Learning to write

Learning to Write: what your Prep child needs to be able to do

YOU can easily assist your young child to develop the array of skills that combine to assist them to become successful writers. How
Big Muscle Play

What skills are involved in planting seeds, a tree or making dough?

Sequencing skills to follow the steps / recipe

Heavy work by digging / mixing

Grasp for tool use by holding shovels, rakes, watering can, hosing, mixing with a spoon, using a rolling pin

Sensory touch which gives us more feedback about using our hands.

 All of these skills are important when a child starts Prep and needs to focus on multistep tasks requiring recall of steps in sequence (e.g. learning the alphabet) and starting to use smaller tools with good control such as a pencil (to write letters and numbers) and scissors (to cut along curved and cornered lines).

 Encourage your child at every opportunity to explore nature or create in the kitchen to help them practice all these big and small muscle skills as well as focus, recalling and sequencing of steps.

 The nature play website has some great ideas about exploring nature. http://www.natureplayqld.org.a 

Helping children explore environments to use big muscles also helps to develop postural motor skills. These skills enable children to have good sitting endurance which not only supports good arm strength for motor accuracy but if we can sit for longer with good muscle control, a child's attention will be much better.

Other big muscle play involving weight bearing, resistance, push / pull type movements that are important for children to engage in every day include:

  • Climbing
  • Swinging
  • Sliding
  • Construction play
  • Crawling games
  • Animal walks
  • Kids yoga

When children have good shoulder stability and strength, they should be able to refine the movements of their wrist, hands and fingers for finer motor control such as drawing shapes, colouring in pictures, forming letters and tracking in narrow mazes.

2. Hands at work

Encourage your child to participate in play and games to develop their hand and finger skills to support tool use which is very important in Prep. This might include:

  • Sensory play to develop hand skills including play dough, water, sand, flour, rice tubs, shaving cream. A sensory approach to learning how to form letters such as saying the letter sound while drawing it with their finger in a  rice tub gives extra tactile information and can help with memory and recall of the letters.
  • Playing with play dough every day to make shapes, roll, pinch and squeeze or hide small objects to dig out with fingers.
  • Squeezing pegs to hang up pictures and play with trigger spray bottles to promote individual finger and thumb strength.
  • Using a wide variety of drawing tools such as large chalk, small crayons and tripod felt pens to draw on a variety of surface types for different feedback.
  • Practicing lots of colouring in on paper, moving directionally from top to bottom and left to right to encourage the movement which is needed for writing.
  • Practicing manipulating tools on a vertical surface to encourage postural control and shoulder strength which all impact had control (e.g) easel black board, whiteboard, paint with water on a wooden or brick fence, spray bottle paint onto a sheet hanging on the clothes line, bat a ball hanging in one leg of a stocking on a clothes line).
  • When introducing scissors, encourage your child to hold the scissors so the thumb is positioned at the top of the scissors.
  • Using tongs and tweezers to pick up objects in play can help promote a similar open and shut pattern for children learning to squeeze scissors.
  • Daily use of a spoon, fork and/or knife at mealtimes is beneficial to developing two hand coordination, grip strength and control. These skills overflow to holding and using a pencil with good control.

3. Let's play and learn to focus

Board games provide an opportunity to practice attention and focus, taking turns, working in a group, finger skills to roll dice, pincer grip to move token, put rubber bands around cards of closing snap bags when packing up, two hand use to shuffle or deal cards. Try to play lots of different board games at home in a safe environment to practice these types of skills for fine motor practice and cooperative play.

4. See - Plan - Do

Playing games that encourage using the eyes and hands together such as building with Lego or copying shape patterns is important to develop copying skills. Children engage in a lot of copying tasks in Prep when learning to write.

Visual perception is the ability to interpret and attach meaning to what the eyes see. 

Visual motor integration is the degree to which visual perception and finger-hand movements are well coordinated. For example: to be able to look at the letter a, label it as the letter a and use a pencil to copy it correctly onto paper.

Practicing copying block patterns or drawing shapes are examples of visual motor integration. This is an important skill that supports tool use to enable a child to trace and copy letters to write.

Spatial and sequential organization is another skill related to using our eyes to look and understand spatial concepts such as top, middle, bottom, left/right, front/back, size and shape aspects of an object or drawing.

Practicing puzzles can help children to determine how parts go together to form a whole, which direction to fit pieces correctly in the puzzle, use positional concepts to plan a strategy to complete the puzzle such as put in the pieces at the top first. Completing dot-to-dot pictures can also help with spatial organisation.

Happy playing in readiness for Prep!

 Microwave play dough recipe

Why not try and make you own play dough? Here is a simple microwave recipe. Just add different food colours and you'll have a variety of different doughs for hour of hand-on creative play.


Food colouring

500ml (2 cups) water

60ml (1tsp) oil

1 cup table salt

1 tbsp cream of tartar

2 cups plain flour



Add the food colouring to the water before mixing.

Mix all ingredients well in a large microwave-safe container that has a lid. The dough will cook in different microwaves to varying degrees, so you'll have to check it regularly throughout the process to be sure you don't overcook it and make it go crumbly.

Start on 50 percent power for 3 minutes.

Stir and continue for another 2 minutes.

It should congeal in a fairly gluey lump.

When it looks like it's come together enough, turn it out onto a floured surface and wait for it to cool a bit.

Knead it until it becomes smooth and silky and easy to work.


The large amount of salt is mainly to ensure your playdough lasts – it acts as a preservative to stop it going mouldy.

Wrap the play dough up well in a ziplock bag (with all the air squeezed out) after your child has finished playing with it and then pop in an airtight plastic box. This way, it'll stay fresh for another day.

Add the food colouring to the play dough and kneed on a plastic board if you don't want to turn your wooden chopping board a funny colour!​

This resource was prepared by Kylie Walsh, Occupational Therapist

Website: www.kyliewalsh.com.au   Email: info@kyliewalsh.com.au