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Development of Writing Skills in Toddlers - The Parent's Guide

In a fast-paced world, everything has moved ahead. We are in a constant rush to go places and to achieve goals. This is also reflecting in developmental landmarks among children, writing skills included. At Morning Glorie, playschool in South City 1, Gurgaon, we have had parents of children as young as 2.5 years of age asking us why their child is not showing an interest in writing, and what they can do to encourage the development of this skill. 

This is more apparent in our online, homeschooling program, where parents are witnessing growth day in and day out, and are active participants in the early learning journey, for possibly the first time since the concept of preschools popped up.

Some important aspects -

There is No One Right Age to Learn to Write

The ability to write depends upon the development of fine finger motor skills. This depends in part upon the strength in the little fingers. While children around 3 to 3.5 years of age typically develop these skills, a few months either way, give or take may be normal depending upon the individual child.

However, there are certain averages which have been observed with research over a period of time.

Under 2  years

When a child reaches15 to 18 months of age, they are normally ready to explore and enjoy crayons (oil pastels are recommended as they are soft on the fingers). However, their grip is not strong enough to have substantial impact on the paper. At best, they enjoy scribbling randomly - no fixed patterns, while it also takes time for them to gain enough strength for the colour marks to be substantial.

This is a sensory input though, and every child takes their own time to get used to it. Hence a broad age range. It may happen they are not ready to take in the sensory input. It is ok if your child does not show interest in this activity, learn to appreciate their pace.

2 to 3 years

By this age, children are on an average able to exercise some amount of control on their scribbles - please note, generally at this age, scribbles is all they can manage. There is just a better element of control as their grip on the crayon improves.

Up to 3.5 years

Around this age, the grip tends to improve greatly. Children are ready to be introduced to patterns like lines and different kinds of curves. This is the precursor to being able to write alphabets.

Around 3.5 to 4 years

By the time they are around 3.5 to 4 years old, children can begin to combine patterns and curves into alphabets and numbers - however, it is important to remember that it may still take them time to get the hang of this activity. Each child is different, and it is perfectly natural for them to feel more ready to write at 4.5 or even 5 years of age. 

As parents and educators, it is important to respect a child's readiness and indication of interest in writing. Push them too early, they may just get put off from writing altogether. Keep working on fine motor and pre-writing skills (these will be taken up as a separate post) to ensure that when the child is finally ready, they are also prepared to write. In the meantime, keep appreciating all the good that they do.

Have You Introduced a Pencil too Early?

Toddlers have soft finger, while a pencil is hard. Introducing it too early may not only make it difficult to learn to write (because their grip hasn't formed for a pencil yet), but may cause unnecessary damage to the fingers. It is important to start with oil pastel colours (they are softest of the fingers) because they are softer on the fingers.

Pencil should not be it

Development of Pre-Writing Skills

How is your child dealing with the following? 

1. Are they able to trace patterns with firm fingers on other medium? - for instance, in sand, atta, rice. Or using clay to create alphabets? Or draw patterns using their finger dipped in water colours? This helps assess the strength in and readiness of their fingers.

2. Are they able to hold the crayon properly with the right grip?

3. Do they complain about getting tired while trying to write? If they are, then they are in all likelihood simply not ready to write, or are feeling too much pressure to write.

4. When they are using the crayon, are they able to press it firmly for bold strokes on the paper?

5. Are they able to draw a connected circle (not necessary for it to be a perfect circle, only the ends need to meet)?

Writing - a Fun Activity or a Task?

Observe your child with a paper and crayon. In one scenario, let them do whatever they want to do. In the other, do what you normally do to get them to write. How long are they able to keep at these activities? Are they able to spend a substantially longer duration while scribbling and colouring the way they want, vis a vis when they are asked to write?

There are two aspects to ponder over -

1. There is no substantial difference in the time they are able to spend writing vs random scribbling/art - If this is the case, and they are complaining of getting tired in both activities, then they are possibly simply not ready to write. Please do not push your child in such a case. 

2. They enjoy free art but feel tired while being told to write - In this case, they are likely feeling pressurized into completing writing as a task. The focus being too academic, and the parent or educator's concern being transferred to the children makes this a tedious activity. Try to make writing fun. Make it a part of a game or an activity which you are doing together, instead of a task to complete. However, remember to make this a regular part of your fun time together. See if this makes a difference.

At Morning Glorie, playschool in South City 1, Gurgaon, children have always been, and will always remain at the center of the equation. Everything must be understood from their individual perspective, to give them the best in terms of an input. That is the learning approach we follow. While certain milestones must be achieved, pushing them ahead of time can only be counterproductive. Writing is one of those skills. Instead of pressurizing the child, it is more important to focus on and appreciate their strengths. This helps them maintain a positive frame of mind, and other activities can then be introduced as by-products, which they are able to gradually get used to, when they are not in a pressure-cooker environment.

Maintain a calm atmosphere at home too. Communicate with your child's teachers so that you are all on the same page. In case there are any concern areas, then this also ensures that they are addressed in a timely manner.

Up Next - Preschool and Daycare in the Covid Era - Handling Separation Anxiety

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