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Pre-writing activities

For a child to be able to write and form letters properly in the future, they first of all need to learn how to copy and form simple shapes.

Pre-writing skills don’t have to be developed by sitting at a table and doing writing tasks.

Movement is a great way to teach children about shape, direction and other things they need to understand. Try to keep the movements large, and talk to the child about what they’re doing to draw their attention to the movement, for example: a square goes down, across, up, across. Always point out that work should be from 'top to bottom' and 'left to right'.

If you follow the advice on this page but see no improvement in six months, please contact our CYPIT Team.


Activities that help develop shape formation include:

  • Feeling wooden or plastic shapes/letters with eyes open, and then trying to guess what they are with eyes closed.
  • Tracing the shape of letters and shapes made of string or sandpaper glued onto card.
  • 'Walking' shapes and letters on the floor or 'writing' with your finger on your child's back.
  • Drawing shapes and letters in the air, using a whole arm movement.
  • Practicing drawing on a vertical surface, for example a blackboard or paper pinned on the wall.
  • Making patterns in flour, sand or shaving foam.
  • Potato or sponge printing.
  • Making shapes and letters out of playdough or pipe cleaners.
  • Copying activities to a defined pattern, for example peg board, Fuzzy Felt or block patterns.


Activities that help develop pencil control:

  • Simple dot-to-dots.
  • Simple mazes.
  • Copying and drawing patterns in the sand tray, on a chalkboard, in flour or in shaving cream on a table top. You make a simple pattern and then encourage the child to copy it.
  • Using finger-paints to make or copy patterns.
  • Drawing round other people's hands and body or simple stencils.
  • Tracing activities.
  • Completing pictures. Start with a completed picture to copy. Then begin drawing the image, leaving simple items out for the child to fill in.

Start the activities on a large scale, for example using large pieces of paper stuck to the wall rather than A4 sheets. As the child's control and understanding of the shape develop, progress onto smaller pieces of work.

If they can’t hold a crayon or pencil to draw straight, vertical and circular lines by the time they are three and a half years old, speak to your health visitor or GP.