Writing is a waterloo for many children. The act takes a lot of effort and deliberate movements which can be discouraging for some kids. Do not feel pressured for your child to develop good handwriting as soon as he can hold a pencil. Holding a pencil to paper and using deliberate movements of the hand to write letters and numbers is not as easy as it seems. It is a fine motor skill that only gets gradually developed with proper preparation and practice.
At around 4 to 5 years old is a reasonable age to expect your child to write letters and numbers. Before your child even gets to this point, there are a lot of ways you can help him be ready to write. It does not, however, mean giving him pencil and asking him to write. There are activities that do not involve any actual writing but will help develop the muscles and coordination that your toddler will need to learn the skill. Let your child have fun trying these activities!
1. Play with clothespins. A clothespin or sipit is one of the most fun things for toddlers! The best part is these are great for developing fine motor skills that will come in handy when learning to write. There are countless ways you can use clothespins. It can be as simple as giving your child an empty cardboard box and letting him attach the clothespins around the edges. You can even take it further by including some alphabet, numbers, colors, or shapes matching.
Although you can definitely hand over any clothespin you may have readily available at home, you can add in some difficulty level by looking for a variety of clothespins. Start with plastic ones that are quite easy to open. Once your child has mastered using them, let him ‘move up’ to sturdier plastic ones. If you want to challenge your toddler even more, give him some tight wooden ones.
2. Paint with cotton buds. Cotton buds are not just for cleaning ears but great for painting as well! These are perfect for those who would like to go beyond finger painting and would like an alternative to the usual paint brushes. The size of cotton buds is perfect for your little one’s hands to develop just the right degree of dexterity. Simply bring out your child’s favorite coloring book or hand him a blank piece of paper. Bring out several pieces of cotton buds and colorful paint and let your toddler create his masterpiece. Just make sure to be within easy reach as he just might think of using the buds for what they are originally used for.
3. Knead some playdough. Another sure hit for many toddlers is playdough. Don’t think that your child will have to create fancy figures to make sure that he is developing his fine motor skills – the simple acts of squeezing, rolling, pinching, pressing, and all other movements typically made when playing with playdough will greatly help in building strength in your child’s hands.
4. Use a dropper. Get ready for a bit of messy fun! Give your child a few droppers, several plastic containers, and a cup of water, and then let him transfer the water in the cup to the containers using the droppers. You can make it more fun and educational by putting some water with basic food color in some of the containers and then teaching your child to mix two colors at a time.
5. Make paper balls. Do you have a lot of used paper at home? Give a few to your child and show him how to make balls out of them by scrunching them. This may not seem like it will do much in terms of preparing your child to write, but scrunching the paper into balls will help build hand strength and develop a strong solid grip.
6. Get him a tong or a tweezer. Another great material for developing hand muscles are tongs and tweezers. Get your toddler started with tongs and then eventually letting him progress to using tweezers. A simple activity would be to have two containers – one empty and one with items that can be picked up with tongs or tweezers. Simply ask your toddler to transfer the items from one container to another using the tongs or tweezers.
7. Lace up. Lacing is a great activity not just for developing fine motor skills, but for keeping your little one busy too! There is no need to look for fancy lacing materials; just get a sturdy used cardboard and an old but clean shoelace to get your toddler started. Cut the cardboard into a simple shape and figure and then punch holes around the edges. Make sure to keep the holes at least an inch apart to make it easy for your child to put the laces through. Show your child how to put the lace around the cardboard by putting it through each hole and then let him try it out for himself.
8. Cut. Paste. Repeat. There are numerous activities that involve gluing and pasting and all of them are awesome for developing hand strength and dexterity. A basic and simple activity is to draw a shape on a piece of paper and then asking your child to fill up this shape by gluing or pasting small pieces of precut colored paper. The colored paper can be any used paper; it can be from old magazines, newspapers, brochures and flyers, and other paper materials that you might have ready for throwing away.
Beyond these prewriting activities, remember to give your toddler a lot of opportunities to doodle with anything that can be used for writing. Have crayons, markers, pencils, and pens ready, as well as pieces of paper or coloring books, available for him to practice with. Any activity that will let him use his hands actively will greatly help in developing his fine motor skills and in getting him ready to write.