Pre-writing skills

Pre-writing skills are the fundamental skills children need to develop before they are able to write. These skills contribute to the child’s ability to hold and use a pencil, and the ability to draw, write, copy, and colour. A major component of pre-writing skills are the pre-writing shapes. These are the pencil strokes that most letters, numbers and early drawings are comprised of. They are typically mastered in sequential order, and to an age specific level. 

Pre-writing skills are essential for the child to be able to develop the ability to hold and move a pencil fluently and effectively and therefore produce legible writing. When these skills are underdeveloped it can lead to frustration and resistance due to the child not being able to produce legible writing or to ‘keep up’ in class due to fatigue. This can then result in poor self-esteem and academic performance.

How can I tell if my child has problems with pre-writing skills?

If a child has difficulties with writing readiness they might:

  • Have an awkward pencil grasp.
  • Have difficulty controlling a pencil for colouring, drawing or writing.
  • Show a tendency to use their whole hand to manipulate objects rather than just a few fingers.
  • Have poor endurance for pencil based activities.
  • Display messy and/or slow handwriting.
  • Have difficulty staying within the lines when colouring.
  • Apply inappropriate pressure to the paper for pencil based activities (either too heavy and frequently breaks the pencil, or too light and ‘spidery’).
  • Have poor upper limb strength (weak shoulders).
  • Have difficulty coordinating both hands together for two handed tasks.
  • Have poor hand-eye coordination.
  • Be verbally skilled but has difficulty showing this on paper (i.e. writing, drawing or colouring).
  • Not meet the pre-writing expectations outlined below.


What activities can help improve pre-writing skills?

  • Threading and lacing with a variety of sized laces.
  • Play-doh (playdough) activities that may involve rolling with hands or a rolling pin, hiding objects such as coins in the play dough or just creative construction.
  • Scissor projects that may involve cutting out geometric shapes to then paste them together to make pictures such as robots, trains or houses.
  • Tongs or teabag squeezers to pick up objects.
  • Drawing or writing on a vertical surface.
  • Every day activities that require finger strength such as opening containers and jars.
  • Pre writing shapes: Practice drawing the pre-writing shapes (l, —, O, +, /, square, \, X, and Δ).
  • Finger games: that practice specific finger movements such as Incy wincy Spider.
  • Craft: Make things using old boxes, egg cartons, wool, paper and sticky or masking tape.
  • Construction: Building with duplo, lego, mobilo or other construction toys.