14 Mar 2019

BY: admin

Occupational Therapist Team

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Many skills have to be developed before children are ready to learn to write.

Learning to write is not just about fine motor manipulation. A child is absorbing language from everyone around them at a very young age.  Much later they reach the stage of babbling and  imitating those around them. This is the beginning of expressing themselves through language.  Children have to practice expressing themselves through speech for many years before they are ready to translate those sounds and abstract symbols of speech into letters. During those early years, through crawling, climbing and progression through physical milestones, they are learning with their whole body.

How whole body development helps handwriting

Once children become confident with their body and their language understanding, they can learn 3 dimensional concepts such as ‘up’ and ‘down’, ‘top and bottom’ ‘over’ and ‘under’, ‘left’ and ‘right’. It is only when a child has become fully aware of their body and how it moves through space, can they begin to grasp drawing symbols that represent these directional concepts.

Children need to be drawing for several years before they are ready to learn to write, drawing at a vertical surface is particularly helpful to develop sufficient shoulder stability to help control the pencil. Working at a vertical surface is also much better for visual attention and eye tracking skill development. To be able to learn to write, a child has to have matured in their eye movements. Along with this, they need to build a ‘stable base’ or strong core, which develops through plenty of physical play every day.

Preparing for writing

With sufficient drawing practice behind them, a child is far more confident attempting to learn to write letters. There are 9 developmental forms that a child needs to be able to draw independently and spontaneously by the time they are around 5 and a half years old.  By the time a child is 4, they need to be able to cross their midline. They will then be able to draw a cross and then they can draw a square. By the time they are 5 they are attempting the more complex triangular shape.

The best preparation for handwriting in young children is many hours of physical play, balancing, climbing, spinning, swinging and ‘heavy work’ every day. Drawing skills are best learnt using whole arm movements at a vertical surface. Blackboard, whiteboard, paper attached to an easel or wall is the way to go. Shaving cream on a glass sliding door is really fun and provides a lot of tactile feedback. Activities such as sandpit play, making roads and tracks, drawing on a concrete path with stubby chalk is excellent practice for developing shoulder strength. These activities, along with plenty of one on one time being read to,  are the best basis for learning handwriting.

Needing help with handwriting?

Occupational Therapists can help assess a child’s handwriting skills and provide therapy to correct any difficulties. For more information about our services at the Centre, please call Reception on 9274 7062.


Madeline Minehan

Occupational Therapist