I am not a huge fan of teaching preschool children to trace strokes. I am very interested in the use of simple drawing to build pencil control and other pre-writing skills. But done right, tracing can be fun and useful for both the child and the adult. Here is one way to use tracing effectively: Rainbow Tracing.
What is it? The child traces the same target stroke with at least 3 different colors before moving onto the next stroke. If needed, the adult can initiate/demonstrate first, and the child can repeat with additional colors. It isn’t necessary for the child to be incredibly accurate, but they do have to start at the correct spot and attempt to end their stroke at the correct spot.
The target tracing line has to be sufficiently wide and simple enough to allow for reasonable expectation of success. An example would be that a three year-old is asked to trace a curved line, not a series of diagonals. The developmental progression assumes that most threes aren’t ready to execute diagonal lines independently.
Why is Rainbow Tracing helpful? By repeating a traced line, a child receives more practice for stroke control and grasp. It is colorful, and the colors are the child’s choice. This allows some creativity and agency in an activity that might otherwise be boring and produce very little motivation in a child.
What about a child who traces over their errors? If a child’s initial stroke is wildly off the target, they are more likely to re-trace their error. If the adult knows that this is going to be an issue for this child, they can offer another copy of the same sheet, or the adult can be the first “tracer”. They could also offer an easier and wider stroke to trace.
What do you do with the results? Celebrate it, of course! Kids love to put their drawings in an envelope and mail them. Scanning them isn’t as exciting to a young child. They like doing things “old school”. So do a lot of grandparents and great-grandparents!