Writing Activities for Reluctant Writers

Toys for reluctant writers

Here, we’re talking all about reluctant writers. We’ll cover WHY kids hate to write, and we’ll discuss strategies to engage kids that are reluctant to write. You’ll also find TOYS and TOOLS to engage and motivate children that hate writing.

We’ve already covered fine motor toy ideas and pencil grasp toys, which can be a resource for reluctant writers. Today is all about play–based strategies to support reluctant writers.  Our related blog post on name practice in kindergarten offers more strategies to support the child who is reluctant to write, particularly for beginners struggling with underlying skills needed for handwriting.

Reluctant Writers

It’s very common for kids of all ages to be a reluctant to write. Challenges such as not knowing letter formation, struggles with dysgraphia, or difficulties with visual perceptual skills or visual motor skills that impact legibility can mean that kids just hate to write.

They hate to practice handwriting.

Motivating struggling writers to actually practice the underlying areas in which they struggle can be a challenge. For kids that HATE to write, meaningful and motivating is key! These writing activities for reluctant writes will make handwriting fun so that kids can work on the skills they need to work on.

Practice writing?  “But Mom! I don’t like to write!”  Sound familiar?  Many kids (Many, many!) just aren’t into practicing their handwriting at home.  School and homeschooling can be exhausting for kids when they have to do certain topics that they just aren’t interested in.  And handwriting is often one of those topics.  

Hopefully, you’ll find some motivating handwriting activities in today’s post that will help your reluctant writer pick up that pencil and start writing!

Functional and meaningful handwriting activities for reluctant writers.  These are motivating activities for kids who don't like to practice handwriting.

Handwriting Ideas for Reluctant Writers

Many kids just aren’t into practicing their handwriting at home. School and homeschooling can be exhausting for kids when they have to do certain topics that they just aren’t interested in. And handwriting is often one of those topics.

Often times, kids balk at having to do repetitive writing. I mean, would you want to write a word or sentence 10 times in a row? Sometimes a functional activity that is meaningful and helpful can motivate a child to want to pick up a pencil. In the end, emphasize handwriting quality over quantity and functional handwriting over perfection.

Here are a few easy hands-on strategies to help with “non-handwriting” ways to work on handwriting:

Work on Handwriting With Art

Try some of the handwriting through play ideas in our handwriting library.

Motivating Handwriting Activities Quick Tip:
Try using “handwriting toys” to sneak in the handwriting practice in fun ways that seem more like play than writing practice.

Fine Motor Quick Tip:
Using a neutral or extended wrist is so important for pencil grasp, endurance in handwriting, and small motor movements of the fingers in isolation of the wrist. If your student is using a flexed (or bent) wrist, try paper position and placement. Encourage fine motor activities performed on a vertical surface or slanted surface.


Handwriting ideas for reluctant writers.

How to engage reluctant writers

{{This post contains affiliate links.}}

You can throw in the fun colored ink pen for extra smiles from your reluctant writer, but we wanted to share ideas to work on functional skills like handwriting using mainly items you can find around the home. 

Try a few of these fun ideas with your student or child:

  • Write Jokes. Look up jokes in a joke book and write them on index cards.  Send them to a friend in the mail, drop one in a neighbors mailbox (if you know the neighbor and first let them know to expect something in the mail!) or give one to teachers.  Find a buddy who would be interested in exchanging jokes.
  • Write letters to favorite celebrities.  Use those interests and look up addresses to your child’s favorite artist, musician, or sports hero.  Kids can compose a letter and address the envelope.
  • Exchange letters with a pen pal.  Kids can exchange letters with friends and relatives in other states or towns.  Getting mail addressed to themselves is very rewarding for a child.
  • Pass notes.  Write short notes to members of the family.  Leave them in places where they will be found, like on bedroom dressers or in shoes.  Notes might be simple things like, “Don’t forget about soccer practice today.” or fun things like, “Do you want to play checkers?”
  • Plan a scavenger hunt.  Write out hints on slips of paper.  The child can plan the steps and hide notes for family members or friends.
  • Practice letter formation during fun games like Tic Tac Toe.  Instead of x’s and o’s, write printed or cursive letters in the squares.
  • Write your own comic books.  Draw large rectangles on a page for a comic story. Students can draw pictures and write comic bubbles for handwriting practice.
  • Make a creative journal full of creative handwriting ideas.  We did ours with a cursive handwriting, but you could use these ideas for printed handwriting, too.
  • Tape paper to a window and write on the paper.
  • Location, location, location! Change spaces for something fun and different: go to the library and try the tables there.  Write outside with a clipboard.  Where can you go to write that is new and fun?
  • Change positions.  Sit on the floor and write on the chair seat.  Lay on couch cushions and write on the floor on a clipboard. 
  • Take brain breaks.  Every 3-4 minutes, take a mini-break for jumping jacks or wall push-ups.
  • Write to classical music.
Engaging activities for reluctant writers

Functional Handwriting for reluctant writers

Often times, kids balk at having to do repetitive writing.  I mean, would you want to write a word or sentence 10 times in a row?  Sometimes a functional activity that is meaningful and helpful can motivate a child to want to pick up a pencil, especially when they are hesitant to try a writing task.  Try some of these functional handwriting tasks:  

  • Write out the family grocery list.  
  • Write your family’s return address on bills.
  • Write out a family calendar with sports schedules, outings, and family night events.
  • Write out the phone messages from an answering machine.  
  • Write out the day’s schedule on a weekend day.
  • Write out favorite television shows.  Add the day, and time of each show.
  • Write out a holiday or birthday gift wish list.
  • Write out a list of items to pack for vacation.  Include little squares next to each item to check off as items are packed.
  • Practice forming letters and words in shaving cream.
  • Sensory writing without a pencil.
  • Write words on a foam tray.

Free Worksheet- Ideas for Reluctant Writers

Want to print off a list of handwriting ideas for reluctant writers to send home with your therapy caseload? Now you can add this list to your therapy toolbox! Join us in the free, 5 day email series where you’ll get this free 2 page list of writing ideas for reluctant writers. You’ll also access other handwriting handouts to cover areas of handwriting issues.

Click here to join the free 5 day Handwriting printables series.

handwriting handouts
Toys and game ideas for kids who are reluctant writers, and "hate" handwriting.

Toys for Reluctant Writers 

Looking for more ways to help your reluctant writer get more “into” writing?  These toys, tools, and games will inspire and encourage your child to want to pick up the writing tool and play.  

The best thing is, they won’t even realize they are practicing handwriting and doing “work”!  While these tools and toys are not free, they are ideas to try.  If you have family asking for gift ideas, you might want to pass a few of these ideas along.  Here’s to writing and loving it!

Amazon affiliate links included below.

  • Kids love a dry erase board and this Crayola Dry Erase Activity Center will be fun for them to practice letter formation and writing. 
  •  The Crayola Dry-Erase Activity Center Zany Play can be a fun way to practice individual letter formation. Ask your child to practice letters in each box. Kids can also work on starting/stopping the writing tool on the dots, which is great pencil control practice and needed for handwriting legibility. 
  •  Writing on this Crayola See Thru Light Designer is bright and colorful and a great way to really work on letters while your child is captivated by the light animations and color effects. 
  •  For students who love to draw (or have a slight interest in drawing), this Crayola Light Designer will be a huge hit. Even though they will not be writing letters and words, kids can draw with the writing tool to create 3D images of their drawings.  This is a motivating tool for reluctant writers, and beneficial for pencil control and dexterity, helpful in handwriting. 
  •  For kids who say “I can’t think of anything to write!” (sound familiar?) This creative storytelling game, Rory’s Story Cubes, will be a fun way to inspire. Play the game and write out stories as a family. This sounds like a great Family Night activity! 
  •  Make writing fun with Washable Window Chalk Markers by writing on windows, glass, and mirrors.
  • Completing mazes are a great way to practice pencil control, line awareness in handwriting. 
  •  Try a maze book like this Extreme Mazes with your reluctant writer. 
  • Mad Libs Game is a great way to practice handwriting on lines and in smaller spaces. For kids who can not write as small as needed to write in the book, use a piece of paper for filling in the answers. 
  •  The handwriting practice that kids get with a Spirograph is big: Pen control, bilateral hand coordination, and proprioceptive feedback. Creating these fun art pieces are motivating and fun!

Toys for Letter Formation

Helping kids to work on letter formation can help them to become more confident in their handwriting. Try these engaging toys to support written work:

Chuchik Magnetic Drawing Board– Use the magnetic pen to “write” letters and then erase them, adding repetitions in letter formation.

Coogam Wooden Letters Practicing Board– Use the wooden board to trace and form letters. Then place a paper over the board and use a crayon to form the letters using the textured letters.

Naturskool Sand Writing Tray for Letter Formation with Alphabet flashcards– Work on letter formation and copying skills with a sensory tray and pencil-like writing stylus.

More Fun toys to practice pencil formation and handwriting

More Developmental Toys for Therapy

Be sure to check out these developmental toys, too. These are top-rated occupational therapy toys to support child development of skills.

  1. Fine Motor Toys 
  2. Gross Motor Toys 
  3. Pencil Grasp Toys 
  4. Toys for Reluctant Writers 
  5. Toys for Spatial Awareness 
  6. Toys for Visual Tracking 
  7. Toys for Sensory Play
  8. Bilateral Coordination Toys 
  9. Games for Executive Functioning Skills 
  10. Toys and Tools to Improve Visual Perception 
  11. Toys to Help with Scissors Skills 
  12. Toys for Attention and Focus


Want a printable copy of our therapist-recommended toys to support reluctant writers?

As therapy professionals, we LOVE to recommend therapy toys that build skills! This toy list is done for you so you don’t need to recreate the wheel.

Your therapy caseload will love these handwriting toy recommendations. (There’s space on this handout for you to write in your own toy suggestions, to meet the client’s individual needs, too!)


    We won’t send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time.

    Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

    Developmental Tools for Teaching Letter Recognition

    teaching letter recogntion

    This blog discusses activities for teaching letter recognition. At its most basic, letter recognition refers to letter identification. It is one of the main skills children need to know before they can name, write, or sound out the letters. The following fun letter recognition games for preschoolers are based on development and skill progression.

    Be sure to read through our blog post on name practice for kindergarten for resources and tools to support letter use and recognition in children ages 5-6 or for kids at the level where they are recognizing letters in their name. These ideas are great for beginning reading for kindergarten.

    Use our new color by letter worksheet to further develop this letter recognition skill.

    Teaching letter recognition

    What you need to know about Teaching Letter recognition

    Letter recognition, or the ability to recognize and identify letters begins at a very young age. But did you know that teaching letter recognition skills starts way before kindergarten and and even before entering the classroom?

    Kindergarten students are many times exposed to writing and copying letters on trace worksheets, and writing pages. But before a young child can do these skills that are part of the curriculum, knowing what skills lead up to these skills is helpful.

    Even before a young preschooler is able to identify and name letters in printed context such as books or letter play activities, they are learning this skill through the immersion of seeing letters in everyday life.

    Letter identification and the ability to recognize letters in printed form might occur through exposure on television, printed media, following along while a book is being read, or while engaging with technology. 

    There is a progression in the important literacy skill of recognizing printed letters:

    • Letter recognition in isolation – example, pointing out all of the upper case letter As on a letter picture book
    • Letter recognition in every day life – example pointing out the letter S on a stop sign
    • Letter identification – identifying and stating letter’s names
    • Letter identification in text -reading and sounding out a letter’s sound in reading or sounding out written text
    • Matching upper case and lowercase letters– matching the upper case letters to lowercase, and vice versa

    Each step of teaching letter recognition skills is founded in experience and practice. This includes communication with others, exposure, and reading with caregivers. 

    Not every child learns the same way. Starting as young as preschool, caregivers can support children by using their interests and strengths to teach them new skills.

    Children don’t need to read or write until well beyond toddlerhood, but preschoolers enjoy looking at books, finding letters on walks, and learning letters through movement. 

    The best way to teach letter recognition
    The best way to teach letter recognition is by first covering the prerequisite skills.

    Prerequisites to Letter Teaching Letter Recognition

    Several areas are needed to develop letter recognition skills:

    • Object permanence
    • Form constancy
    • Visual discrimination
    • Visual figure ground
    • Working memory
    • Visual memory
    • Visual scanning skills
    • Cognitive skills
    • Physical development

    You can see that these components are founded in visual motor skills, perceptual skills, and working memory.

    Before any of this can happen (and through the process), young children should be exposed to rhymes, songs, and singing the alphabet song. (Add alphabet exercises for movement fun!) This is actually the first step in the road to literacy!

    Teaching letter recognition requires Visual discrimination Skills

    Letter recognition/identification is when a person is able to look at a letter and recall it from previous experience. Recognition of letters occurs both in uppercase and lowercase form. Additionally, there is a cursive letter recognition aspect as well. This blog post covers cursive letter recognition skills.

    This site states that even before letter identification, there are a few other skills that should be taught, including visual discrimination, so the child is able to find differences among lines and shapes. 

    Visual discrimination can be taught in isolation through books or letter formation worksheets, or in games and activities such as Memory games, matching and sorting activities, or playing “what’s the same” and “what’s different” through hidden picture activities and puzzles.  We cover this visual perceptual skill in our blog post, Wacky Wednesday book activity.

    Visual Memory Another great play-based activity to develop the visual perceptual memory skills needed for letter recognition, are games that challenge kids to notice differences. Present the child with a tray of everyday items, and ask them to memorize the items on the tray. Ask them to look away or cover their eyes. Take away one or more items, and have them recall the missing items. 

    Letter activities- Other ways to encourage letter play is through printed alphabet worksheets, puzzles, letter magnets, or other alphabet manipulatives such as letter beads. You can ask the child to sort letters based on shape, such as those that include straight lines, versus curved line, or diagonal letters. You can also sort letters by letters based on size: tall letters, short letters, and letters with a tail that hangs below the lines.

    One way to encourage functional handwriting is through addressing letter size. This tall and short worksheet has a fine motor and visual motor component that can be incorporated into whole-body movement activities to teach these concepts that carryover into letter sizing and use in handwriting.

    Prerequisites to teaching letter recognition begins in infancy

    These prerequisite skills that support letter recognition, such as visual discrimination and memory, develop as early as infancy, when young children identify 3D objects that are familiar to them like their bottle, favorite toy, or their parents. It is important infants experience tummy time in order to develop visual motor skills, and strong oculomotor skills, as a result of time spent on the belly while looking at objects.

    As children grow, their visual discrimination becomes more refined and they are able to identify pictures and written words.

    Toddlers are able to point to a picture of a puppy in a book they are reading, or identify who is hiding under the blanket.

    Object permanence and working memory

    When a child sees an object and knows what it is called, this is referred to as object permanence. This requires working memory skill development to use what is seen, remember it, and store it for later retrieval.

    While visual discrimination is the ability to detect differences and similarities in size, shape, color and pattern, cognitive ability is necessary to recognize these differences based on previous exposure, along with memory to have stored that information away in their mind’s eye to recall when needed.

    This skill is typically associated with letter formation and handwriting skills. Identifying and discriminating between differences in letters allow kids to copy and write letters from memory. However, noticing and identifying the differences in the curves, diagonal lines, and lines that make up a letter are essential build up to that skill.

    Hearing and saying the letter sounds associated with letters are part of the process, too. Phonemic awareness is developed initially through play, but this skill continues to develop and progress as reading and literacy skills are refined in kindergarten, first grade, second grade, and beyond.

    Teaching letter recognition begins with the ability to recognize details in visual images

    In more depth, students should identify likeness and differences of shapes or forms, colors, as well as the position of various objects and people. Developing discrimination skills will help children learn the alphabet and then both read and print letters a lot better. 

    There are numerous types of visual discrimination that children should begin to understand and develop. These include: 

    • 3D Objects
    • Shapes
    • Drawings & Pictures
    • Colors
    • Letters and Words
    • Sequences

    Letter recognition games

    The letter recognition activities and games and listed below are fun ways to instruct children in the essential skills needed for reading and literacy. It’s literally the building block to reading.

    • Name Recognition- Start with recognizing the letters of their name. Point out letters in the child’s name and ask them to point to letters in a book or on a sign. Children can first begin with recognizing upper case letters of their name, then moving onto the lowercase letters. Working first with uppercase letters is best, because capital letters are easier to discriminate between. Lowercase letters have many similar letters, b,d,p,g,q, and j. 
    • Bean Bag Letter Toss – Affix upper and lowercase letter stickers to one side of each bean bag. Put a basket or bucket across from your child. As your child throws the bean bags into the bucket, ask them to name the letters and their sounds of the letters. Students can run around looking for matching letters scattered around the room.
    • Alphabet Play dough- Write down large letters on a piece of paper and place that paper into a sheet protector. Encourage your child to form the letters on the sheet protector with play dough of their choosing.
    • I Spy Letter Walk –Take a walk with your child and look for letters in their environment such as on license plates, street signs and building. Play, I Spy, searching for different letters, or letters in sequential order. The printable tools in the Letter Fine Motor Kit are a great resource for this activity.
    • Jumping to letters – Create a letter pathway with sidewalk chalk on a playground or sidewalk. Children can walk, run, jump, or crawl across the letters, naming them as they move forward! Change it up by asking them to walk backwards along the path. This is a fun motor planning activity.
    • Chasing the Alphabet – (Amazon affiliate link:) Sammy Chases the Alphabet is a book I wrote about Sammy the Golden Dog playing fetch with balls around his farm. Each ball has a letter on it. After you read the book, bring the story to life by adding letter stickers to ball pit balls. Toss the balls around a room or outside, and encourage your child to find them all, naming the letters on each ball they find.
    • Food Alphabet Worksheets – Pair real food items with these food worksheets. These worksheets include the letter, a food that starts with the letter, and all of the letters that make the word. As children sound out each letter, ask them to point to the letter that makes that sound.

    more letter recognition Activities

    Alphabet activities like the ones below support recognition skills through repetition. Alphabet recognition occurs through songs, play, and hands-on activities.

    • The Soundabet Song – Letter identification doesn’t just include what letters look like, it also includes what letters sound like. Can your child point to the letter name as well as the sound it makes? This Soundabet Song is a great way to teach kids how to pair the sounds of the letters to what the letters look like. 
    • Letter Push – This ABC play dough activity uses plastic letters and play dough! Add in some fine motor skills to alphabet identification, by having children push plastic letters into play dough while they name the letter. This can be done as a circle time game, where each child take a turn pushing in a letter, or a small group time where every child has the opportunity to push the play dough letters. 
    • Alphabet Sensory Bins – Nothing keeps my preschoolers entertained more then a large sensory bin! Adding alphabet letters or letter markers to the sensory bins for children to find and match, is one of the most exciting letter identification games. Check out these sensory bin base ideas to use in different letter recognition sensory  bins.
    • This alphabet sensory writing tray requires users to recognize letters by uncovering them from a sensory medium. This is a great activity for recognizing letter parts such as diagonals or the curved part of a letter as the letter is uncovered.
    • Metal alphabet tray play – My favorite is to add a metal pan to the sensory table, and ask kids to stick the magnet letters they find in the sensory materials onto the metal pan!
    • Alphabet Discover Bottle – This sensory discovery bottle can be used before naptime, bedtime, in a calm down corner, or as a learning activity. As children shake the bottle, they can name the letters that appear! 
    • Match letters- Match uppercase letters to lower case letters, match different fonts of letters, and match letters in different environments (books, signs, on television, in print, etc.)
    • Gross motor activities- Use a letter floor mat to jump on a specific letter. Ask the child to find a letter magnet and place it on the letter mat.
    • Letter recognition scavenger hunts- Use ideas like these letter clothes pins scavenger hunt for ideas.
    • Write letters in shaving cream or in sand
    • Sort letters by word families when teaching letter groups
    • Play beginning sound games- I spy with my little eye, a word that starts with /b/
    • Use dot markers to dot letters
    • Spot letters on a white board and trace with a dry erase marker
    • make letters from pipe cleaners
    • Sensory play activities
    • Trace letters on sandpaper

    A final note teaching letter recognition skills:

    Learning through play doesn’t have to be stressful. Every child learns differently, and that includes recognizing letters of the alphabet. Once a child has developed the visual discrimination, expressive language and receptive language skills needed to participate in letter identification activities, notice what motivates them to learn.

    Do they like to move, cut, color, dance, or sing? Pick a letter activity that you know your child will love, and they will keep coming back for more. This will result in increasing their attention span and learning new letters daily. Follow your child’s interests and you will surely have a wonderful time!

    Jeana Kinne is a veteran preschool teacher and director. She has over 20 years of experience in the Early Childhood Education field. Her Bachelors Degree is in Child Development and her Masters Degree is in Early Childhood Education. She has spent over 10 years as a coach, working with Parents and Preschool Teachers, and another 10 years working with infants and toddlers with special needs. She is also the author of the “Sammy the Golden Dog” series, teaching children important skills through play.

    The Letter Fine Motor Kit is a 100 page printable packet includes everything you need for hands-on letter learning and multisensory handwriting!

    This resource is great for pediatric occupational therapists working on handwriting skills, fine motor skills, visual motor skills, and more. Use the activities to promote a variety of functional tasks.

    Teachers will find this printable packet easily integrated into literacy centers, classroom activities, and multisensory learning.

    Parents will find this resource a tool for learning at home, supporting skill development, and perfect for therapy at home!


    Grab the Letter Fine Motor Kit and use all of the senses, including heavy work, or proprioceptive input, through the hands ask kids build and manipulate materials to develop handwriting and letter formation skills.