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The Developmental Stages of Children’s Handwriting

Early Years and Pre-handwriting Patterns

Young children’s first experience on the handwriting route involves mark making and simple drawings, whether it is with finger paints, writing in sand or with pencils and crayons. From about the age of 2, children start to move from a simple grasping (primitive) grip to one that secures the writing tool between the fingers and the thumb. In the early stages of writing young children will try different holds, which is part of their normal grip development for handwriting and drawing.

It has been widely acknowledged that a child who is forced to hold a writing tool using the correct grip, before they are developmentally ready, can be turned off engaging in the writing/drawing process as well as developing a poor pencil grip later on. Remember some children do not develop the ability to use the tripod grip until the age of 5/6 years old.

As young children’s body’s (gross motor skills), hand strength and dexterity (fine motor skills) are developing they need a range of pencil, crayon and paint brush thickness’. Young children tend to prefer the thicker drawing tools as they can grip them more easily, helping them to mark make. If the pencil is too thin they find it difficult to grasp and control, making the drawing experience unsuccessful, which can lead to frustration and discourage them from trying again.

Vertical drawing and painting surfaces are important in helping young children to develop the wrist strength and flexibility they will need later on to hold a pencil correctly for handwriting. Using plain rather than lined paper is considered best as many children find it less restrictive. Young children due to the stage of their physical development use large movements to draw (from the shoulder rather than the wrist) which often creates larger shapes and lines. As their gross and fine motor skills develop so does their pencil grip and ability to draw and write at a small scale, moving more from the elbow and wrist.    

Young children begin to learn pre-handwriting patterns long before they can hold a pencil properly in the tripod grip. They begin to learn directional pushes and pulls as they play with their toys such as cars or pretending to cook. Pre-letter patterns are then taught to young children through drawing pictures, patterns and then as letter shapes. Initially taught at a large size to help store them in the motor memory to be recalled later when the child is learning to refine their letter formation skills.

Formal Pre-handwriting Patterns and Letter Formation

Once a child is ready to start sitting at a desk to write it is important to ensure that the sitting position and table height is correct for them. At this stage they also need to be taught body and paper position for writing at a table. Inappropriate positioning can lead to poor handwriting and developmental issues.

Depending on the child’s age and development stage it may be appropriate to teach them how to form a tripod grip for handwriting. Some children are ready by the age of 4, most by 5  and a few not until they are 6. Age is not an issue it should be about when they are physically ready.

Pre-handwriting letter patterns teach a child the shapes and directional pushes and pulls of the writing tool required to form letters. All letters are combinations of these shapes and lines. Once they have mastered the pre-handwriting patterns they are ready to learn how to form letters.

We would recommend teaching lower case letters first and the capital letter of your child’s name.

When beginning to form letters it is a good idea to use plain paper, as the aim at this stage is to learn how to form the letters correctly not size or neatness, that comes later.

To help develop and reinforce the idea of letter proportions and positioning we have split the animation backgrounds into three colour zones to represent the sky, grass and earth. There are a number of reasons why this can be beneficial:

It is better to teach letter formation in groups/families rather than alphabetical order. These groups are based on the orientation and shapes needed to form the letters. This approach can help prevent children developing certain letter reversal issues such as “b” and “d” as they are taught in different groupings.

Refining and Joining Letters

As a child’s fine motor skills develop it enables them to form smaller more refined versions of the letters and it is more appropriate to use lined paper.

A child is ready to join letters when:

Children generally begin to join letters from the age of 6 to 7 years old, depending on the handwriting font style being taught. Those taught a continuous cursive font style to begin with tend to join much earlier due to the nature of this font.

The ultimate aim is for your child to develop a good handwriting style; which means;