“That’s my name!” a triumphant four-year-old told me the other day, pointing to the squiggly lines on their name tag. And they are right to be proud. Every shaky letter is there, even if I can’t read it yet. Writing is a journey that starts with scribbling to build coordination and hand strength and leads to understanding what letters are and recognizing them in the world. You can help by giving your child lots of opportunities to build fine motor skills and recognize letters and words in their environment.
Playing with sensory toys is a great way to start building manual dexterity since the fun textures encourage grasping, lifting, digging, and poking. For babies and toddlers this may look like using shovels in the sand. For older children you can have them trace letters in shaving cream in the bath. Other fun materials might be playdough, water beads, water, ooblek, or bubble wrap. Of course, if your child is still young enough to be putting things in their mouth, be careful to supervise when they are using some of these materials.
Crafts are another great way for children to build finger strength. Fingerpainting, tearing tissue paper, twisting pipe cleaners, using scissors - all of these are preparation for writing. And bonus points if they’re twisting pipe cleaners into letters of the alphabet or they sign their art work with their name. Remember to let them do most of the craft themselves. If their snowman looks like it’s already melted that’s okay! They did the work and will get the benefits.
Writing is all around us and showing the importance of it in our daily lives will help children begin to recognize letters. Write a grocery list with them, talk about the signs they see on the way to the store, then let them “read” the labels on the shelves. You can also have them write holiday cards or letters to family. You probably will need to put captions on their writing and pictures, but Grandma will still love it.
Play games like letter hunts. You can hide actual letters around the living room or put magnetic letters on the fridge and ask them to find a letter. Writing can be part of pretend play too. Provide print materials like maps to play explorer or menus to pretend to be a waiter.
There are so many fun ways to help children develop their pre-writing skills. Come to a storytime at Chandler Public Libraries for more ideas! - Crystal (Downtown)