Preschoolers who are familiar with letters from everyday play and parent read a-louds, may be ready to try writing. But...don't rush to pull out workbooks. Remember, at this age, their job is to play and have fun. Lets start big and do a little bit of writing & building!
Prewriting skills involve many different activities including strengthening fingers with games that use tweezers (Pick a Fruit*) or drills (Motor Works Train & T-Rex*) and using crayons while drawing. One might think that writing is just something we start doing like learning to talk. But, unlike language which is innate, meaning our brains are wired to learn to communicate, writing is a complex skill that involves thinking/planning, muscle development, and motivation to want to do it. I will show you how to get your preschooler thinking more about letters, developing muscle memory, and having fun with writing play.
We are starting with very large letters. In fact, they will each fill a whole sheet of paper. Uppercase letters have more straight lines and are easier to learn than lower-case letters. I recommend doing one at a time, several days in a row or up to a week. Start small and build based on your child’s eagerness, as some may want to do a few everyday and that is ok. However, if your child is resistant, try a few modifications listed below.
1. Choose 1 to 4 letters: straight lines only at first; then one curve; then the most difficult.
2. Write one upper-case letter per page.
3. Put a dot on the spot that starts the letter, and encourage your child to start there.
4. Tell your child the letter and ask them to say the letter.
5. Trace it with your finger, while saying it then ask your child to trace it with their finger.
6. Have your child trace the letter with several colors, saying its name each time.
7. Have your child use a toy, character, or car to trace the letter, starting on the dot.
Keep it positive! It is ok that the letters are all over the place and the grip is odd. It is the general motion and keeping it fun that is important for now. You don't have to be a cheerleader, just talk it through: Encourage with statements/observations and praise:
I like the colors of your B.
I notice that you are really concentrating on your W.
Great Job! Very Colorful!
I see that your car is great at driving on the S.
(Pretend the dot is a treat for your kitty.) Great job getting started, kitty! (and make some chewing sounds!)
Start with only a few steps like finger tracing and taking turns tracing with a marker.
If speaking the letter is too difficult, then omit the cue for them to say it, for now.
Try thick or large round sphere-shaped crayons, or markers slide easier. Use what your child loves: multicolored, glitter or metallic.
Find an alphabet song to listen to.
Use a sticky notepad to list three things (pictures) and then check off each step.
If your child is typically resistant to directed play, try using a token board. Read my post about Token Board Basics.
If after trying a couple modifications, your child still resists this activity, put it aside for a month or two, then try again. Always keep learning positive. If punishment creeps in, it can create negative feelings in your child which will impact their mental ability to learn in the moment and possible hesitation in the future.
Ready for More:
High-five the letters. Hang the pages up around the house and high-five them and say the name of the letter. (You could draw a small hand near the letter.)
Rainbow write the letters of the child’s name and hang on their bedroom door.
Read alphabet books such as First ABC*, An Alphabet Book for Humanity*, or Alphabet Street*, then pick a letter from the book to rainbow write.
Build with Letter Construction Set* which comes with eight shapes and many pieces that create letters as large as a piece of paper.
Cards show which pieces are needed for upper- and lower-case letters.
Clear letters snap together, and you can see the rainbow letters through them.
Try tracing all the way around which makes a great big letter for paint.
Have general play time with the pieces, even create their own mystery letters!
Organization and keeping the momentum:
I suggest keeping a large resealable bag, box or basket with the pieces needed for 1-4 letters. This way, everything you need is all together: paper, crayons, markers, specific pieces of Letter Construction Set*, and the cards that go with them.
Make it part of your routine. Pair it with another daily activity, like after breakfast or before watching a video. Or, set a phone reminder. In just a few days, it will become habit, more familiar, and your child may look forward to it. Best of all, the repetitive skills using multiple senses, will build their memory centers creating a solid foundation for writing smaller letters in the years to come.
You got this! 👍
After a few days, this activity will become habit. Keep their learning simple by working on one skill a day or even every other day. Preschoolers learn best with unstructured play, where they use their imaginations and see new possibilities. Remember to always meet them where they are at, giving positive praise, patience and gentle support.
** Shop for toys, books and Letter Construction Set at www.developmentaltexts.com.
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--Nancy Roop is a Discovery Toys Play Advisor and publisher at Developmental Texts LLC. After nearly a decade supporting students with autism, she earned a BA in Interdisciplinary Studies from Oakland University where she developed a new book format for neurodiverse kids. The series, Alex & Jordan Explores is in development.