Beginner Writing and Literacy Skills




Compiled by Robyn, South Africa ~ © March 2005


This is some of the helpful information that I came across in my research on ‘teaching children to write’.  Pre-writing involves the refinement of fine motor skills, directionality and the ability to reproduce written symbols.  Everyday activities such as painting, cutting, pasting, play dough, puzzles, baking, building blocks and sand and water play are developing these pre-writing skills.  Here are some more examples of such pre-writing activities ~


Pre-Writing Activities


Small muscle development ~

Working with play dough, Finger-painting, Playing with small toys like cars and animals, Practicing the pincer grip (pinching clothes pegs, picking up tiny objects), Screwing on lids or nuts and bolts, Tearing paper, Cutting paper


Hand-Eye co-ordination ~

Puzzles, Building with blocks & Lego, Beading and stringing, Lacing and sewing, Gluing and pasting, Dot-to-dot


Holding skills ~

Playing with small objects in sand or water, Digging in the garden with small tools, Playing with kitchen utensils and measuring with small spoons, Cutting and spreading with knives, Stirring with large wooden spoons, Dusting with feather dusters and sweeping with small brooms, Beating drums with drumsticks


Practicing basic strokes ~

Painting and drawing, Follow the dotted lines, Writing in sand or a tray of flour, Tracing with crayons, Learning shapes and patterns


When it comes to learning, we should never pressurise our children, they will let us know when they are ready to write.  Here are some skills that children should display to show you that they are ready to start learning to write.


Pre-Writing Readiness Skills

·         Traces shapes and patterns

·         Copies a circle

·         Imitates a cross

·         Copies a square and triangle

·         Scribbles

·         Colours in neatly staying within the lines

·         Beginning to copy first name

·         Pretends to ‘write’

·         Holds pencil correctly - the following criteria exists in SA schools relating to pencil grip:

The forearm should support the hand leaving the hand free.

The pads of the thumb and forefinger should lightly grip the barrel of the pencil about 2.5cm.

above the point and should be slightly bent.

The middle finger should support the barrel.

The edge of the hand and little finger should be in light contact with the paper.

Incorrect pencil grip is difficult to change once formed, so it is better to teach the right way from the very beginning.  Using the correct grip will mean neater writing, better posture and no painful cramps.  A good way of practicing a correct pencil grip if the learner already has a bad grip is to practice by playing darts.




This information is from a very popular South African preschool – Grade R (Kindergarten) ~


“Children learn to write their names in the first few months of the year.  It is important that they learn to write using the standardised ‘Nelson’ script.  This font is used in all the schools for Grade 1 and makes the transition from print to cursive (linked print) easier.  If your child is already writing his or her name, please practice it using this font.  The first letter of the name should be a capital letter and the rest of the name in lower case”.


This information was taken from a South African private school – Grade 1 ~


“We teach the Nelson Script, concentrating on letter formation, spacing and pencil grip.  In Grade 1 we focus on the following aspects of handwriting ~

·               Handwriting patterns which lead to the correct formation of letters, pencil grip and hand position

·               Learning the correct letter formation of all lower case letters

·               Writing on blank paper

·               Writing on blank paper with broad lines placed underneath as a guide

·               Writing letters on a given line (17mm spacing)

·               Writing between lines and correctly positioning letters

·               The correct formation of upper case letters

·               The correct positioning of upper case letters between lines”


The script style is taught in most schools.  I couldn’t find a free copy of ‘Nelson Script’ online, but it is very similar to the popular D'Nealian script with less slant.  Below you can find a number of links to D'Nealian handwriting practice worksheets to use for teaching your children this format.  It makes the link to cursive easier and is also the font used all over South Africa and in the UK.


Beginner Writing Activities


A nice way to start teaching children to write is with his or her first name.  Here is one way of doing it ~

1 ~ print the first name starting with a capital letter near the top of a large piece of paper.  Squeeze glue over the letters and sprinkle with sand.  When dry, the child can practice tracing over the word with his or her finger.

2 ~ print the word again, just below the sand word using dotted lines.  Let the child practice the word by tracing over the dotted-line letters with a crayon.

3 ~ give the child a separate piece of writing paper to place underneath the first paper.  Then let the child try writing their word on his own.  If the child has difficulty, go back and practice Steps 1 and 2 again.


Always teach children to form the letters correctly using the right starting point.  Bad habits are hard to break and incorrect forming of letters (eg. starting from the bottom) will affect their cursive writing skills later on.


Many ABC books teach uppercase letters first and opinions on this vary, but capital letters account for only five percent of all written letters.  Therefore, it is rather recommended to pay more attention to teaching the lower case letters.  Lower case letters are far more important in developing reading skills.  It is believed that children learn to read faster and easier if they learn to write first.  So, teach your child to write letters and words.


Encourage children to ‘write’ letters to you.  The first attempts will be little squiggles and lines that only he or she understands.  Ask them to read their letter to you and then write down what they ‘read’.  In time they will make the connection between real writing and their own ideas and will soon come to you to ask you to help them ‘write’.

Encourage children to find the letters of his or her own name in newspapers and magazines. Where possible, get them to cut these out and paste them into the correct sequence to make their own name.




General Handwriting Teaching Tips

Handwriting 101 – Helping your child learn to write right

YoungMinds Penmanship Practice – basic shape and pattern traceable printing readiness sheets

Young Reader Font handwriting practice worksheets from Bry-Back Manor (similar to Nelson font)

D'Nealian Manuscript Handwriting Practice Picture Worksheets from First School

Enchanted Learning’s D'Nealian-Style Printouts: Writing Letters and Numbers

D'Nealian Dotted Handwriting Worksheet Maker – make your own handwriting practice worksheets







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