Pre-writing Activities for Toddlers, Preschoolers & Kindergarten
These are some of my favourite pre-writing activities for toddlers, preschoolers and kindergarten. I have included a mix of different activities that will help in the development of gross and fine motor skills and both large and fine movements. These types of pre-writing activities are essential to help children build strength, stability, coordination, and dexterity that they will need to be able to write. Many of these are open-ended play activities that children will enjoy doing more or less independently.
*The first of these pre-writing activities for toddlers, preschoolers and kindergarten are focused on fine motor skills and the second part is focused on gross motor skills.
Fine Motor Activities
Playdough is a wonderful pre-writing activity. Children will roll, squash, shape, pull, etc. while playing with it, which is a great way to develop strength and dexterity. There are ways to take playing with playdough a step further, such as adding in loose parts, scissors, and stamps. You can see some ideas for this in my smelly playdough recipe or aromatherapy recipe posts.
Playing and sculpting with slime is another good sensory activity that children can enjoy, much like playdough, and it is also good for developing children’s fine motor skills. In addition to the psyllium slime recipe which is taste-safe, I have some other cornflour slime recipes that are fun for children to roll, squash and pinch.
Oobleck & cornflour play
Playing with oobleck is a lovely sensory activity which allows children to make transient marks. This is particularly good for children who worry about making mistakes or wanting everything to look perfect, as they will be more willing to try drawing and making marks that are not permanent. Oobleck also has an appealing fell to it and is a lovely pre-writing activity for preschoolers and even toddlers. Another option, corn starch paint, is a fun taste-safe paint that children can use to paint and make marks.
Shaving foam play provides a few different ways for children to practice making marks. As a pre-writing activity, it can be used for mark-making in a tray, or as a shaving foam paint that can be used to paint upright on windows. Children may also enjoy frozen foam paint which allows them to explore different sensations as they make marks and patterns.
Painting with water can be a fun way for children to make marks, draw different shapes and lines, and even practice letter formation. It is perfect for those who worry about making mistakes, as it isn’t permanent and can be done repeatedly.
Writing on the sidewalk or pavement with chalk is a nice outdoor activity for children to create pictures or to practice writing. Chalk can also be added to water to change its texture and consistency. Children might also use water to paint over letters or drawings in chalk in order to practice writing.
Upright / vertical painting / writing
Having children paint and draw upright will help them to develop the muscles and the stability for writing. It’s also great because painting on vertical surfaces allows for making large marks and movements. Occupational therapists state that it supports shoulder & elbow stability, coordination and hand-eye coordination (Arizona Orthopedic Physical Therapy, 2019).
You can make ice chalk by freezing oobleck (combine cornflour, water and food colouring). This is an enjoyable activity for a warm day and can make for a fun sensory mark-making activity. Children can draw on a range of different surfaces and then use their fingers to make marks.
Painting with different objects
Using different objects to paint and make marks can be fun and exciting for young children. They can use their fingers or objects such as flowers, feathers, leaves, sponges, forks etc. to see how different objects will make different marks. Similarly, children can also make prints using objects such as apples, lemons, bubble wrap, toys, etc. To make paintbrushes more interesting, you might do something like attach bells on the ends to provide a multisensory experience.
DIY puffy paint or puffy sand paint
To make DIY puffy paint, combine 3 cups shaving cream (foam not gel), 1 cup flour, 1 cup pva glue and food coloring or paint. Alternatively, you can make puffy sand paint by using sand instead of flour. The puffy paint needs to be put in plastic zip lock bags, followed by cutting a hole in the tip for squeezing it out. It’s fun for creating 3D pictures, and children may also enjoy running their fingers through it to make marks.
Drawing with cars
Drawing with cars is great fun for children who love playing with cars. Car tracks in paint will make interesting marks. Alternatively, pens can be attached to the back of cars to draw lines behind them as they drive. Boys can be particularly reluctant to make marks, so this can be a perfect to engage some of those children, especially if they are interested in vehicles.
Drawing on boxes
Children love playing with boxes and equally enjoy drawing and decorating them. This is great way for children to practice holding a pen and making shapes, lines or dots on surfaces at different angles.
Playing with loose parts is an excellent way for children to develop manipulative skills and physical coordination (Fjørtoft and Sageie, 2000). These open-ended activities are great for supporting early writing skills and also have many other benefits that you can read about here.
Children can do a range of activities that involve clipping pegs. For example, I’ve seen printable activities where children clip the number of pegs to match a number. Many children love to build indoor or outdoor forts. Pegs or towel clips can be used to help fasten sheets or pieces of material into a fort.
Making marks in different substances
It can be a lovely sensory experience for children to make marks in a range of different substances. Some dry substances that are great for mark making include salt, sand (including colorful sand), glitter, oats, rice (including colorful rice) and chickpeas (including colorful chickpeas) and also beans and lentils. Wet substances can also be used such as foods – see my edible mark-making post– and substances such as shaving foam, glue or glitter glue placed on a tray or tuff spot.
Threading activities are an excellent way to develop children’s hand-eye coordination, pincer grasp, dexterity, strength, and control (Featherstone, 2013). Children can thread beads or pasta or else use threading boards. This activity can be made more challenging by using smaller holes and some string (versus pipe cleaners).
Wrapping objects with string
Children can use string to wrap around objects or cardboard cutouts. This type of activity is perfect for wrist rotation. You may want to see my post on some threading and wrapping activities.
Cutting and snipping activities with scissors is an excellent way for children to practice fine motor skills and control. They can snip and cut pieces of paper freehand or else try to cut out different pictures with different shaped edges (straight, curved and with points). It can also be great fun for children to cut various objects such as playdough or jello jelly, which will provide an additional challenge.
Hole punch activities
Making hole punches in paper is another fun, simple activity that will help children build strength and control. To make it more interesting they can use hole punches that are different shapes, or else hole-punch objects such as leaves. It can also be an excellent way for children to practice counting as they punch out a set number of holes.
Children can use tweezers to pick up small objects. They might want to use the them to sort beads based on their colors, or move them to count them. These types of activities will help children to develop their fine motor skills, including stability and control.
Gross Motor Activities
Sweeping and brushing are excellent ways for children to build strength. This can be done by helping to sweep up leaves or other messes. To make this more exciting, you can also add in some colour like in this Gross Motor Activity.
Climbing & obstacle courses
Climbing is a fun and fantastic way for children to develop the strength and stability needed for writing. Trees and climbing frames provide easy ways for children to enjoy climbing, but building obstacle courses or going to toddler gym classes are other good options.
Scooping and pouring
Scooping and pouring things like sand, dirt or colorful rice is a great way to build children’s strength and stability. Children can play with sand in a sand tray or on a larger scale in a sandpit. Similarly, gardening and digging in the dirt with spades is also a lovely pre-writing activity for building strength.
Throwing and catching balls is an activity that will help build arm strength, wrist rotation and elbow and shoulder movement. Practising these larger movements will also help prepare children for writing.
What they get from it: Pre-writing activities for toddlers, preschoolers & kindergarten
These pre-writing activities for toddlers, preschoolers, and kindergarten will help them to develop the skills that are needed to write. They are geared to help children build strength, coordination, rotation, stability, dexterity, pincer grip, and more. Children need lots of different opportunities to develop these skills. It is very helpful to offer them a variety of options. I’ve included some links (above) to more detailed information about certain activities including the specific benefits that each provides. I hope that this list gives you many fun ideas for you to choose from!
Arizona Orthopedic Physical Therapy (12.2.2019) Try Playing on a Vertical Surface. https://azopt.net/vertical-surface/
Featherstone, S. (2013). The Little Book of Fine Motor Skills: Little Books with Big Ideas. Bloombsbury.
Fjørtoft, I. and Sageie, J. (2000). The natural environment as a playground for children: landscape description and analysis of a natural playspace. Landscape and Urban Planning. 48:83-97.