5 ways to develop preschool writing skills
5 ways to develop preschool writing skills

Learning to write is essential, but doesn’t have to be boring or difficult. Here, we discuss the best ways to diversify your child’s writing exercises.

Early Childhood Education

Before we start, it’s important to note that writing is not a sudden activity. Instead, like all learning, it is a process - and is one that we as adults should let the child do as much as possible.

The process begins at around 12 months of age, when children feel the need to ‘draw’ lines with little apparent focus. Often, we call this ‘mark making’, as the child does not yet know what they are doing, and doesn’t realise that the lines they make can mean something.

Gradually, as the child gets older and their hand-eye coordination improves, they start to realise that they can control the marks they make, and that they can form more obvious shapes. From 18 to 24 months of age, these drawings start to mean something to the child, and they realise that letters can be formed.

After about 2 years of age, the child starts to slowly build on their writing skills - but actual letters might not be formed until the child is over 3 years of age.

Just drawing on paper can be limiting, so here are five ways to help your child develop early writing skills:

1. Sand

Tray filled with sugar for practising writing

By using sand instead of paper, you find a medium that can be used again and again. At Avendale, we use sticks to make marks or trace letters and numbers in the sand, and then shake the tray to ‘reset’ it and start again. This is ideal for children aged 2 years and older, as they may be more likely to need freer explorations.

The best sand for this is ‘real sand’, with a finer grain. If you don't have sand at home you can also use flour, salt or sugar as in this post.

2. Seeds

Chia seed tray for practising writing

Another alternative to sand is to use some small seeds instead; such as chia or sesame seeds. Then your child is free to use their fingers or their sticks to make the marks and trace letters, shapes and numbers.

Chia and sesame seeds are much safer than sand, as they can be eaten you do not have to worry too much if your child puts the seeds in their mouth. Thus, this activity is best for younger children.

3. Vertical and horizontal writing

Children writing on the window

Often, we associate writing with horizontal actions- having the page on the table and using a pen to mark make. But this isn’t always the case. Often, children like to instantly see the marks they make, so it’s important to have a range of vertical writing materials on offer as well. At Avendale, we have easels, whiteboards, and large paper stuck on the walls to provide as many vertical writing opportunities as possible.

If you do not have an easel at home, why not use a window instead? As we did in this post, writing on a window means that the child can exercise their fine motor skills, and see the community in which they live. Perhaps they can draw some of what they see.

4. Change what they write with

Writing implements we use at Avendale

Changing the writing implement can be just as effective as changing the material the child draws or writes on. There are many different things we can use to make marks with, from pens to thick crayons, chalk, and even paintbrushes.

Before fully developing their writing grip, younger children would benefit more from thicker crayons. This makes it easier for them to hold. After a while, when the child’s hand-eye coordination improves, they might want to move on to other textures and thicknesses.

Here’s a list of what we use at Avendale:

  • Calligraphy brushes
  • Paint brushes
  • Sticks to trace with
  • Whiteboard markers
  • Chalk
  • Thick crayons
  • Thin crayons
  • Stamps

5. Playdough


We ALWAYS talk about playdough, but there is a good reason. Playdough is reusable, malleable and one of the best ways to learn new words. Your child can roll, pull, twist and shape the playdough to make shapes, numbers and letters; just like we have in this learning activity.