A friend of mine recently came to me with a problem – her pre-schooler hates to write. My first thought was, “She’s 4! Of course she hates to write. What on earth is she writing anyway?” But deep down I guess that I get it. Writing is important and I know it’s a skill that is expected of pre-school aged children. Do I agree with this? Nope. Personally I think that children shouldn’t be expected to use their fine motor skills this precisely until their gross motor skills are more developed. But back to the task at hand (no pun intended).
The bottom line is kindergartners and pre-schoolers are expected to write, whether they’re ready or not. Which leaves us with the question: What can parents do to practice writing and ease the frustration that may come with the task? Let’s start by finding activities that your child will enjoy and that are age-appropriate. Keep in mind that writing skills are naturally developed and strengthened during almost all play activities. Even infants reaching for a toy or picking up a cheerio for the first time are working on developing the muscles necessary to write. So simply playing catch or building blocks with your child can help them develop motor skills that are associated with writing, without mention of the dreaded word ‘write’.
Here is a list of fun activities that can help your child work on these skills, regardless of where they are in their writing abilities.
(1) Build with play dough! Squeezing, rolling, pushing, molding and pinching are all great ways to strengthen the hand muscles necessary for writing. Want to sneak in some letter identification? Use alphabet cookie cutters or roll the dough into ‘snakes’ be shaped into letters. Even my one year old loves identifying and tracing clay letters with her fingers. This is a great way to explore letter shapes, while strengthening hand muscles.
(2) Though it’s definitely not necessary to purchase items, my daughter LOVES this Helping Hands Fine Motor Tool Kit! She uses the tools with enthusiasm in the sand box, water table or the bath!
(3) Another fun product (the holidays are coming!) is the Boogie Board Play N’Trace. It’s sort of like a high tech Magna Doodle. It can be used to write/draw or trace. There is a downloadable iPad app. We were given one as a gift and I think it is pretty awesome! I’m saving it for our next long car ride or restaurant trip. It’s a great quiet toy.
(4) Multi-sensory writing practice is a fun, tactile way to encourage writing. This would include drawing in shaving cream, sand, pudding, finger paint, etc. Start simply with pre-writing shapes such as circles, vertical lines (top to bottom) and horizontal lines (left to right) before moving into letters. Rather than simply verbalizing your direction (“draw a circle”) use magnet letters or flash cards (can be hand drawn as I’ve done) as a visual prompt. This way, your child is solely focused on the writing and not having to multi task, recalling which letter/shape you’re asking for!
(5) Make a letter ‘road’ to ‘trace’ with cars! Using large paper or side-walk chalk, draw a roadway in the shapes/letters you’re targeting. Let your child drive their favorite cars along the letters. This activity was a huge hit. Side note: we are definitely a Peppa Pig household…
To sum things up, if your child is frustrated start by approaching writing with anything BUT a pen or pencil! Give them markers, play dough, crayons, paint brushes, scratch art, oil pastels,Wikki Stix, a Magna Doodle… really ANYTHING other than the pencil and paper they associate with writing for school. Keep in mind that their fine motor skills may not be there yet (and that’s okay) so try working with basic shapes/lines and on a larger scale (sidewalk chalk letters). Most importantly, keep it engaging and fun.
These are just a few suggestions that can be done at home. Here is a Pinterest board of additional activities you can try!