those earlier stages of development discussed above.