Writing is another complex process that requires the integration of a number skills acquired over a period time. It’s a complicated part of a child’s development where language, literacy and fine motor skills all come together. Not only do children need to be able to perform the manual act of writing physical markings, but they need to be able to attribute meanings to the markings, and understand how written language works (i.e. writing goes from left to right, speech is represented by individual sounds written down using letters).
Strong writing skills among children have been associated with sophisticated letter knowledge, larger vocabularies and spelling competence, as well as being related to long-term educational and career success – so mastering this skill is important!
What Does Typical Writing Development Look Like?
Early on in development, children’s drawings are their writings. Around age 2, they begin to imitate shapes of letters by drawing vertical or horizontal strokes, and progressing to circles around the age of 3. They then begin writing letter-like forms mimicking actual letters with some actual letters thrown in. Importantly, they do not yet connect spoken sounds with these letters, but start to understand that writing carries meaning. According to researchers, when kids begin to draw crosses (≈4yrs) and copy squares (≈5yrs) they are generally seen as ready to write!
The next critical point of course is when kids connect sounds with letters. This is known as the ‘alphabetic principle’ – understanding that our spoken language is made up of sounds systematically represented by sole and combinations of letters.
Kids will first create logical spellings, using the most obvious sounds or the first sounds of words, e.g. a bee would be written simply as ‘b’. They continue to develop this skill until they are able attend to and represent multiple individual sounds in words often the beginnings and end sounds. Once these skills are mastered, kids go on to learn the specifics of writing such as spelling and grammar!
Fine Motor Skills
Writing requires lots of in-hand control, manipulation, coordination and planning. Usually by 12-13 months babies can grasp a crayon, start to scribble by 18 months, and by 3 years most kids can hold a pencil in a writing position! Undoubtedly, writing progress depends largely on fine motor skills and muscle movements beginning in the whole arm, through to the hand and thumb & fingers.
A great way to support your child’s writing success is encouraging fine motor development through play! Below we’ve listed the 4 stages of fine motor development Huffman & Fortenberry (2011) state are crucial to writing success, each develops in preparation for the next from 1 to 4! Have a look at the fun ways to build these skills along with our toy recommendations:
- Whole Arm- Whole arm muscle development can be supported through the large motions used in cooking when stirring, painting, or tossing a ball. Recommended Toy: PlanToys Monkey Bowling
- Whole Hand – These include activities to strengthen the whole hand such as playing with play-dough, scrunching paper, turning a crank, or pouring a glass of water. Recommended Toy: Galt Paint Tea Set
- Pincher – This refers to building up thumb and finger manipulations, strength, and coordination! This can be done through play with tongs, stringing beads, and sorting buttons etc. Recommended Toy: Djeco Friends Lace-up Cards
- Pincer – This is the final stage, and refers to using the thumb and index and middle fingers to act as a tripod, which enables highly coordinated finger movements whilst holding a writing utensil. These skills can be supported through play with toy keys, clips and drawing/colouring in! Recommended Toy: Melissa and Doug My First Paint with Water Girl
Bindman, S., Skibbe, L., Hindman, A., Aram, D., & Morrison, F. (2014). Parental writing support and preschoolers’ early literacy, language, and fine motor skills. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 29(4), 614-624. doi:10.1016/j.ecresq.2014.07.002
Feder, K. P., & Majnemer, A. (2007). Handwriting development, competency, and intervention. Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology, 49(4), 312-317. doi:10.1111/j.1469-8749.2007.00312.x
Isbell, C. (2012). Developmentally appropriate fine motor practices for early childhood settings. Early Intervention & School Special Interest Section Quarterly / American Occupational Therapy Association, 19(4), 1-3.