Preschool Writing Skills are an Academic Superpower
Starting school can be stressful. There are many long sleepless nights in the run-up to the first day of school – and that’s just for the parents!
For our little ones, it can be an incredibly daunting experience stepping through the classroom door for the first time. But, as with so many things in life, the better prepared, the easier the adaptation will be.
While it’s true, we don’t want to overburden our children with pressure to learn to read and write before going to school; we can help make the transition to a formal learning environment much smoother by introducing some of the basics before they let go of their parent’s hands and head off on their school days’ adventures.
In this article, we’ll look at some of the basic writing skills that will be helpful to learn before starting school.
The skills below may be basic, but they are no less important for it. In fact, without a firm grip on these most essential writing skills, your child’s progress will be less than optimum.
One of the hardest things to do when teaching very young children is to avoid assuming a pre-existing level of knowledge. We have to dial things back and break down even the simplest of skills.
Let’s get started!
Pre-School Writing Tip 1. Hold a Pencil Correctly
Holding a pencil correctly isn’t just something that happens naturally.
Looking at any class of first-day kindergarteners and you’ll see a multitude of ‘natural’ grips. From the ‘fistful of pencil’ approach to the ineffective ‘loose-goosey’ paintbrush grip, you’ll find it all.
Luckily, there’s a lot you can do to get your little one writing-ready, and beginning with ensuring they have a solid pencil grip is the best place to start.
Once your child has developed the fine motor skills to pick up things with a pincer grip (thumb and index finger), be sure to give them plenty of opportunities to pick up objects of various sizes.
Encourage them to begin to feed themselves where possible. The more practice, the better. Each time your child uses a pincer grip in this way they’re training the small muscles in their hand and arm and they’ll use these later in their writing.
Not only that, but they’ll be developing the necessary hand and eye coordination to reproduce the letters of the alphabet in the future too.
Other activities children can do to gain fine motor control in this area are to allow them to remove the lids from small containers, cut paper with safety scissors, and pick up crayons and begin to use them to draw (or scrawl!).
When they’ve gained sufficient strength and dexterity, it’s time to introduce the pencil.
If you can, try to find a chunkier, triangular, jumbo pencil. These pencils are specially made for little hands writing their first letters.
Once you have a suitable pencil, it’s time to teach the proper pencil grip. This is known as the tripod grip. Here’s how to do it:
Place the pencil on the table in front of your child’s writing hand with the business end facing towards them.
- Tell your child to pinch the pencil shaft about 2cm from the tip – about 3cm if they’re left-handed.
- Ask your child to pick up the pencil and then put the fingernail of their middle finger on the pencil slightly above the tip. The ring and little fingers should be slightly curled in out of the way.
- Flip the end of the pencil back towards the web of skin that joins the thumb and the rest of the hand. Let it rest there supported. The tip of the pencil should now rest on the inside of the tip of the middle finger.
- Encourage your child to rest their little finger on the page. This will help them to stabilize their hand when writing.
- Ideally, while writing, your child’s hand, wrist, and elbow should stay below the level of the tip of the pencil to ensure optimum control.
Pre-School Writing Tip 2. Position the Paper Correctly
Once your child has mastered the correct pencil grip for handwriting, it’s time to take a look at the other essential tool involved in producing writing – the paper.
Often neglected, the position of the writing paper can make a big difference in how comfortable your child is and how legible the handwriting they produce will be.
While this whole writing thing is a complicated business and takes a lot of time to perfect, setting up a good practice from the outset can save a lot of time and heartache in the future.
It’s much easier to create a good habit than it is to correct a bad one!
Here are some key points to consider when helping your child find a comfortable position for their paper when writing:
- Writing paper should be placed at about a 45° angle. The best angle will depend on several variables such as the position of the child’s body, the height of the seat, the height of the table, etc. Experiment with a few different positions to find the one most suitable for your child to write in.
- Make sure the paper isn’t positioned over the edge of the table. The elbow of the writing hand should be rested on the table, forming a triangle between the positions of the head, writing hand, and elbow.
- When placing a piece of paper on the table for your child to copy from, it should be placed to the left of the child for righthanded children and on the right for lefthanded children. This will help them to see clearly what is written on the paper.
- As the child fills up the page, they should avoid moving their writing hand down the page towards the edge of the table. Instead, encourage them to use their other hand to pull the page up in a direction away from their body while maintaining the correct angle of the paper. The writing hand should stay in the same position throughout the process.
Pre-School Writing Tip 3: Write Your Name
Most educators understand that there is no set age for a child to begin to write independently. We all as individuals are on our own schedules.
It’s important not to rush our children. Putting too much pressure on them can develop resistance and have the complete reverse of the intended effect. Their teachers won’t be expecting them to show up for their first day of school as fully-formed Shakespeares! A softly-softly approach is best.
If your child is ready to write a word or two though, there can be few better places to start than with their first name.
The first step to learning to write their name is to begin to recognize the individual letters involved.
Take the time to point these out in their reading. If their name is Abby, for example, when reading a story together you might point out the letter A and say something like, “This is the letter ‘A’ and it’s the first letter in your name.”
Then, you could trace the outline of the letter with your fingers together on the page.
Once they are familiar with the letters of their name and have an idea of how these letters are formed correctly, it’s time to begin to learn to write them on paper with a pencil.
A good place to begin this is to create an outline of each letter using dots. Your child can then join these dots with their pencil to form the letters.
While the focus initially should be on just making a legible shape that is a recognizable cover version of the letter in question, over time you’ll want to ensure they form each letter correctly i.e. starting in the right place (e.g. top, middle, or bottom) and that the letters bear some sense of relative proportion to each other.
As the time to start school draws close, many ‘real-life’ opportunities will present themselves for your child to label items with their name. With your help, they’ll be able to label their lunchbox, coat, books, etc.
All this will go a long way to giving them confidence and pride in their abilities – not to mention in their name!
Pre-School Writing Tip 4: Understand That Letters Encode Sounds
One of the most effective and time-efficient ways for our children to learn to read and write is through the use of phonics. Phonics involves the relationship between sounds and their spellings. They also bridge the gap between reading skills and independent writing skills.
An important first step in learning phonics is to help your child to understand that letters are a means of ‘encoding’ sound, rather than teaching them that a specific letter makes a given sound.
This is because the alphabet used to encode English has only 26 letters, but there are about 44 distinct sounds (or phonemes) in the English language. That means lots of letters are doubled-up to show a couple of different sounds.
For example, the letter ‘c’ represents both a soft sound like the /s/ sound in circle and a hard sound like the /k/ sound in the word crisp.
Your child won’t be expected to know all these letter-sound correspondences before they start school. In fact, phonics programs usually run over many school years. But, there is no harm in introducing some basic phonics before starting school.
A suitable place to start the phonics process is to teach your child the sounds that comprise their name and show them the corresponding letters that represent those sounds.
This is a step beyond them just copying the shapes of the letters that form their name as described earlier. Here, they are acquiring transferable knowledge and skills that they will use later in their development towards becoming independent writers.
Not only is this a good start, but it also doesn’t place too much of a burden on your child as they’ll be doubling up their phonics with learning the letters they’ll need to write their name anyway.
If you really want learn more about phonics be sure to read our great article on it here.
Pre-School Writing Tip 5: Make Up Simple Stories
Of course, writing is more than just making legible marks on a page. The composition begins in the mind before we begin the process of transposing our story onto paper.
Younger children love to tell stories and stories are a big part of writing in general.
Stories are a large part of how young kids interact with others and how they make sense of the world around them. They use their stories in a similar way we use writing as adults.
To encourage this essential emergent writing skill, we should help our children relate simple stories in informative and interesting oral sentences. One way of doing this is to ask our children questions to elicit more details and descriptions of the objects and people in their stories.
Often, the first stories young children tell are stories they’ve heard from their parents, siblings, or wider family. Bear this in mind when telling your little one stories in the home.
Model good storytelling practice for them by choosing the language of a suitable level and by sequencing the story using transition words and phrases such as first, next, then, etc.
By doing this, you provide a good model for them to mimic when they come to do their own story retellings.
Work on becoming an attentive listener too. This will have a powerful effect on your child’s experience of storytelling.
Seeing their own enthusiasm and engagement with the story reflected back at them in the face of the listener will serve to strengthen their confidence in their own abilities and help them to develop a love of storytelling.
From mechanical to creative, the above skills and strategies represent some of the most important areas to help your child develop before starting school.
Writing is an immensely complex business and it takes time for our little humans to become fully-formed wordsmiths – have patience!
While making an early start on their writing skills can see them get off to a strong start on their formal educational journey, too much pressure won’t make a diamond – at least not in this case!
It’s a fine line to tread, but you know your child better than anyone. If they show signs of frustration, ease off. The last thing you want to create is resistance.
Remember that old story The Hare and The Tortoise? Slow and steady wins the race!