how to improve handwriting - prewriting skills
Handwriting | Occupational Therapy | school-based learning

Prewriting Skills: Valuable tips to improve handwriting

Prewriting skills are the foundation of handwriting. They consist of lines and strokes that children need to learn to form before they are expected to write.

In the first post of this series (How to improve handwriting: 5 successful ways OT’s can help), I talked about the benefits of utilizing OT services when your child has gotten to a point when handwriting practice is simply not enough.

Meaning that there are most likely underlying issues that need to be addressed before your child can write neater, such as an increase in hand strength.

With learning anything new, especially handwriting we have to remember that it takes time and that every child develops these skills at their own pace.

But, how do you know when there is a problem? I have posted a chart below to give you an idea of where your child should be by age. So you can use this as a guide.

how to improve handwriting- Improving prewriting skills
Improving Prewriting Skills

Just as I mentioned in the previous post (How to improve handwriting: 5 successful ways OT’s can help), if your child is not forming these stokes and shapes by the age provided in the chart, please DO NOT expect them to write.

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What are Prewriting Skills?

Before I get into the tips on improving these skills, I wanted to first talk about what they are. Pre-writing skills are the foundation of being able to write.

Prewriting skills are important because these skills provide children with the ability to color, trace, draw, and ultimately write words. Prewriting skills also include being able to correctly hold their writing tools, such as crayons and pencils.

I’ve come across some parents who tend to think that until their child has gone to kindergarten, they will not be able to learn prewriting skills.

But, that is simply not the case.

Children are always learning! With verified research released in 2017, children as young as 2 will begin to learn prewriting skills and form the lines and stokes (see chart above) that will eventually make up the letters of the alphabet.

Scientists have also found that children get familiar with the essentials of writing before they realize what letters address explicit sounds.

prewriting skills- valuable tips to improve handwriting
Prewriting skills: Valuable tips to improve handwriting

Now that I have provided a general understanding of what prewriting skills are, we can talk about how to improve them.

How to teach prewriting skills?

The first thing that we want to do, and I say this a lot, is that we want to make learning fun. I know for a fact that when you take a lesson and gear it towards a child’s interest, the lessons stick.

A few ways that we can make the lessons fun is to make a game out of them. We can also provide rewards for a job well done and or a treat for their hard work. (Stickers are excellent rewards, just an FYI).

Children love praise and encouragement! This helps to keep them motivated and lets them know that they are doing a good job. Above all is to remain understanding and patient while teaching.

Whether they let you know or not, children can read our emotions.

Tips for improving prewriting skills

So, just remember to keep all of the above in mind and let’s get started! So the first step in improving prewriting skills is to increase hand strength.

Increase hand strength: Your child needs strong hands in order to hold their crayons, pencils, and ultimately form letters. You can increase your child’s hand strength through everyday activities that they love already. This can be done through playing with playdoh. Just have your child roll, pinch and pull that playdoh to play as they normally would.

Another way to increase their hand strength is through coloring. Coloring works the muscles in the hands and wrist, so while they are creating beautiful artwork, they are building up their writing tolerance.

You can also have your child increase hand strength by doing everyday tasks. They can increase hand strength in the bathtub by wringing out the washcloth. Or while helping wash windows with a spray bottle.

Increase upper body strength: Just as with increasing hand strength, you want your child to have a strong core, neck, and shoulders to assist with writing. Your child needs a strong core in order to sit upright when writing. A strong neck helps with holding their head up and strong shoulders helps with wrist and arm movements needed to form the strokes and shapes.

prewriting skills in kids
Improving prewriting skills

You can help your child increase their shoulder strength by having them do animal crawls, such as the bear and crab walk. Another fun one kids love is wheelbarrow walks. You can also increase those core muscles by having your child jump on a trampoline or just by playing on a playground.

Associate with interest: As mentioned earlier, learning tends to stick better when you include the things that they like. Consider your child’s favorite book or cartoon character. Whatever gets them excited, associate it with learning to write.

Tracing Worksheets: There are so many prewriting skills worksheets, booklets, and apps available now that can be very helpful. A great program that I use with my students by the TV Teacher has a lot of online videos that help children learn prewriting skills through song and video demonstration. This program really keeps the little ones engaged and excited to learn.

The Tv Teacher has a lot of handwriting worksheets that are offered with the program to help your child practice during the videos.

Tracing worksheets are great because they use the mind, eyes, and hands to complete a word, which can be fruitful in building other motor skills.

Implement Different utensils to write: Provide your child with different utensils to write with. This can include writing with chalk, pencils, crayons, or markers. When children are first learning to write, I recommend using broken crayons or short pencils, because it helps them form an appropriate grasp when writing.  

prewriting skills coloring
Increase prewriting skills by coloring

Write on Different Material/ Surfaces: kids love writing on anything other than paper! Try having your child practice their prewriting stokes in flour, sand, sugar, washable paint, or even shaving cream using their fingers so they can feel the formation.

Writing on different surfaces helps the child to learn how to control finger and hand movements. It also helps them remember the formation through touch and not just vision alone, which helps writing stick.

Copy Cat/Model it Method: Children have always learned new things from watching another person complete the tasks or activity. Allowing your child to see you writing regularly is very beneficial for them, especially if they are a visual learner.

When some form of writing (coloring, drawing) is a made part of their everyday life, it will come more naturally to them as time goes on. 

Make it Part of Daily Routine: Make writing a daily routine. Try to go over drawing lines and shapes with your child every day until they have mastered it. You can also draw simple pictures made of all shapes with your child.

For example, you can draw a picture of your house. Your house can be made of a square, with a triangle for the roof, squares for the window, and a rectangle for the door! 

Sample prewriting skills activities

  • coloring in a coloring book
  • painting with Q-tips (helps promote a pencil grasp)
  • finger painting
  • tracing worksheets (vertical & horizontal line)
  • playing with playdoh
  • playing with legos
  • lacing
  • writing in shaving cream
  • using tweezers and or clothespins to pick up objects
  • doing dot to dots (connecting the dots to form lines)
  • making a necklace or bracelets using a pipe cleaner and beads
  • writing lines and shapes in the sand

In my post, 10 Incredibly easy ways to improve handwriting skills, I’ve listed some really fun handwriting activities that kids love!

prewriting skills drawing
Prewriting skills can be improved with drawing


So as you can see there is a lot that goes into learning and improving prewriting skills. Most children do develop these skills through play as mentioned before, but that’s not the case for all.

Of all the tips mentioned above, I want to you remember that all children learn at their own pace. They also learn in a way that is unique to them, in their own learning style.

To understand more about the different learning styles read, Vark’s learning style, this post will help you to learn which type of learner your child is.

If you’ve found this post helpful and have not read the first post in the series on how to improve handwriting: 5 successful ways OT’s can help, you can read that by clicking the title now. Be sure to read part 3: 13 easy activities to improve hand grip in kids for great tips on improving hand grip!

how to improve handwriting - prewriting skills

About the author

Erika is a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant working in an elementary school setting. She wanted to create a blog and podcast that shows all sides of school-based learning. Her #1 focus is on providing parents of children with learning disabilities with relevant information in hopes of making each day a little more functional. So if you are interested in more content like this, please sign up below.

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