Pre-writing Skills

Learning to Write

'Students in classrooms across the nation must express 90 percent of their day in written communication.'

It is no wonder then, that parents and teachers are concerned for the child who struggles with handwriting. The ability to write legibly does not begin when a child enters kindergarten. It begins in the preschool years with the development of several underlying skills. The integration of these skills is a complex task. Before we can assist a child who is experiencing difficulty with handwriting, we must look at the child's abilities in each of these skill areas.


Obviously a child needs to have good visual acuity so that he can see the details of his written work. He must have the visual motor control to track across the page and to coordinate his eyes. He will also need to visualize what numbers and letters look like. If a child keeps his eye close to his work, or consistently tips his head to one side he may be having visual problems. Also watch for excessive blinking, rubbing of his eyes or excessive watering.


Children who have trouble expressing themselves verbally or understanding the subtleties of what they are hearing, can also struggle with written expression. They may be working so hard on the language portion of the task that they cannot attend to the motor portion. It may be helpful to compare the difference in handwriting between the child's copying and composing.


The child must be able to direct a pencil in a smooth coordinated manner. If a child has a slight hand tremor or a jerky quality to his movement, his lines will seem shaky and he will have difficulty with accuracy. He may use excessive force on his pencil as he tries to gain more control. To correctly form a letter or copy what he sees, the child must decide in what direction to push his pencil and where to begin and end his pencil stroke. If he is experiencing trouble with motor planning, his written work will be disorganized and messy. A child with this problem may also struggle when learning new skills such as tying shoes, dressing, and skipping. He may seem a little clumsy.


You may have experienced the frustration of trying to talk or chew after the dentist has numbed your mouth. Imagine trying to hold a pencil, and make precise movements with your fingers if your hand was numb. When the child's brain does not correctly understand the sensory feedback received from his hand and arm, he will experience similar frustration. He may keep his head close to his hand so he can watch how his hand is moving. In addition, he is likely to experience difficulty with manipulation of small objects or use of tools such as scissors.


To produce precise movements with the hand, the child needs to stabilize his arm at the shoulder and his body in his chair. If the child is constantly shifting position, leaning or lying on his desk, or using his nondominant hand to prop himself, he may be having difficulty maintaining a stable posture. Each letter we form is a sequence of pencil strokes and each word a sequence of letters. If a child cannot easily do sequencing tasks, handwriting will again require excessive effort and concentration. This may result in reversals of individual letters or in letter positions within a word.


If you feel your child is having difficulty with handwriting, observe him in the above skill areas. Review your concerns with his teacher. Together, you and the teacher may be able to design a program for your child. Your child will need a program designed specifically for him as you may find any combination of skill deficiencies. If your child still is not making satisfactory progress, seek additional help. There are many professionals, both in the schools and the private sector, who can assist in the evaluation and development of these underlying skill areas. These include: occupational therapists, speech and language pathologists, learning disability teachers, and optometrists.

Activities to introduce with young children in order to develop the necessary pre-writing skills - fine motor control, memory, concentration, and sequencing can include;

  • Memory, sequencing & matching games
  • Puzzles
  • Alphabet familiarization
  • Construction and planning toys
  • Painting, drawing, and stenciling
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