Pre-Writing Development. Scribble Salt Tray Activity

Mark making and scribbling are our children’s first attempts at putting pen (or crayon) to paper as they begin their journey of pre-writing strokes development.  From there, they need to transition to controlled replication of the basic lines, strokes and forms as their pre-writing development progresses.  Pre-writing stroke development does have a typical order in which it proceeds.  However, we are more concerned about our children engaging and having fun than being a slave to them mastering the strokes in the exact developmental order.  I will consider some aspects of the development of pre-writing skills, and you can get an activity download for a dice and salt tray activity.

A pre-writing stroke development quote by a kid: “I will learn to write, but I must first learn how to draw lines and shapes.”

Why kids avoid these activities

Children need to learn to draw lines and shapes as one of the stages of pre-writing development.  But sometimes, our children get stuck for different reasons and seem to shy away from the very activities we present to develop these skills.  It becomes a downward spiral if they begin avoiding pencil and paper tasks.  They find it difficult, so they avoid it.  They avoid it, so they don’t develop their skills, and it feels more difficult.

The social aspect also feeds into the downward slide.  Our children are very astute and aware of their limitations compared to their peers.  Once they have tried to put pen to paper and realised their efforts are nowhere near the quality of their peers, they will beat a hasty retreat.

So we have weak skills overlayed with avoidance, which is a very bad combination.  Once our kids have retreated, we have to get creative.  If we can’t get in the front door, we need to find a side door.

The side door needs to offer the following:

  1. A chance to experiment without a permanent reminder of their weaknesses;
  2. A completely different media to reduce the sense of threat;
  3. Chance for repetition;
  4. Fun.

Activities need to be fun!

A pre-writing strokes development quote by Bunty McDougall, OT: “Children learn when they are having fun.”

“ Enjoyable playing makes children happy and willing to repeat the same activity, so they do not feel that they are training the muscles to work.”

Improving Motor Skills in Early Childhood through Goal-Oriented Play Activity:
Sutapa, P, Pratama, K, Rosly, M, Ali. S and Karakauki, M

While we know that structured activities and free play are different, this quote from a research paper on motor development and play holds true for activities as it does for play.  In order to develop pre-writing skills, our kids need repetition.  And they will repeat it over and over if the activity is fun.

A tried and tested winner

This salt tray and dice activity fulfils all the requirements of a side door activity and is a winner for pre-writing development with our kids:

  1. Our scribble options are always correct so your child can be successful every time!
  2. It is fun;
  3. You can erase your mistakes in an instant;
  4. The dice provides the motivation to keep going, which facilitates repetition.

How to make your colour salt tray

  1. Select a container. The sides need to provide sufficient depth so that all the salt doesn’t land outside the tray the first time your children jump in.
  2. The container also needs to offer enough space for the less refined strokes typical of this age and where the nature of the activity means movement is initiated from the shoulder. A baking or serving tray with sides is ideal.
  3. Choose colours for your base sheet and glue them together. Ensure the edges are all firmly stuck down, so there aren’t bumps that interfere with the brush, pom pom, or finger making the mark. You may wish to cover the paper, but I would avoid laminating it. I prefer the way the salt spreads over the paper surface.
  4. You can provide a paintbrush, a pom pom, or your child can use their finger.
  5. Choose the pre-writing development lines you wish to use from the download, cut them out, and stick them to your dice.
  6. You are good to go!

In closing about development of pre-writing skills

Pre-writing development activities must allow your child to be successful.  This requires them to be pitched at the correct level.  Unlike most occupational therapy activities where the just right challenge is at a level that will stretch your child just that little bit, in this instance, the just right challenge is at the most basic of basic levels.  This will enable the child to experience a sense of mastery.  Your primary goal is building the critical foundation for confidence and engagement, which will provide the base for future pre-writing stroke development.

©Bunty McDougall
Occupational Therapist

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