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Early writing skills


Child writing

When it comes to writing, it is important to distinguish between the process of writing and that of handwriting:

  • Writing is about the ability to think of words with a view to putting them onto paper or screen
  • Handwriting is one of the tools that you can use to make the words appear on paper

At present, schools start children off with handwriting as their main tool, but, as they become older, it is important that they also learn how to touch-type as this is very much needed in today's workplaces and in everyday life. Let's begin with writing.


Early writing is about children talking and then making marks. This means that most of children's early writing is often 'scribble'. They may tell us that they are 'writing' a shopping list, but what we might actually see are lines of circles.

This doesn't matter as the key thing is that children are learning about the process of writing. In terms of seeing legible words, the chances are that the first word will be your child's name at around four years. 

Some children produce their name earlier than others, but early name writing does not necessarily herald a budding writer. Writing really gets going when children start learning to read. 

At this point they start to work out what sounds they need to make words. This means that many children will be around six before they write full sentences unaided. Children who do this earlier are often doing extremely well with their reading.

Helping your child with writing

The main thing that will help your child with writing is to watch you doing it. And it's also helpful if your child is speaking well - if a child doesn't have words, there is nothing for them to write. Working on your child's speech will also help with their reading. 

Helping your child with handwriting

Handwriting is about forming letters and to do this children need to have strong hand function. This is partly developmental and partly about practice. 

The best way to start handwriting is to encourage plenty of tasks that require small movements with the hands. This may be helping to dry up or to sort out small objects. 

Introducing pens and pencils

Ironically, encouraging your child to pick up a pen early on is not such a good idea, as until their hand is sufficiently mature, there is a danger your child will develop a poor pencil grasp and a stiff wrist. 

Look out for ways of making marks that allow your child to make large movements. A good activity is to put out a sponge with some soapy water at shower time. Also, look out for crayons and markers that are chubby or ball-like. 

Once your child is starting to enjoy making marks this way, then introduce pens and pencils.


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Last updated: over 3 years ago