Preschool Pre-Writing Skills

pre-writing skills

This pre-writing skills resource is a resource for anyone working with preschoolers. The fact is that in the preschool years, developmentally, preschoolers should not be writing. Rather, pre-writing is the area of focus. A huge topic of discussion for pediatric occupational therapy professionals is the fact that preschool pre-writing skills are developed rather than introducing handwriting at this young age. Developmentally, there is a lot of progression in the preschool years and pre-writing skills are just one of the many areas. Refer to more information on preschool activities for other developmentally appropriate activities.

pre writing skills needed before preschoolers can write with a pencil.

Pre writing Skills in Preschool

Many times, parents of very young children don’t think about handwriting skills. It’s not typical to think about holding a pencil, writing words and sentences, and copying letters when children are just mastering building with blocks, learning to pull on socks, and creating finger paint masterpieces.  

But the truth is, when young preschoolers are playing, they are building the very important precursors to handwriting.  

The skills needed for managing a pencil, copying letter forms, and managing pencil control when copying lists and paragraphs into a space on a page are initiated in the early childhood years.  Below, you’ll find more about preschool pre-writing skills and the components of pre-writing skills that are developed through play.

Pre-writing skills development begins with preschool aged children through play.

What are Pre-Writing Skills?

Preschool is prime time to develop the underlying skills needed for handwriting. So often, the older, school-aged kids that are struggling with handwriting are missing the underlying areas that make up the skills of handwriting.

First, it’s important to recognize that handwriting is made up of so many areas. Handwriting is much more than holding a pencil (pencil grasp) and forming letters and numbers!  

There are many pre-writing skills that transfer to accuracy in written work. These areas need to be developed and refined before handwriting can be successful. These skills are pre-requisites to even holding a pencil to form shapes and then letters.

Consider the following skill areas that relate to handwriting: 

  1. Sensory Motor Pre-writing skills
  2. Fine motor pre-writing skills
  3. Visual-motor pre-writing skills 

Let’s go into each area separately.

Sensory-Motor Pre-Writing Skills- The sensory motor component is closely related. Consider the pyramid of learning and the developmental base that enables refinement in higher levels of development. The closely related areas of sensory and motor skills are pre-requisites for pre-writing before copying lines and shapes is even possible.

  • Gross motor development
  • Motor planning
  • Initial core control and core body strength
  • Bilateral arm and hand use
  • Crossing midline
  • Imitation of movements
  • Ability to learn novel motor movements
  • Tactile sensory awareness
  • Discrimination of sensation

Fine Motor Pre-Writing Skills- From holding the pencil to moving and controlling the pencil when writing letter forms, handwriting requires a variety of motor movements that all must work together.

These fine motor pre writing areas of development include:

  • Hand dominance
  • Pinch precision (using a tip to tip grasp)
  • Finger opposition
  • Finger isolation
  • Separation of the sides of the hand
  • Hand strength (endurance in play)
  • Fine motor development
  • Separation of the two sides of the hand, including:                    
    • Development and control of the skilled side of the hand                  
    • Development and control of the strength side of the hand stable side of the hand
  • Thumb Isolation and use as a stability point
  • Thumb dexterity and strength
  • Finger Isolation
  • Development of a dominant hand and an assisting hand
  • Manipulation of objects and dexterity of the hand with objects
  • Grasp strength

Note that preschool can begin as early as 2 years old with some preschool classes. There is a big difference in development from the 2-5 year range in all areas, including fine motor development. A young 2 year old will developmentally have more primitive fine motor skills than a 5 year old child.

Young preschoolers will develop precision and refinement of fine motor skills through play.

Visual Processing Pre-Writing Skills- Additionally, there are the eyes.  What is seen and recognized needs to be coordinated with the hand.  Visual processing has a huge component in written work!

During the preschool years, visual processing skills are developed through play. These components include:

Cognitive Pre-Writing Skills- In addition to the motor components are the cognitive skills. These include the ability to follow directions, pay attention, and focus. The cognitive areas are closely related to the motor skill prerequisites.

  • Direction following
  • Attention and focus
  • Directional concepts
  • Memory
  • Sequencing
  • Awareness of left-right concepts in books and written work

When Preschoolers are asked to write letters

When young children are asked to write, trace, or copy letters before these skills are developed, bad habits can form. In these cases, you’ll notice that older students tend to have difficulty with handwriting.

There are many things happening all at once that develop poor motor plans and bad habits. Because preschoolers are not developmentally ready to write with a pencil, you may see these issues:

  1. Immature grasp on the pencil/writing utensil
  2. Inability to form diagonal lines
  3. Forms letters from bottom to top
  4. Forms letter segmentally and inappropriately
  5. Weak grasp on the writing utensil
  6. Inconsistent hand use
  7. Weak pinch and base of support on the pinky side of the hand
  8. Poor posture
  9. Inattention
  10. Difficulty identifying letters and copying complete parts
  11. Many other issues!

These mentioned issues with starting handwriting in preschool is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to introducing letter formation before kids are developmentally ready.

Pre-Writing Lines in Preschool

It is very important to mention pre-writing lines. These are the pencil strokes that precede formation of letters. Here are some resources you’ll want to read over and utilize in this important step in preschool development:

  1. We cover a great deal about pre-writing lines here.
  2. Use this pre-writing lines activity to work on this essential step.
  3. Consider this pre-writing lines slide deck when working with preschoolers in a virtual setting.
  4. Read about the developmental progression of pre-writing lines.
  5. Use this pre-writing leaf activity to work on the development of underlying skills as well as pre-writing line formation.
  6. Use these handwriting activities to work on pre-writing skill development.

If any of these areas might be an issue for your child with handwriting troubles, consider grabbing The Handwriting Book as a resource that covers all of the underlying skill areas related to handwriting.

So how are all of these areas addressed as a pre-writing skill in preschool? 

The answer is through play!

Can you believe that all of these areas are being addressed htrough play in the early childhood development stages?  And that all of these areas are building and developing with a resulting use in handwriting?  Amazing, right?  

Pre-writing skills start to develop in preschool aged kids.

    Stop by later this week to find out easy ways to encourage development of the above skill areas in group settings in the preschool environment.  It can be difficult to address the needs of a preschool class when there are 16 four year olds that need reining in.  I’ll have easy ways to encourage development of fine motor skills, visual motor skills, and attention skills in fun and creative ways…coming soon!  

 The Handwriting Book

BUY The Handwriting Book NOW    

Want to know more about The Handwriting Book?  Click on the image above to find out how to address every underlying area related to handwriting skills.     Click here to BUY NOW.



Use these Fine Motor Kits for hands-on activity kits to develop fine motor skills, strength, dexterity, and manipulation. Kids LOVE these fine motor kits for the motivating activities. Therapists love them because it’s fresh, fun ways to work on pinch, grip, manipulation skills, and much more. Try some of these themed therapy kits:

Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20+ years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to

Occupational Therapy Word Search

occupational therapy word search

Looking for a fun way to advocate for occupational therapy, celebrate the profession, and share the fun of OT? Today, we have a free occupational therapy word search to fill your therapy toolbox!

Occupational therapy word search for OT professionals

Free OT Word search to celebrate what we do as OTs

If speech therapists work on language, physical therapists work on the lower half of the body, do occupational therapists work on the upper half?  Not exactly.  We not only work on the upper part of the body, but occupational therapy works on everything else needed to be independent. 

That is a big job! 

Your “occupation” is everything you do. Your occupation is more than just a job. It could be a student, mother, father, firefighter, accountant, child, caregiver, or a combination of several roles.

Occupational therapy addresses everything it takes to fill your roles. Because we have such a big job, Occupational Therapists have the entire month of April to celebrate and share what we do! 

Here are easy occupational therapy month ideas to celebrate the profession of OT.

Free OT Word search

One quick way to advocate for the profession and to celebrate all that we do is to use several tools like the occupational therapy word search free PDF to advocate for our profession.

Students and young learners see the OT coming in and out of classrooms all day.  They probably have no idea what the OT does. 

They know students like to see the occupational therapist, and sometimes they get to use cool tools and fidgets.  The occupational therapy word search highlights some of the basic ideas about occupational therapy to get the discussion started. 

An entire conversation can be started about different types of pencils, pencil grips, handwriting, and the importance of good letter formation. Another conversation may revolve around goals for occupational therapy. Use the occupational therapy word search to build a treatment plan.  

Occupational Therapy Word Search Treatment Plan:

  • Bring all of the items found in the word search to demonstrate what each item is and how it is used
  • Build a hallway obstacle course to work on sensory processing skills for all students
  • Use this Blank Word Search Template to make your own OT month puzzle
  • Make sensory bins, play dough, putty, or slime to demonstrate the sensory effect these have on the body
  • Create a lesson plan using visual perceptual activities to further build on this OT word search
  • Create a slideshow or video about occupational therapy
  • Make students disabled for a day so they can feel what it is like to need help
  • Laminate all of the occupational therapy month activities to create centers in the classroom
  • Incorporate Disability Awareness month into your OT month planning
  • Hand out fidgets to take home, so students can feel part of this special group that gets to see the occupational therapist. Amazon has several (affiliate link) low cost fidgets for handing out in bulk.

A word about fidgets and other accommodations, and an interesting experiment. 

There is a lot of misconception about fidgets and other accommodations used by OTs in the classroom.  I can’t tell you how many fidgets have been taken away from deserving students, because the teacher did not understand what they were for.  They just saw them as toys. 

Educate the students you are working with, along with all other staff members about the importance of these “tools”.  Fidgets that are used as toys are not serving their purpose.  

Fidgets in the wrong hands become toys. This is the reason fidget spinners got a bad name.  In the wrong hands they became ninja stars, conversation pieces, or distractions. 

In the right hands they are amazing tools to be used discreetly under a desk to provide input while the student is trying to focus on the lesson being taught, or sit still during an endless circle time. 

On to the interesting experiment…

I was working in a private preschool, seeing two young boys in the same class.  The other students were very interested in what I was doing with their friends each week. I brought in deflated beach balls for each of the students to use as wiggle seats. 

I simultaneously presented a fine motor task.  Within ten minutes, all of the students except the two boys I had been seeing for OT, were playing with the beach balls.  They were throwing them around the room and waving them in the air.  The two boys?  They were sitting very quietly on the beach balls doing the fine motor task. 

What started out as a teachable moment about the role of OT in the classroom, turned into a real life demonstration about the use of accommodations.

This added weight to my theory that the children who needed the accommodations would use them properly (perhaps with a little teaching in the beginning), while the other students would see them as toys, because they did not need anything extra to do their work.  

Whether you celebrate OT month using activities like this occupational therapy word search, or doing your own social experiment on the nature of young children, spreading the word about what OTs do, and dispelling misconceptions is the goal. 

Talking about OT might spark some questions about how teachers, caregivers, and other team members can help their students. 

The OT Toolbox has great tools like this OT Materials Bundle to use in therapy sessions to promote the profession and to celebrate the materials that we use every day in therapy. It’s an advocate tool that builds skills…very much the way we as therapy professionals build skills in the very occupations that we are working to develop!

Free OT Word Search for OT Advocacy

Want to add this resource to your therapy toolbox so you can help kids thrive? Enter your email into the form below to access this printable tool.

This resource is just one of the many tools available in The OT Toolbox Member’s Club. Each month, members get instant access to downloadable activities, handouts, worksheets, and printable tools to support development. Members can log into their dashboard and access all of our free downloads in one place. Plus, you’ll find exclusive materials and premium level materials.

Level 1 members gain instant access to all of the downloads available on the site, without enter your email each time PLUS exclusive new resources each month.

Level 2 members get access to all of our downloads, exclusive new resources each month, PLUS additional, premium content each month: therapy kits, screening tools, games, therapy packets, and much more. AND, level 2 members get ad-free content across the entire OT Toolbox website.

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Free Occupational Therapy Word Search

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    Victoria Wood

    Victoria Wood, OTR/L has been providing Occupational Therapy treatment in pediatrics for more than 25 years. She has practiced in hospital settings (inpatient, outpatient, NICU, PICU), school systems, and outpatient clinics in several states. She has treated hundreds of children with various sensory processing dysfunction in the areas of behavior, gross/fine motor skills, social skills and self-care. Ms. Wood has also been a featured speaker at seminars, webinars, and school staff development training. She is the author of Seeing your Home and Community with Sensory Eyes.

    Occupational therapy materials bundle
    OT Materials Bundle– celebrate the profession with what we use in therapy sessions WHILE developing skills!

    Working with kids in occupational therapy sessions? This set of Occupational Therapy Materials Bundle includes 13 activities and resources to promote the profession using therapy supplies and themes.

    Incorporate OT supplies like sensory tools, adapted materials, and therapy supplies to work on functional skills in school-based OT or outpatient clinical therapy settings.

    As a bonus, you’ll also get 8 articles to help occupational therapy practitioners develop as a professional.