Pushing kids into writing before they are developmentally ready happens to be one of my pet peeves. (I actually have quite a few of them, you can read all about them here.)

Experience has shown me is that children should NOT be pushed into handwriting before they’re ready. So, many kids are entering Kindergarten without the basic pre-writing skills they need. Yet, the Kindergarten curriculum expects them to be writing right away!

Before handwriting, children need to master pre-writing skills

Pre-writing skills are the lines, shapes, and strokes kids need to master and know before learning how to print the alphabet. They develop these from 1 year to 5 years old.

Pre-writing skills ARE important.

Kids need to learn and master pre-writing lines, strokes, and shapes and strengthen their fine
motor skills before learning how to form the letters of their name or the alphabet.

Prewriting Milestones

1-2 years old:

A baby is typically scribbling and learning to make marks on paper. They are probably holding a crayon or marker with their whole hand. This is called a palmar supinate grasp.

As they develop more control, the next step is to imitate. Maybe you make a line or shape and
then your child imitates that same line or shape.

Imitating vs copying

  • Imitating is when a child watches you draw the line or shape before they try it.
    Copying is when there’s already lines on a page and the child looks at it and then they figure out how to make those lines.
  • Learning the right formation is very important—This will impact how they form their letters as they get older.
2-3 years old prewriting skills:
  • They are learning to imitate vertical and horizontal lines.
  • They are also learning to imitate circular lines.
  • They are also holding their writing tool in a digital pronate grasp.
3-4 years old prewriting skills:
  • Copy vertical and horizontal lines and a circle.
  • They are now learning how to imitate a cross.
  • Pencil grasp is progressing from a digital pronate grasp to a static tripod grasp. They are holding it with their thumb and their fingers, but they’re probably using their wrists or their shoulders to do the work.
4-5 years old prewriting skills:
  • Copy a cross as well as lines and circles.
  • Learning to imitate squares and diagonal lines.
  • Once they learned the diagonal lines, you can teach them how to make an X.

Their grasp will develop into a dynamic tripod grasp. This means the movement is coming from their hand as opposed to their wrist and shoulders.

5 years old should be able to:
  • Copy horizontal and vertical lines, circles, crosses, squares, and diagonal lines. The next shape to learn is a triangle!

Comparing Developmental Milestones to Curriculum Expectations… Uh-Oh!

The milestones listed above are what experts believe to be developmentally appropriate for up to 5 years old.

So think about it…there are a handful of children going into Kindergarten who are not even 5 years old yet. These poor little ones are already behind and pressured to keep up with their 5-year-old peers and an even harder Kindergarten curriculum. These children have just learned how to make basic lines and shapes. Now we are rushing them into writing capital and lower case letters right away as they enter Kindergarten.

The outcome of poor pre-writing skills

If 5-year-olds have not developed good pre-writing skills, this can impact the legibility of their emerging handwriting skills.

Their letters will be sloppy because they have not learned how to make a circle properly with closure. They will rush that circle and add a line in order to make an a. If they haven’t learned to form their lines and shapes from top to bottom, this will lead to poor letter and number formation. Eventually, this impacts their speed of writing.

Remember: you can show and teach letters as early as possible, but children really shouldn’t be learning how to WRITE letters until they’ve gotten these pre-writing strokes down. That depends on the child, but usually around 4 1/2 or 5 years. Unfortunately, most schools are under pressure to start much earlier than that.

What can you do to help?

In order for children to succeed in Kindergarten, we have to build confidence in your child’s pre-writing skills. There are a number of ways to develop and build these skills without using crayons or markers.

  • Finger paint
  • Shaving cream
  • Use stickers
  • Playdough
  • Gather some sticks outside or popsicle sticks to make lines and shapes
  • Sidewalk chalk
  • Use Bendaroos or Wiki stix
Teaching children about shapes and lines helps them to develop proper handwriting skills.

It may seem silly to spend so much time working on lines and squiggles, but our children really need that!

Please keep in mind when teaching letters…

There’s a developmental progression to letters, too! Children understand straight lines first, then circular lines, then diagonal lines.

So doesn’t it make sense to learn letters like H, L, T, F, E first as opposed to A, B, C??

Look at the letters of the alphabet and categorize them by straight lines, circular lines, and diagonal lines and teach them in that order. To learn more, check out my “How to Teach Handwriting in Groups” poster.


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