Starting to Write

Holding a Pencil

We  use small muscle movements in our fingers and hands to grab hold of and use a pencil. Controlling these movements is called “fine motor skills.” Help your child develop these skills, which they need to draw, print and do handwriting:

  • Do artwork – work together to make a collage with small items (such as dried beans or uncooked pasta shapes). Use tweezers to pick up the items and place them on the paper.
  • Hands-on activities – have your child turn over as many pennies as possible in one minute, or fold small pieces of paper to make airplanes or snowflakes.
  • Pencil gripping – demonstrate how to hold a pencil properly and explain: “These are the pinching fingers” (showing your child your thumb, first and second fingers). Then say: “Careful – the other ones might fly away, so tuck them underneath.” If your child has trouble keeping the last two fingers tucked underneath and kept still, place a small object like an eraser inside these fingers and ask your child to hold it there while they use the pencil.


After being out together, ask your child to draw some of what you saw. For example, if you went to a petting zoo, ask your child to draw some of the animals. Show your child a picture of the letter that each word starts with, such as “g” for goat and “r” for rabbit.

Sounds and Letters

Beginning writers start by imitating others. Their first “writings” will include scribbles, letter-like shapes, single letters and made-up spellings. You can help:

  • Archive – Keep a collection of these writings to look back on in years to come, as they represent key developmental stages as your child grows and learns.
  • Read together – Pick out interesting words with your child. Help your child notice what sounds the words start and end with and how many other letters are needed to spell the word correctly. Be curious!
  • Word hunt – Have your child go on a “word hunt” around your home. As they notice objects, have them sound out the object’s name and write down the sounds they hear in the word (for example: “stove” might be “s-t-o-v”). Label items around your home such as “dresser”, “door”, “toy box”.
  • Make lists – Have your child help you write the shopping list. They can draw a small picture and then label it by writing the sounds they hear in the name of the object.
  • Practice making letters and words – Put cornmeal on a cookie sheet and help your child trace letters and words with their finger. Get creative and use other things like plastic or wooden letters, shaving cream, popcorn, macaroni or pipe cleaners.

Punctuation – Capitals, Question Marks and More

As your child learns to read and write, talk about the difference between capital and lower-case letters:

  • Discuss – Talk about how to use punctuation – periods, question marks, commas and exclamation marks. Don’t expect them to use these properly right away, but at least they can start to understand why we use punctuation.
  • Point them out – When reading books your child knows, point out the capital letters – like at the beginning of each sentence or for proper nouns. Show that each sentence ends with a punctuation mark – explain what they mean. For example, you could say: “A period is like a stop sign on the street – when you see it, you stop.”
  • Play with sentences – Say sentences in different ways using various forms of punctuation. Ask your child if they can hear the difference. For example, you could start by saying: “This soup is hot.” in a normal voice. Then say: “This soup is hot!” in a louder voice and “Is the soup too hot?” in a ‘question’ voice.
  • Change them – Help your child change sentences into questions, for example, “I saw a bird. Did you see a bird?” or “I’m hungry. Are you hungry?”