Playing is fun and learning can be too!

Preparing Little Hands for Writing

Written by Debbie Markland

        I have seen this photo above posted frequently around early education sites recently.  It is fascinating to study all the bone developmental differences between a younger child’s hand and an older child’s hand.  I thought I would remind readers about the importance of developing certain skills before diving into teaching children how to actually write.

        Crossing the midline is vital to the development of using both sides of the body together, an important pre-writing skill. It promotes the coordination and communication of the left and right hemispheres of the brain. It also encourages bilateral coordination, the process of developing a dominant hand and development of fine-motor skills.  Some of my favorite crossing the midline activities are:painting on an easel or drawing on a large white board on the wall



        Children also need to have developed their pincer graspthe coordination of the index finger and thumb to hold an item.  Most babies develop this around 9 months, but it needs to be strengthened as they grow, really to also include the middle finger as they move towards holding a pencil or writing tool.  Adding on to this skill is the development of in-hand manipulation – moving things in and out of your palm.  I love working on fine motor skills- there are so many fun things to do, but three of my favorite are:



          Important to start observing as well while your child is making their way to writing, is their hand dominance.  While a hand preference usually starts to develop between the ages of 2 to 4, it is common at this stage for children to swap hands. Between the ages of 4 to 6 years a clear hand preference is usually established.  If they are still swapping, simply make note of which hand they tend to use the most, and gently encourage them to use that hand.  

        The last thing that children should work on before learning to write letters is working on pre-writing strokes.  Can they make vertical and horizontal lines?  Circles?  Diagonal lines?  Fun ways to do this include:

  • writing in sand with their fingers
  • playing and writing in shaving cream
  • build a line/ shape and then write it (using sticks or playdough)


Just remember, as the photo shows… their hands may not be ready for writing.  They need to PLAY to strengthen their little hand muscles and we need to be patient as their bones in their hands develop.

          About the Author: Debbie Markland     

Hi! I am Debbie Markland, Education Consultant for Learn As You Play.  I live in Atlanta, GA where I teach 3 year olds!  I have taught for 18 years total! I have worked with age 2 all the way through middle school. I have enjoyed watching the ebb and flow of educational practices since I first taught in 1991, and being immersed in these changes enables my own learning to continue.  I like to describe myself as flexible, creative, and open-minded. I strive to continuously be building curiosity in my students!

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