The muscles in little fingers need lots of preparation if the child to
whom they are attached is going to be comfortable writing.
Several activities that are not even related to writing can be helpful
in getting small hands ready for the task. Manipulation of clay, PlayDoh,
Fimo, and similar material is a strengthening exercise for the fine muscles.
Building with blocks can also be a significant boost to this skill. As
soon as the danger in swallowing small pieces is gone (usually by the age
of four, but this may vary with the child) interlocking pieces such as
Legos and LinkerCubes are a fine next step. They demand a greater degree
of control and manual dexterity that helps to strengthen finger muscles.
Stringing beads, tying shoelaces, buttoning buttons, pulling zippers, and
snapping snaps on clothing are other activities that help to work these
A variety of crayons, markers, and pencils can provide your budding writer
with a non-threatening experience. Provide ample time to practice drawing.
After drawing objects, and when children are aware that letters and words
have meaning, they will naturally want to label what they have drawn.
For the reluctant writer, parents can help make the bridge to writing by
taking the childís dictation. Children who tell a story and then watch
as an adult writes the words are learning that their words are given special
meaning when they are written. This can be an incentive for most children,
who want to be like the adults and older siblings who model this task.
One of the pitfalls of this activity is approached when we are dealing
with a child who is a perfectionist. This child doesnít want to do something
unless it is right; he is afraid of making mistakes. This is the point
at which the caring adult can explain that this is a process that takes
years to perfect. Explain, in a very matter-of-fact way, that making mistakes
in writing is not a problem -- that everyone makes them. And, above all,
that mistakes are a tremendous opportunity for learning.
This column has been incorporated and expanded in Teach Your Children
Well: A Teacherís Advice for Parents.