Learning to read goes hand in hand with learning to write.
We frequently answer questions about handwriting and children under five. "What should their pencil grip look like?" "My child can't color in the lines, should I be worried?" "When should they be able to write their names?" "I can't tell if my child is left or right handed!" Let's tackle these issues together.
Fine Motor Skills
Small muscle control is vital to writing and building up these muscles starts in infancy.
Babies can't color yet, but you can still help them work out. Take a peek at this post by early literacy librarian Mary. When it comes to toddlers, squeeze playdough, play with squirting toys in the bath, use finger paint, scribble with chunky crayons or practice their pincer grasp with small objects.
Preschoolers can do all of the above, plus cut with scissors and use a variety of writing tools. Give them squirt bottles for the bath to wash away soap.
Cross the Midline
It isn't just fine motor skills that need work, it's also gross (or large) muscles. To read or write a sentence across a page, children need mastery of this skill. Provide plenty of opportunities to cross the middle point of their body. Check out our blog post for ideas.
Lefty, Righty, Mixed or Ambi?
Babies and young children experiment with their hand dominance. They won't begin to settle on a preference until they're around five or six years old. However, it's much more likely children will be right-handed. Left-handedness occurs in about 10% of the population. Mixed-handedness (performing certain tasks with the right hand and others with the left) and ambidextrousness (performing tasks equally well with both hands) are even more rare. Take a look at PediatricEducation.org for more information.
Growing Hands-On Kids has an infographic about the development of a child's pencil grip. Which stage is your child at? Keep in mind that the ages listed are just suggestions. Every child develops at a different pace.
Beginning around three years old, scribbles may begin to look recognizable and may even start to form letters! Don't stress if letters are backwards, upside down or diagonal, or scattered all over the page. At approximately age four, their letters will start to look a bit cleaner. Once your child enters kindergarten, their teacher will work with them on the technical aspects of handwriting. Thank you to PBS Parents and their literacy articles for ages three and four.
Staying in the Lines
Is your child not coloring in the lines? Rest assured, it's okay! Eventually, your child will develop the fine motor skills and spatial awareness needed to stay inside the lines. And just like pencil grip, children learn at different times. I myself was "tutored" in kindergarten because I wasn't able to stay in the lines. The Anonymous OT provides ways to practice staying in the lines and Ellen Booth Church, one of our past early literacy speakers, wrote a brief post on this for Scholastic Parents.
Have questions or concerns? Check with your pediatrician and feel free to ask a librarian for more resources.