This blog is here for you to find fun learning activities to do with your children. We share great ideas we find and love on the Internet, as well as ideas we come up with on our own! We also like to share resources we find helpful.

To find ideas for your child, click on the age range blog label or on the theme/topic you are looking for (on the left side of the page). In each post, we try to list optimal age ranges for the activity, but you must judge for yourself if it is appropriate for your child. When you try an activity out, please comment and let us (and everyone else) know how your child liked it!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Pre-Writing Skills

Have you ever stopped to watch a young child color? Often times they color using their entire arm, in a scribbling motion. As they get older, the movement involves less of their arms and more of the wrists. Then gradually it becomes movement from the wrists and fingers, using very little of their arms and shoulders, if any. It's called proximal-distal motor development. Basically it means that kids learn to control the muscles closest to the body first (like the shoulders) before they learn to control the muscles that are far away from the body (like the wrist, hand, and fingers).

I am not an occupational therapist and don't claim to be. But according to some occupational therapists that I've spoken to and handwriting programs I've seen, there are a few shapes that need to be mastered in order to write. I don't know if they have to be mastered in order to be able to write, but it may help with neat handwriting and cause less frustration. Some of these shapes include vertical lines () , horizontal lines (-) , circles, X, +, and sloping lines like / and \. Activities that involve crossing the body's mid line (like making an X or sloping lines) take practice in order for children to make the shape well without switching hands.
In our handwriting program we used when I taught, we had children strengthen their arm muscles by using chart paper and practicing very large drawing vertical lines (from about their heads to about belly button level).
I did this activity with my toddler the other day. It was very interesting! I also noticed a definite difference in hand strength just by the amount of pressure she was able to put on the paper with her pencil. By the way, I recommend using a pencil or chalk for this activity instead of markers. Pencils and chalk help create drag, so it is an easy way to help strengthen their hand muscles as well (according to the OT at the elementary school where I taught.)

Materials: Chalkboard and chalk or paper and pencils. Large chalkboard (vertical) or chart paper or butcher paper (I use the back of wrapping paper in a pinch).

Prep: Draw dots to be connected in desired On a sheet of paper, draw dots to be connected on the pages. Start with vertical, which may be the easiest for them since they aren't crossing the body's mid line. As they get more proficient, move on to horizontal, sloping, crossing lines, and eventually making shapes (circle, squares, triangles, etc). I wouldn't try to tackle everything in one day, or even one week, unless you are dealing with an older child.
Example of dots in multiple colors to draw vertical lines:

Example for horizontal lines:

Example of lines to be connected to make a square:


  • Show your child how to connect the dots. Tell them to connect the dots that are the same color. ("Touch the red dot with the pencil. Draw a line from this red dot to the other red dot you see.")
  • Try this activity on large chart paper or large sheets of wrapping paper or butcher paper, hung up on a wall or easel. The larger the shape, the easier it may be since kids develop muscles closer to the body first.
Things to notice:
  • Are the lines dark or very light?
  • Can they draw the line from one dot to another easily?
  • Which shapes (vertical, horizontal, sloping, X, etc) are easier? Which are more difficult?
  • Are the lines shaky or smooth?
  • Can they draw the lines in an unbroken movement, even crossing the body's mid line?
This is a great way to get ready for writing and strengthen shoulder, arm, hand, and finger muscles. This activity was tough for my 2 year old, but I've already seen progression as we've practiced. We've been doing it a little each day.
This activity doesn't have to take a long time. I have a piece of chart paper set up on the wall in my kitchen. Each morning with my daughter gets up, she can get a piece of chalk and draw a line from the top to the bottom. Quick, easy, painless, but very beneficial in the long run!


Penny said...

This is a great activity! My son went through OT for fine motor skills when he was 4, and got lots and lots of worksheets which had vertical lines on them. 'Join the clown to the balloon', 'Draw the stem on the flower' etc etc.

He also had worksheets with circles (anticlockwise), mountains (zigzags), and horizontal lines. Mid-line crossing was addressed in the beginning by drawing large circles (2foot diameter) on a wall chart, using 1 hand only and minimal body twisting.

These activities were hugely beneficial for him, so doing similar activities at a younger age would hopefully prevent the need for OT.

Kyle, Amanda, and Tobias said...

This is great, is this a part of the Handwriting Without Tears curriculum suggestions? I will definitely be keeping this activity on record to use as part of our preschool writing curriculum. I'm thinking this would be best with a 3 year old but Tobias is good with fine motor skills so maybe 2.5 would be okay in small amounts. What do you think? I only taught kindergarten for one year and my certification is with the older kids so I haven't learned all the kindergarten teacher tricks yet :)

McCullough Family said...

I LOVE all these activites and so appreciate all the work you all put into this blog. It is so helpful and most things are so easy we can do them that day. Thanks so much for helping me be a better mom!

Raegan said...

It's kind of an adaptation for smaller children compared to what we used with HWT. I am not familiar with the preschool version, so I suppose it's possible that this is similar or included since I tried to make this activity work for smaller children. With Tobias, I don't think there's any harm in starting the vertical lines on large chart paper even at 2. It's literally just one big line down, so it's not too involved. With practice I think you'll be able to see how his muscles develop. Plus, using any painting (like bathtub painting on the tub walls that require an up and down motion) or sidewalk chalk activity is another chance to build and practice without it being too intense. I will say that though it isn't directly HWT, much of this info I learned through that program and through the OTs that helped us in the classroom.


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