I am often asked about handwriting and fine motor skills from other moms, in particular homeschooling moms. Handwriting can be a daunting “subject” to teach much like reading may be for some (or in my case, Math). Understanding that handwriting is more than just how to hold a pencil or printing neatly will help you in teaching handwriting in your homeschool.
As a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant, I worked with handwriting issues a lot when I was in the public school setting. I have since come to stay at home with my daughter, but giving parents resources and education on handwriting has become a passion of mine. If you have been around the blog for a little while, you will see that I write about handwriting and fine motor skills a lot.
I am going to tell you now, this post is a little on the long side! I want to give you everything you could possibly need to teaching handwriting in your homeschool and preschool! DO NOT feel bad if you cannot digest it all in one sitting. Pin it to Pinterest, e-mail the link to yourself or bookmark it. Come back to it as often as you need to! In fact, here is a handy link so you can go ahead and pin it right now! But be sure to keep reading too! 🙂
I am also on the panel of the iHomeschool Network iHomeschool Hangouts today and we are talking about anything and everything handwriting, for all ages! Come to this post on Thursday May 1st at 2:00pm EST to watch live! You can watch the video afterwards below to hear and see many of the tips I talk about in this post!
Teaching Handwriting in Preschool
Today we are going to tackle how to start teaching handwriting to your preschool age child. Preschool age is typically between 3-5 years old. This may shock you, but the best way to teach your preschool age child how to write is to give them anything but a regular pencil and paper to write with. Handwriting really begins at a much earlier age than preschool even. Babies, at just a few months old, are beginning to develop the hand strength, eye tracking, coordination, and trunk and arm strength needed for handwriting. Tummy time gives your child the opportunity to coordinate their arms in order to lift their head off the ground. When they lift their head up off the ground, they are able to visually get a sense of their surroundings and begin to explore. Their head is put into different positions (vestibular input = balance) and their joints are getting proprioceptive input (knowing where their body is in space) when they push into the floor. The entire time they are developing strong neck muscles and integrating reflexes which help them to develop finer gross motor and fine motor skills, just from being on their stomachs! And yes, this all has to do with handwriting! Hang in with me here! 🙂
Crawling not only helps babies to coordinate both sides of their bodies together (bilateral coordination), it also helps to improve their visual motor skills (looking down at their hands and then lifting their neck to see the object they are after). Crawling also helps to develop the neck, arm, and trunk muscles. A strong core or trunk gives them a stable base of support. Not only does this affect their gross motor skills later on in life (such as kicking, jumping etc) it also affects their fine motor skills and handwriting.
Picture this… you have a child in 1st or 2nd grade. Their handwriting is very poor. They cannot keep the letters on the line; they can't form the letters correctly; spacing sentences and letters is non-existent or very poor. And getting them to sit still long enough to even complete a short writing task is a problem. There could be more issues going on, which is why it is always best to talk to your physician and ask for an Occupational Therapy referral to be sure. However, if they have poor trunk support, weak neck muscles, and their shoulders tire easily, then they will not be able to sit and do handwriting like you want them to. This leads to weak hand muscles which affects how they hold a pencil. By not getting the good visual motor skills from not enough tummy time or crawling, this affects how they write their letters, how they hold their pencil, how the entire process of writing works for them. So what can you do to ensure your preschooler has excellent pre-writing skills in order to have great handwriting later on? By letting them explore the world around them with as much movement as possible. Even older children can do crawling games, lay on their stomachs to play a board game or watch a movie, move and jump and swing in as many different positions as possible. Exposure to pre-writing lines and skills is key as well! It starts by understanding the basic development of fine motor skills. I have a handy printable list for you here:
After you feel you have a good understanding of what your child developmentally can do then you can base your activities and homeschool around those milestones. That is why I actually developed my first ebook, Basic Shapes for Beginners. It is a hands-on approach to teaching handwriting for preschoolers. Pre-writing lines or strokes are the precursor to handwriting. They also develop in a specific, age appropriate pattern:
- Vertical Lines– (Age 2 imitates, age 3 copies/masters)
- Horizontal Lines – (Age 2 imitates, age 3 copies/masters)
- Circle shape – (Age 2, age 3 copies/masters)
- Cross shape (+) – (Age 3 imitates, age 4 copies)
- Right/Left Diagonal Line – (Age 4)
- Square shape– (Age 4)
- X shape – (Age 4)
- Triangle shape (Age 5)
Basic Shapes for Beginners takes each of these shapes and lines and gives you a 6 week lesson plan, complete with 30+ hands on activities to expose your child to the pre-writing lines and shapes they need for handwriting skills later on in their schooling.
Pencil Grip & Teaching Handwriting to Preschoolers
Break their crayons in half – Yes, I realize I probably just upset a lot of you right now. But yes, take those brand new crayons and break them in half! By giving your child a small crayon to practice tracing or pre-writing lines with, you are basically forcing them to use a correct grasp. By age 3-4 your child should be developing a correct tripod (3 finger grasp) or quadruped grasp (4 finger grasp). If your child wants to use a pencil, getting the small golf size pencils are ideal. However you can also just sharpen a regular pencil down half way and get the same effect. The larger the writing utensil, the more room they have to put more fingers on the pencil than they should or use an inefficient grasp. This is also a good idea for older children who are having trouble with pencil grasp.
- Pencil Grasp Development – step by step developmental progression of hand grasp (complete with pictures)
I also need to stop here for a second and tell you that those large jumbo size crayons that are said to be made just for your preschooler…. ignore them! DO NOT BUY THEM!! Stick with the regular size crayons or the regular size triangle type crayons (these are particular helpful if you have a child who has trouble keeping their fingers on a crayon or pencil). The large jumbo size crayons may seem like they are easier for your child to hold, but instead they are putting too much space between their index and thumb finger. These crayons actually promote bad hand grasp on writing utensils later on, rather than help. So just stay away from them! 🙂 The main thing to remember when teaching “handwriting” to preschoolers is to keep it fun! This is NOT the time to sit down and do formal writing work. I honestly would not even try teaching how to write the alphabet until at least age 5. Developmentally, children are not ready to learn how to form and shape letters until then. Yes, there are always exceptions, but that is why homeschooling is such a benefit to your child, including your preschooler! If your child is ahead in fine motor skills and handwriting or shows a huge interest in learning how to write, do not stop it! And if they are not showing an interest quite yet that is fine too, do not push it! But remember to keep all the activities hands on and engaging! I recently went to a continuing education class where the Physical Therapist who was giving the lecture, said something that really resonated with me. Children under the age of 6 learn more with their hands than they do with their eyes. This is why keeping “school” hands-on and not sit down book work is SO important. Your preschooler will learn more by engaging with handwriting in different sensory mediums and activities than they ever will sitting down with a pencil and paper! Here are some resources I enjoy using for improving fine motor skills and teaching handwriting to preschoolers:
Other activity ideas and resources for teaching handwriting to preschoolers – All of these are hands on activities:
- 15 Books that teach about shapes – Beyond the Cover Blog
- Play Dough Alphabet Letters – Teachers of Good Things
- Alphabet Stamping – Teachers of Good Things
- 5 Effective Ways to Teach Handwriting to Preschoolers – This Reading Mama
- Handwriting Practice Your Preschooler Will Love – The Measured Mom
- Writing with Beads and Pipe Cleaners – Here Come the Girls
- Fine Motor Activities for Improving Pencil Grasp – Sugar Aunts
- Cotton Swab Painting – Lessons Learned Journal
- Tips for Correct Pencil Grip – This Reading Mama
You can also find the rest of the posts in this series as they are written here:
- Teaching Handwriting in your Homeschool: Kindergarten Edition
- Teaching Handwriting in your Homeschool: Elementary Age Edition