Early Writing Skills: Getting Ready for Starting School

For lots of parents of preschool children, it’s unclear what their child should be able to do before they start school. One area you can start to think about is writing. This doesn’t mean that your child should be writing by the time they start school but just have some of the skills so they are ready to learn to write.

In the early years framework, these key writing skills fall into two catergories:

  • Physical Development: Moving and Handling
  • Literacy: Writing

This is because the skill of writing requires fine motor skills to be developed enough to control a pencil but also the understanding of letters and their purpose in words.

The Early Years Framework sets out the attainment targets in all areas of the curriculum from birth to 60+ months. Below focuses on the last year or two before school and it is the EYFS framework that is referenced. Find the entire document HERE.

22-36 Months

From about the age of 2, many children have the physical skills to:

Imitate drawing simple shapes such as circles and lines

These basic marks are the basis for all the letters of the alphabet. Their understanding of these marks will also develop at this time so that they can:

Distinguish between the marks they make.

Once babies and toddler have experimented with mark making, they can begin to make more purposeful marks. Try drawing a sun for your child to copy. Say “I’m going to draw a circle like this. Can you draw one too?” Add on straight lines and ask them to copy.

30-50 Months

Between the ages of 3 and 4, many children will start to become more secure with their grip. This takes time and practise and is not something all children will will have mastered by the time they start school.

Holds pencil between thumb and two fingers, no longer using whole hand grasp.

Holds pencil near point between first two fingers and thumb and uses it with good control.

During this same time, children become much more aware of the marks around them. They may become more interested in signs, packaging and labels. They may also start to guess what marks means and ask what writing says.

Ascribes meaning to marks that they see in different places.

Encourage their mark making attempts even if letters are unrecognisable. Try modelling writing in real life situations. Say “I’m going to write a shopping list, can you help me?” Ask for suggestions for the list and write them down as they are said.

Starting School?

At this point, some summer born children will already be starting school. If they have had some experience of the skills mentioned and had lots of opportunity to practise mark making, they will be on track to meet all their age appropriate targets.

For autumn born children or those deferring, they may have almost an entire extra year of preschool and so they may begin to develop the skills that fall into the final preschool band.

40-60+ Months

Children that will begin school closer to their 5th Birthday, will likely have more time to get to grips with a pencil. This is not the case for all and although initially there may be a gap in skills, this closes quickly for the majority of pupils once they are in full time education.

Shows a preference for a dominate hand.

Begins to use anticlockwise movements and retrace vertical lines.

Begins to form recognisable letters

Uses a pencil and holds it effectively to form recognisable letters, most of which are correctly formed.

The final skill here appears at first to be pretty hard to achieve but take note of the word ‘most’. If children are writing letters that are recognisable and starting in the correct place for these letters, they are meeting this target.

Change it up

Practise their pencil control in a variety of ways to strengthen hand muscles and keep them interested. Try writing their name and then giving them a highlighter to go over the letters. Alternatively use paint brushes, chalk or even cotton buds.

The final preschool writing skills that children may start to attempt involve using their knowledge of sounds to begin to build words and sentences. Remember there is no expectation that children have these skills before they start school. However you might find it informative to know these first few steps children take to become writers.

Gives meanings to marks they make as they draw, write and paint.

Links sounds to letters, naming and sounding the letters of the alphabet.

Uses some clearly identifiable letters to communicate meaning, representing some sounds correctly and in sequence.

Writes own name and other things such as labels, captions.

Attempts to write short sentences in meaningful contexts.

For children to be able to use their blossoming physical writing skills they’ll also need the knowledge of letters and their sounds if they are to begin constructing recognisable words.

Break it Down

Try breaking up simple words into their smaller sounds (or phonemes) and use these as you model writing the word. There is no need to do this in a formal way just incorporate it into your everyday talk. In the shopping list example say “We need milk, mmmm – i – llllll – k” and write as you say each sound.

It’s important to know some sounds are long such as ‘mmmm’ and some are short like ‘i’. Check out this clip to help you pronounce the phonemes correctly.

If you’ve enjoyed this you may be interested to read about Choosing Preschool Toys to Support Learning or Encouraging Preschool Maths.


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