Many formal handwriting programs begin at 4 years of age. Handwriting Without Tears, Fundations, and others begin with children tracing letters and quickly progress to writing. But the foundational skills for handwriting actually begin early. Before your child’s first birthday. Yes, that early. And, believe it or not, that is when you could be teaching important skills that will eventually morph into handwriting.
No, I am not suggesting that we start teaching infants to write! I have met a handful of very gifted children, some of whom could read before 4, but not one was writing letters before their first birthday. The foundational skills for handwriting are grasp, reach, bilateral control, posture, ocular (eye) control and visual perception. And every single one of these skills is developing before a child turns 1.
How do you develop these skills? Play. Play with small toys, play with big ones. Play that requires a child to move. Crawling through a tunnel and climbing over cushions to develop arm and hand control. Play on their stomach and play standing at a table for posture and core stability. Play that requires more than tapping a screen or pressing a button. I love my tablet as much as the next person, but I was fortunate to grow up before it was invented. I had something called “toys”.
If you sent me to teach occupational therapists in a developing country, I would bring a small bag of the best toys I know: crayons, paper, scissors, LEGOs, balls of all sizes, and I would use some things that every home is likely to have: small cups for scooping and emptying, scarves for peek-a-boo, and little pieces of food for self-feeding. This is all you need. Really. Giving a child the chance to feed themselves, play in water and sand, build and scribble can do a lot to build foundational skills.
One thing that I forgot to mention as a foundational skill is……interest. Some kids are very interested in coloring. Many are not. Same with reading. How do you get your child interested in writing? You allow them access to tools, make the tools desirable, and show them that you enjoy coloring or writing. When your infant reaches for your pen and you slide it away from them, they are showing you interest. They can’t use a pen, but they can mess around with food puree on their high chair tray, drawing lines in the goo. Prewriting at work. When your toddler wants to eat the marker, remind them that these are for scribbling, and help them to make a masterpiece. Every day. Find fun materials. I am a big fan of crayons instead of markers, but there are some sparkly crayons and some great markers and papers that don’t destroy your home while your child is learning to draw and write Color Wonder Paper Will Boost Creativity and Save Your Walls.
Not an artist? No problem! Fake it. Just like you gleefully eat veggies even though you’d rather have cake, scribble and make something silly on paper. Show how much fun it is. You might find out that you are more creative than you thought, or that once you kill that critic in your head, you actually like to draw.
Child development experts bemoan the limited language skills of kids from families without books. Philanthropists like Dolly Parton donate tons of books to poor families in the hopes that children will be read to and develop a love of reading. Guess what? Children need to have early experiences with writing and drawing as well. The family that has no crayons, no markers, no paper and no interest in drawing or writing will not inspire their children.
Give the gift of “pre” prewriting to your child, and give them a head start today!
Looking for more information on handwriting and development? Read Have More Fun When You Use Drawing To Develop Pre-Writing Skills and Why Dot-To-Dot Letter Practice Slows Down Writing Speed and Legibility.