Teaching preschoolers to write should be fun. There’s a lot that has to happen before they are going to be off to the races and forming letters on their own though. Toddlers and pre-schoolers aren’t developmentally ready to write solo yet, but they do all kinds of things that prepare them for the writing they will do later on. Physical writing control comes in stages:
- vertical strokes
- horizontal strokes
- circular motions
- following pathways
- tracing paths
- independent formation of shapes, figures, letters, and more
Sometimes we try to hurry kids through these because everything before the actual writing just feels like scribbling to grown-ups. Moms I’ve talked to spend a lot of time worrying about their kids reaching that next milestone, whether it be in potty training or writing their first letters. Why are we in such a big hurry for kids to grow up? Relax, moms. Relax. Let them be little. And, for crying out loud, stop worrying about what Johnny Nextdoor is doing.
Instead fussing about writing right away, here are some fun things little ones can do to help them work through these stages naturally as they develop muscles and motor control.
1. Encourage scribbling! Ooh and ahh over it! Your little Van Gogh’s scribbling masterpiece should be all over your fridge door, out of the lines, crazy colors, and all! Coloring books or plain paper, it doesn’t matter. Just explore with crayons, pencils, pens, and markers. My little ones especially like writing on white boards because it’s so smooth and easy.
2. Make a gel bag. Put hair gel inside a resealable freezer bag and let kids use their fingers to draw designs and lines in it. You can also have fun like this with shaving cream, bubble bath, moon sand, or any other tactile material.
3. Make a salt or sand box. You can also use a pencil box or food container with salt or fine sand. Draw in it.
4. Paint. I like watercolors for little ones, but washable tempera paint is fun too. Water painting works well for families that want to avoid a paint mess. Just give a cup of water and a paintbrush to a kiddo on the sidewalk outside and let them make water paintings.
5. Color. Take a coloring book along when you go to the doctor, church, or anywhere you’ll be doing some sitting. If they have to sit still anyway, coloring is a great way to entertain even kids who aren’t really into coloring.
6. Draw with sidewalk chalk outside.
7. Teach your kiddo some sign language. This works really well with late talkers too. Often frustrated communicators have tantrums. Sign language develops muscles and the brain, and also helps overcome communication gaps.
8. Play with pathways. Mom draws roads on the paper – some straight, some curvy, some zigzagged – and let kids try to keep their pen on the road as they draw a line along it. If they crash off the edge they go back and start again.
9. Do mazes. I always pick up some easy maze books for my preschoolers. They love the game and get serious satisfaction out of finding their way through to the end. On top of the fun, they are great for motor control exercise.
10. Trace in all kinds of things – water, sandboxes, on the frosty car windows – show preschoolers how to write and draw on all kinds of surfaces all the time. Don’t go anywhere without having letter recognition or writing be a part of your excursion.
11. Play Growing Squiggle. Mom draws an enclosed squiggle in the middle of the paper, then players take turns making it grow in new colors. You can start with simple circles and get more and more complex as kids get better at it.
12. Try bubble writing. Mom writes a word in large, clear letters, then kids get to make “bubbles” all along the lines of the letters.
13. Do shadow tracing. Again, Mom writes a word and then kids get to draw its “shadows” in other colors.
14. Trace a highlighter. When my kids are pretty steady with their pencil and have started into handwriting books, but aren’t really ready to write everything on their own, I write their words in yellow highlighter pen and then let them trace over the words. You can also share the pen. You do some writing, then let them do some tracing over words, then you do some more writing. This will encourage kids to get their ideas out without bearing the full burden of doing all the writing.
Just keep playing games, talking about letters, and letting them draw and color like crazy. Soon they’ll be off to writing letters on their own. In the meantime, congratulate all of their literary efforts no matter how small. It’s amazing what a little applause does for a developing toddler.
Please try to remember that hurrying kids through the stages of learning things isn’t doing them any favors. Developmentally, kids will progress when they are ready. Create a fun, playful environment where they can try their all their new skills with lots of positivity, and you’re much more likely to have eager learners down the road. One of the things I like best about homeschooling is being able to have my kids work at their own developmental pace, free from worrying if they are right on track with common core, their grade level, or that kid who sits at the next desk. I am mindful that they are progressing, but I am not overly concerned with comparing them with national averages or every other kid out there. Teaching preschoolers to write should be fun! All learning, especially in preschool, should be fun. Just relax Mama, and let the playful learning begin.
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