Preschool Centers to Develop Pre-Writing Skills

This blog post on preschool center ideas for pre-writing skills was originally written September 20, 2017. We’ve since updated it to include more resources and ideas to support the development of preschool prewriting skills that occurs through play in the preschool age. We have many preschool centers ideas to help with this skill!

preschool center ideas

Our favorite preschool center ideas involve movement, play, and exploration!

Preschool Center Ideas

If you’ve ever been in a preschool classroom and seen a lot of play, you are in a great classroom setting! Preschoolers need play to help them develop the skills that they will use throughout their lifetime. The preschool occupational therapy providers reading this are probably nodding their OT heads. And, actually, so are the school based OTs who later see those same kiddos in the elementary building. Why? Because teaching preschoolers to write is just not developmentally appropriate. Instead, we can focus on how can you help preschool children develop pre-writing skills through developmentally appropriate tasks!

The preschool classroom is a bustling place of activity, play, learning, and development.  All of these areas are happening at once, driven by the focus and intention of the preschool teacher.  I’ve had readers ask how to incorporate more developmental areas into group activities for the preschool aged child and how to incorporate development of pre-writing skills into a small group setting.

Before we get into the preschool center ideas, check out some of our resources to support the preschool aged kiddos:

Preschool Centers for Prewriting Skills

The center activities that we have listed below are designed for the developmental level of preschoolers. This means that prewriting and play go hand in hand…sometimes there are creative ways to do this! For example, you might have the center right on the carpet during a circle time. Other times, you might try a few different ways to sit on the floor during the center activity. These variations can be a great tool for developing balance, coordination, core strength, regulation needs (regulation is different in the preschool child!), motor control, and other skills needed for writing…it’s all connected! 

The activities below are ones that can be used in preschool centers or in small groups of children who are working on development of fine motor, visual perceptual motor skills needed for pre-writing and other tasks needed in a classroom setting. Considering all of the pre-writing skills that are developed during the preschool years, these centers can harness the excitement and play of creative play to promote development of skills needed throughout the child’s life.

The skills developed in the preschool setting has a lot to do with visual perceptual skills. You’ll find easy and fun ways to work on visual perceptual skills through play here. 

Preschool Centers and Development

Centers in the classroom are a common thing.  A center is a small group of children that work together on one area for a short period of time.  While in this small group, the children can work on a single area before moving on to a different center within the classroom.  You may see centers geared toward a single learning concept or area or you may see a center that combines motor involvement with learning.

In the preschool setting, centers include tactile play, play dough, water tables, blocks, imagination play, art creation, finger paints, sensory play, name writing, manipulatives, etc.

The Occupational Therapist can contribute information related to development and specific needs of the classroom when collaborating with the preschool teacher, focusing on fostering skill development through play and use of various media and materials within the centers.

Try setting up center activities on the floor to develop skills like crossing midline, core stability and strength, proprioceptive input, motor planning, arch development of the hands, shoulder stability, and more.

Skills to address in preschool centers

The cool thing is that a center activity often targets many aspects of development. This is why occupational therapy providers working in early intervention, and especially when in the preschool setting love to push into the classroom for circle time. Check out the areas of development addressed with circle time activities:

  • Fine motor development
  • Gross motor development
  • Pincer grasp
  • Bilateral coordination
  • Crossing midline
  • Pre-writing skills
  • Eye-hand coordination
  • Manual coordination
  • Hand strength
  • Body coordination
  • Object manipulation
  • Grasp development

You can incorporate many of these components in a single circle time. For example, check out these indoor gross motor activities for preschoolers.

Fine Motor Preschool Centers

Here are some of my favorite fine motor preschool centers. These learning centers support development of hand strength, manipulation skills, dexterity, and the fine motor skills needed for functional tasks.


Writing Preschool Center

While writing with a pencil in preschool isn’t ideal because of the development of the child, you can target different writing tasks as a pre-writing activity. For example, if you use aspects of the Handwriting Without Tears program, there are many preschool activities that get young kids ready for writing without actually picking up a pencil.

  • Copying shapes
  • You can use the letter pieces to identify the big lines, little lines, big curves, and little curves used in forming letters.
  • Play with letter manipulatives
  • Create a mat man using letter parts (from HWT program)
  • Pre-writing lines with leaves
  • Copying pictures
  • Stamping letters in play dough
  • Tracing shapes
  • Writing in wet clay
  • Drawing on carpet squares
  • Painting water on a chalkboard
  • Pencil control sheets


Visual Perception Preschool Center

You can also use some fun visual perceptual skill activity in center time:

Here is more information about strategies to address visual perceptual skills and handwriting.

Use these preschool center ideas to help kids develop pre-writing skills and other developmental skills like visual motor and fine motor skills.
Use these preschool center ideas to help kids develop pre-writing skills and other developmental skills like visual motor and fine motor skills.

Check out our related preschool and developmental resources to better understand child development in order to support the preschooler during center 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.

preschool center ideas

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