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Catching Handwriting

Updated: May 12, 2023

Writing Development

For most children, art development leads directly to writing. As children experiment with lines and shapes, they notice print. Soon, they try to print letters and then words. Initially, scribble writing resembles scribble drawing. It is important to accept the efforts of each child and to recognize every drawing as a sign of emerging literacy. Requiring a child to write letters correctly before the child is developmentally ready may cause damage to the wrist and arrest writing ability. Fine motor skills develop from the abilities to move and draw in the following sequence.

1. vertical movements,

2. horizontal movements,

3. diagonal movements,

4. circular movements and circles,

5. squares and rectangles,

6. triangles,

7. diamonds.

The shapes listed above are initially made during controlled scribbling. Understanding the sequence of hand control, you will want to introduce letters with vertical and horizontal shapes before those with circular parts. Soon three-and four-year-old children begin to add random letters to their controlled scribbling. They may think that each letter represents a syllable or a word. Random letters lead to an understanding that letters and sounds are linked in systematic ways.

Remember that gross motor movements develop before fine motor skills. A child having difficulty writing letters may need practice with large movements before being expected to put pen to paper. Encouraging a child to write large symbols on a chalkboard aids the transition from gross to fine motor coordination.

In each of the developmental stages, allow each child to engage in learning at that child’s stage of development. Ask yourself, “How can I structure learning to ensure progress for this child?” Anytime a student experiences frustration, change the sensory experience or provide a physically less challenging task. Changing the sensory experience includes providing reading material with larger letters, writing on a vertical surface such as a whiteboard or chalkboard, using colors, or adding touch to the process. At this stage, encourage the child to use his entire hand to trace.

Reducing the physical challenge often involves changing body positions. Try letting the child lie prone on the floor with the paper or book propped up at an angle. Standing to use a vertical surface may help. Allowing a different grip for pencils or crayons sometimes improves control and formation. Learning Without Tears (previously Handwriting Without Tears), uses wooden sticks to build letters before asking a child to write them. The collection of sticks includes long straight pieces, short straight pieces, large curves, and small curves. In addition, children may benefit from forming letters with clay or Wiki sticks prior to writing.

Before every activity, remember to: 1) model what to do, 2) do the activity together, and when the child is ready, 3) ask the child to do the task alone.

Sensitivity to developmental stages helps parents and teachers set appropriate objectives. For example, if a child lacks the ability to use conventional spelling, choose an objective from one of the lower stages. Integrating art, writing, and spelling can be seen below.


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