Learning to write letters is a foundation skill that begins at the preschool level. While your toddler may not have the coordination or comprehension to write the full alphabet, they are likely beginning to make some scribbles that mimic the writing that they see.
These are the very first steps in developing written language skills that will progress with each year of age and education. Encouraging good habits from the beginning will help your child develop strong, legible writing skills that will facilitate strong academic learning skills throughout his or her entire life.
Every child is different in his or her progression of mastering skills. Most children develop hand-eye coordination, finger strength, visual perception, and hand dominance needed for writing at some point during the three-year-old year.
As your toddler begins to show signs of readiness to start writing, parents can begin working on introductory exercises to help them learn letter shapes and practice strokes. If your child attends a preschool or kindergarten program, they will practice writing skills there, but practice at home allows parents an opportunity to be more hands-on with learning.
Learning to write is not as simple as teaching your child the alphabet or showing them what a letter looks like. The process of learning to write is much more detailed. And, if your toddler is not physically ready to learn writing, he or she will become frustrated and resist learning. This negative learning experience can hurt their feelings towards learning for the entire life.
Learning to make the shapes necessary to create a letter is the first step in writing, defined as pre-writing skills. These shapes include:
Another sort-of obvious precursor to learning how to write is learning how to position oneself with a writing tool. Toddlers need to demonstrate sufficient upper body strength to be able to manipulate a writing instrument with fluid movements. They also need to be able to exert sufficient force from the fingers to manipulate a writing instrument.
For most preschool-aged writers, larger diameter pencils and crayons are available which can help them with hand grip and manipulation.
Coordination usually refers to one’s ability to process information received visually to guide and direct hand movements. But there are a few other coordination skills that toddlers develop at different times - all of which are necessary to learn writing.
Toddlers learn to coordinate movements that cross the body’s midline, or using both sides of the body cooperatively by passing objects back and forth. The skill begins in infancy between six to eight months but is continually developed. By age four, most toddlers have mastered crossing the midline and are ready to learn how to write.
Before your young child can learn how to write, he or she needs to learn how to separate movements of individual fingers. Instead of using the entire hand as one unit, when writing your child will need to use some fingers while tucking others out of the way.
If your toddler displays dexterity in handling other common tools like toothbrushes or crayons for coloring, then he or she may be ready to learn writing. However, if pencil grasp remains awkward after practicing or uses their whole hand to handle objects, these are common signs that they do not yet have the physical dexterity for writing.
There is a big difference between encouraging your toddler to develop appropriate pre-writing and writing skills and pushing them to learn writing before they are ready. Watch for clues that your little one is ready before you begin and if you encounter resistance, be especially careful to look for clues that he or she is not ready before you pull back.
Signs that your toddler is not ready to learn writing include:
Most toddlers show signs of readiness to learn writing by four years of age. As long as your toddler does not show any red flags, it is ok to start with some fun and easy writing activities.
Toddlers need a good dose of fun and imagination in any learning activity or they will grow bored quickly. Keep each learning session light and fun. If it becomes stressful or full of tears, take a step back and move to a new activity. The goal of any learning activity is not to cause stress.
Teaching your toddler how to write letters or pre-writing shapes can be a great bonding activity that also gives you a chance to get involved in their learning. Many parents want to be involved, but they don’t know how to get involved with learning. Working on writing skills before they head to preschool, or as a supplement to their preschool is a great way to be involved. Find more great resources for teaching toddlers and preschoolers how to write below!