Long before a child learns to form letters with a pencil or marker, she has taken many steps toward learning to write. Children must have many opportunities to use their hands to do various things before they can successfully print letters.

Molding with clay, using large and small Legos, picking up beads, and playing with knobbed puzzles all prepare the fingers and hands for writing. Scribbling with markers and crayons, controlling a pencil for use with a stencil, using chalk on the sidewalk, and painting with fingers and large brushes are a few of the ways children practice for later writing.

We stock our room with plenty of paper, paper clips, staplers, pencils, markers, and crayons, and we make sure that these materials are available for children to use whenever they choose. Children may want to “write” notes to their friends or messages to their teacher or parents. They use writing materials in their dramatic play-making signs for a store, tickets for a show, menus for a restaurant, and so on.

As children experiment, developmental stages of writing become evident. Children move from random scribbling to controlled scribbles, to random alphabet letters, to consonants that represent words. Only with lots of opportunities to practice can children move through these stages.

If your child does not have a proper pencil grip, cannot purposefully manipulate a crayon, or simply shows no interest in learning to write, he or she probably is not ready to do so. Take care not to push. Children enjoy learning a new skill only when they are really ready for it. Getting ready is just as important as mastering the skill.

Adapted from Family Friendly Communications by Diffy & Morrison for NAEYC