How to Help Your Little One Feel Ready and Confident to Start Writing

Before expecting a child to be able to write their name, little fingers need to become nimble, agile, and dextrous. They need to be able to manoeuvre independently and to work in unison and/or isolation.

Children need to develop strength, coordination, and stability in their hands before any formal handwriting can be considered, let alone writing their name. 

Something as simple as peeling an orange or building masterpieces with Lego isn't just about the development of little fingers or developing fine motor skills. Fine motor skills involve more than merely the development of a pincer grip or being able to pick up small items. 

It's much more complex than that. 

It's what we call the 'biomechanics' of physical development. 

So, before we worry about how a child holds a pencil or ask them to learn to write their name, they need to develop a whole range of muscles, joints, and movements including:

  • Strong palmar arches - developing the muscles in the hand to assist with cutting, using knives and forks, scissors, etc.
  • Wrist stability - being able to move the wrist in various directions, up, down, side to side and maintain strength.
  • Skilled side of the hand - there are 27 bones in the developed side of a hand (the little finger side) and they all need to be able to flex and bend to give stability to a grip and strength to the palm.
  • Intrinsic hand muscle development - the ability to perform small movements with the hand, where the tip of the thumb, index finger, and middle finger touch.
  • Bilateral hand skills - moving both hands together, in sequence.

Only after these movements have become comfortable and familiar, comes core stability and shoulder stability, which are pivotal joints that are also important in your child's journey to writing. 

The whole body works hard to complete tasks and your little one needs the time and opportunity to practice these skills in order to become independent and move every part of their body with skill and dexterity before we think about 'handwriting'. 

So, it's important that before trying to write, they become a skilful clementine peeler, or can put on their coat, fix their own zipper, and put on their own shoes. 

Here are some examples of the ways your little one can practice their physical biomechanics:

  • Pull on their shoes, open a lunch box and open its contents.
  • Pull up tights, pants, or trousers after going to the toilet.
  • Turn on the tap.
  • Pump the soap dispenser or access a paper towel to wipe their hands.

These 'self-help' motor skills, such as having the strength to push the hand drier, open the door to leave and return to the classroom, or to undress and dress for PE, are vital as your child will have the independence to meet their own needs. 

How These Skills Can Help Prepare for Writing and Beyond

Not only can these skills help give your child the tools they need to start writing, they can also help prepare them for starting big school.

When thinking about 'school readiness', remember that your child's teacher will be new to their world, and they may be reluctant to ask the teacher for help. It can be a daunting and new environment for some children, so they may feel nervous and unsure.

That's why before schooling starts, it's necessary for children to have a certain level of independence and be equipped with competent 'self-help' skills. To be self-reliant and not programmed to fully depend on an adult to meet these needs. 

So, the next time you're on autopilot and go to peel a clementine or open a banana for your child, stop! This is a prime opportunity for them to have a go, and for them to develop those essential skills that will help them become successful writers in the future. Encouraging them to do it for themselves will allow them to develop their palmar arch and wrist stability.

Maria Montessori said: "Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed."