Pre-writing Skills Activities. From Scribbles to Handwriting

Our children’s first works of art are random scribbles on a page.  Within a few short years these scribbles have been transformed into the beautifully crafted letters that make up handwriting.  Handwriting is a critical scholastic milestone because it is the foundation for story writing and composition.  Some children make the transition from scribbles seamlessly, while others seem to get stuck.  They remain in the scribble phase, while their peers go from strength to strength, leaving them further and further behind.  Pre-writing skills activities are needed to help transition them from scribbles to script.  Our challenge is to ensure pre writing skills for preschoolers are fun and age appropriate with no boring worksheets!

preschool handwriting preparation, pre writing skills activities, pre writing activities pdf, pre writing activities worksheets, pre writing lines, examples of pre writing activities, fun preschool writing activities, what are pre writing activities, why pre writing activities are valuable, pre-handwriting, preschool writing strokes, writing strokes preschoolWe know that there are certain foundations that need to be in place before children can commence with formalised handwriting instruction.  Handwriting is like the top block on a block tower.  You can’t place the top block unless the earlier blocks are properly balanced.  A poorly built tower is going to come crashing down, just as handwriting is going to go horribly wrong if the foundational building blocks are not in place.   Trish Williams from The Mamma Zone covers the foundational fine motor skills that take place in the first year.

Developmental pyramid of pre writing skills for preschoolers

Just as you need many blocks to build an impressive tower, there are many foundational skills that need to be in place to master handwriting.  The muscles and movement patterns for pencil control need to be in place, as do the visual-perceptual foundations.  It is on these, and many other foundations, we may begin to build our letter formation tower that starts with scribbles and is topped off with letter formation for handwriting.

Scribbles are one of the foundational blocks.

I have put together a pyramid of progression of the stages your child will go through beginning with their scribbles to finally writing secondary school and even tertiary education exams.

When it comes to pre writing skills for preschoolers, they develop in a largely typical way. The pre writing activities transition from scribbles and mark making through to handwriting which develops to be used from writing words, to sentences, to paragraphs and stories. Our children ultimately use it for the writing of tests and examinations. This is why pre writing activities are so critical for our children.This pyramid looks at the hierarchical development of the pre-writing processes of handwriting showing how handwriting foundations and skills are needed for the higher level writing skills.  Research has shown that providing handwriting instruction alone will bring about improvement in writing output of elementary school children, and this shows us why.

This pyramid has focused on the handwriting aspects as a building blocks of written language.  It must, however, not be forgotten that there is a huge linguistic aspect that comes into play once our children start to construct sentences and ultimately paragraphs.  We have to bear these principles in mind when planning pre-writing skills activities.

From scribbles, our children develop the ability to form lines and strokes.  These include the vertical, horizontal, diagonal and circular lines.  Some children easily and naturally transition from scribbles to well-controlled lines and strokes.  They put the lines and strokes together to form beautiful artistic pictures of houses with roofs, a sun in the sky, and put diagonal lines together in a well-controlled way to form a unicorn's horn.

Your drawing looks like a scribble!

But for other children, this doesn’t seem to happen.  It is my experience that this is usually due to poor fine motor foundations that result in poor pencil control.  Poor pencil control means children lack the fine motor control to transition those scribbles into lines and strokes.  With children’s early exposure to preschool comes the inevitable judgement from other children.  Their raw honesty leads them to say: “your drawing looks like a scribble,” and that is the last piece of art work your child brings home.  They avoid painting and drawing, and remain stuck in the scribble phase.  We know they need to move on so their scribbles can become discernible lines and strokes.  At this point, where they studiously avoid participation in art activities for fear of judgement from their peers, we need to find a way to step in and nurture them over the bump.

Providing more of the same is not going to get them over this bump.  More opportunities to paint and draw are simply more opportunities for avoidance.  We need pre-writing skills for preschoolers that match their developmental abilities.

Rainbow pre-writing skills activities and download from Bunty McDougall and The Happy Handwriter.

Many writing line worksheets do not offer what our kids need

We have to intervene and offer something different that will empower the child to move from scribbles to lines and strokes.  The internet is bursting with worksheets with dotted lines and strokes for children to trace over.  I am of the firm opinion that these sheets are frequently a mismatch between the developmental abilities and interests of children, and the demands of these worksheets.  The children stuck in the scribble phase simply lack the fine motor control required to accurately trace the lines.  This diminished accuracy is often what landed them in this position in the first place.  In addition, the worksheets lack sufficient opportunities for the repetition required to master the lines and strokes.  And lastly, but probably most importantly, children at this stage should not be completing detailed worksheets.

We need fun interaction that fosters engagement, since engagement is one of the foundations of improvement. One of my favourite phrases is “children learn when they are having fun.” So, how can we harness these principles to get our children to transition from scribbles to lines and strokes and develop pre-writing skills activities?

If our children don’t experiment and draw they are not going to develop their pencil control.  And if they don’t develop pencil control, they will be unlikely to develop the foundational lines and strokes.

Pre-writing skills activities

When it comes to mastery of these lines and strokes, I believe in rhythm, and I believe in repetition.  We use familiar songs our children know and love to engage them so they unknowingly lay down the foundations for the foundational lines and strokes.

We trace, we sing, we build, we draw.  This allows for repetition.  And repetition lays down the motor pathways.  Compare this to a worksheet that has a few horizontal lines to be traced over. The graphics on those worksheets are usually adorable but the page is only so big which limits the repetition.  Also, it usually requires refined pencil control to trace over the lines, rather than the bold movements that we get with The Happy Handwriter’s Lines and Strokes pre-writing skills activities.

This is the fun innovative approach that gets our children over the bump from scribbles to lines and strokes. Once lines and strokes are well-established, it is time to put them together to form shapes.  Vertical and horizontal lines form a square house, and the diagonals the roof.  I believe in the sensory-motor approach for mastering shapes.  So, in our pre-writing activities, we build, we sing, we use tactile input, and we draw them, again with rainbow colours to provide ample opportunity for repetition.

In closing about pre-writing skills for preschoolers

From scribbles, to lines and strokes, to shapes, and finally letter formation. This is the journey that all our children need to travel to enable them to write stories, complete examinations and take notes. Upon reflection, it is humbling that this all starts with a scribble.

©Bunty McDougall
Occupational Therapist

When it comes to pre writing skills for preschoolers, they develop in a largely typical way. The pre writing activities transition from scribbles and mark making through to handwriting which develops to be used from writing words, to sentences, to paragraphs and stories. Our children ultimately use it for the writing of tests and examinations. This is why pre writing activities are so critical for our children.

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