Learning to write is a really important skill for children and the foundations of early handwriting start as soon as your child is born. Writing is a physical skill and in order for your child to be able to write, they need to develop other skills first.

Big before small

For children to have control over small items such as a pencil, they need to have control over their large movements. Gross motor control is the term used to describe control over whole body and limb movements. As children develop their gross motor control, this helps with their fine motor control, the control of their small movements such as those with their hands and fingers. Children have to do it big before they can do it small!

Developing skills

As well as good gross and fine motor skills, children also need to develop other skills that will help them when they learn to write. These include:
- Good posture
- Balance
- An understanding of pattern
- Language for movement such as up, down and round
- Hand eye coordination
- Understanding that print carries meaning

What can you do to help?

Providing your child with some of the experiences below will support these developing skills and prepare their hands ready for writing. 


Encourage your child to develop their balance by walking along a line, balancing on play equipment at the park or challenging them to walk from one end of the room to the other with a cushion on their head!  

Get active

Physical activities such as dancing, riding a trike or playing football all support your child’s gross motor skills, posture and balance.

Make shapes

Activities where your child has to make shapes with their arms using their gross motor skills are very effective. This could include dancing with scarves, polishing a table, using a mop or sweeping leaves.

A squash and a squeeze

Provide opportunities for your child to build strength in their hands by giving them activities where they need to squeeze, mold or manipulate materials. This could include squeezing out a sponge at bath time or when helping with the washing up, modelling with clay or dough or when making bread.  

Fine motor skills

Your child will need lots of activities to practice their fine motor skills. These could include puzzles, threading pasta, drawing, painting, posting, folding paper, building with construction materials and screwing and unscrewing lids.

Language of writing

Use the language for movement such as “You are climbing up the ladder and now you are going down the slide!” 

Model writing

Let your child see you write, for example writing a note for nursery or writing a shopping list. Sound out the words as you write them. 

Be a reader

Reinforce that print carries meaning by reading aloud to your child, following the words with your finger as you read.    


When your child shows an interest in making marks with writing materials such as pens or pencils, give them lots of encouragement. It doesn’t matter if their picture looks nothing like what they say it is or they tell you they have written their name and it is some lines and circles – value their efforts, this is early writing in action! 

Writing, writing, everywhere!

When your child starts to show an interest in putting pen to paper, provide a wide range of writing materials for them. This could be plain and lined paper, clipboards for them to note down what they see outside or postcards to send to Granny! 

The correct grip

In order to write effectively, children need to learn how to hold their pencil correctly in a tripod grip. Most children will learn to do this between the ages of 3 and 6 years. It is unhelpful to force children to hold their pencil in a particular way and if they are holding their pencil with their whole hand (often called a hammer grip) don’t worry! The important thing is that they are showing an interest in using writing materials. One way to gently encourage the correct pencil grip is to provide children with very stubby chalks or crayons. This way a hammer grasp cannot be used and the hand naturally goes into a tripod grip instead.

A note about tracing

Tracing over dots or letters can be unhelpful for children learning to write. This is for two reasons. The first is that your child may start to rely on the visual of what they are tracing over. The second is that they do not learn the flow of how the letter is formed.

What if they are not interested?

Many parents are concerned if their child is not interested in picking up a pencil and learning to write. However, as long as you are supporting them to develop the skills above there is no need to worry, they will come to writing in their own time, prepped with the physical skills they need. For reluctant writers you could offer writing in different ways; it does not have to been done sat down at a table. For example, you could make letter shapes in a tray of flour or salt, use a paintbrush and water to make patterns on the side of the bath or have a clipboard and pencil to help you plan out a Lego model. Parents often are concerned if their preschool child is unable to write their name. However, children are not expected to be able to write their name when they start school. Having the foundations of the right physical skills is the most important thing.

UP for Parents

UP provides essential guidance, resources and information on how to deliver effective learning experiences for your children. There is something on UP for everyone; why not download UP and see what amazing experiences you will find for your family?

UP for Educators

UP provides our educators with a wealth of quality learning experiences and essential guidance. UP pushes the boundaries to deliver even better learning outcomes, giving Busy Bees children the very best start in life. There is something on UP for all educators; download UP and see how this can enhance your practice today!


the home of amazing experiences

Take a tour of UP to find out how you can unleash your potential.

Take the tour