How to help your child learn to write early

Learning to write can begin from a very young age - we show you how with the help of handwriting experts

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When to start learning to write

Children may start to show an interest in learning to write some time between 4 and 5 years of age. But as with any developmental milestone, some will pick up a pen and try and write earlier and others won’t start to form letters until they go to school.

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You can get your toddler used to holding a pen from the age of around 12 months, by encouraging her to draw and colour in. “And you can train your toddler’s fingers to be more flexible with other activities too,” says Dr Christian Marquardt, handwriting expert and consultant for Stabilo. “Activities like ripping up paper, modelling clay and colouring large surfaces with finger paints will get her hands and fingers ready for writing.”

Right hand or left hand?

“Let your toddler choose what works best for her,” says Dr Marquardt. “If she shows a preference for writing with her left hand, don’t force her to switch. You can get pens suitable for both. Encourage your toddler to hold her pen with her thumb, index and middle finger as this is the best position for applying the right amount of force, speed and accuracy.”

And once she’s got the hang of holding a pen and drawing with it, get her to practise. “Keep it light and fun,” says primary school teacher Barbara Martin. “Children love whiteboards, so the chance to draw some letters on one is likely to go down well!”

Learning to write names

Once your child is used to holding a pen, encourage her to write. “Start by getting your child to practise writing her name,” says Barbara. “Get her to try drawing letters through tracing paper, or using stencils.”

“Tasks like signing birthday cards and artwork are good to progress to once she can write her name,” adds Dr Marquardt.

How to hold a pencil

Before your child starts school, you may want to encourage her to hold a pen in the correct ‘tripod’ position. This is the pencil-holding position that she will be taught at school:

1 Your child places her thumb on one side of the pencil – the side closest to her body.

2 She places her index finger on top of the pencil. She shouldn’t press too hard – her fingertip should just rest on the top.

3 She rests her pencil on the middle finger, so the pencil is resting on the first joint of her middle finger. 

Free writing activity sheets to print out

What to expect

All children develop at different rates, so it can be tricky to know exactly what your child should be able to do and when.

“Don’t worry if your child’s letters are still very big and wobbly when she starts school,” says Barbara. “As long as she’s getting used to holding a pen or pencil and you’re encouraging her to draw and practise writing letters regularly, this will set her up for school,” she adds.

Mum’s story: “We used dot-to-dot”

“I did dot-to-dots with Amelia to help her learn her letters, which worked really well. I also drew the letters out for her, nice and big, and then she went over them with a different coloured pen. Once she’d mastered this, she started copying the letters directly underneath.”

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Rozel Bray, 37, from Worcester, mum to Elysia, 7, and Amelia, 4

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