With the increased use of tablets and computers, you might wonder if your child needs to learn to write with a pen and pencil. The answer is yes!
Did you know between five and 33% of children have learning difficulties linked to handwriting? Although kids only start writing from the age of five, there’s a lot you can do to help your little one build fine-motor skills, which are essential to holding a pen or pencil later.
The ABCs of why writing is important
We take it for granted later in life, but we all learned to write at some stage in our lives. According to the US-based multimedia literacy initiative Reading Rockets, handwriting is one of the most fundamental skills to learn because it’s linked to basic reading and other skills such as listening. For instance, when a child learns to write the letter ‘m’, she also learns what it sounds like. And because handwriting is a basic tool used in many subjects such as taking notes, taking tests, and doing classroom work and homework, poor handwriting can have a large impact on confidence levels and school performance from as early as grade R.
Easy ways to help your child learn to write
Writing, like most skills in life, is developed in phases and takes time and patience to teach and master. Before you know it, your child will be writing letters and then sentences, but it all starts with learning how to grip a pencil. The good news is, helping your little one develop good writing skills doesn’t need specialised equipment or gadgets. In fact, it’s the simple fine-motor skill of the pincer grip (using the index finger and thumb or the index and middle fingers) and strengthening the core muscles in the hands and wrists to hold a pencil that makes all the difference. It’s never too early to start with fine-motor skills, says primary school teacher and foundation phase lecturer Simone Tonkin. In fact, as soon as a baby can grasp toys and hold an object, you can start with basic fine-motor activities.
Writing tips for babies
- Fresh fruit: Pop your little one in her highchair and place a few soft finger foods on a plate, such as fresh mango slices or pieces of avocado or banana. Oranges and kiwis are also work well here. See if she manages to pick them up.
- Sandy fingers: Enjoy time at the beach or in the garden with your baby. Have her pick up sand particles with her hands and put them in a bucket or bowl.
- Squeezing balls: Depending on your baby’s age, encouraging her to squeeze a small ball such as a stress ball is a great way to strengthen the fingers and hands.
- Picking up pasta: This type of messy play is also ideal for encouraging the pincer grip since freshly made pasta is slippery and hard to pick up and hold.
Writing tips for toddlers
- Playing with peas or raisins: Just place a few peas or raisins on your toddler’s high chair and encourage her to pick them up and eat them. If you don’t want to use food, small pom poms work well too, and you can teach your child how to place them in a jar with a narrow lid. The size of the peas, raisins, or pom-poms will naturally encourage the pincer grip.
- Garden treasure hunt: Go for a walk in the park with your little one and enjoy picking up objects together. Leaves, flower petals, acorns, and small stones will encourage her to use the pincer grip. Crushing leaves is also another great way to strengthen the hands and fingers.
- Baking fun: Children love baking, and when it comes to developing fine-motor skills, the best food to bake is scones – especially if you let your child crumb the dough with her hands. Afterward, let your little one exercise her fingers by squeezing a sponge full of soap and helping you wash up.
- Testing out tweezers or pegs: This is probably one of the best activities for strengthening little fingers and hands. Give your child a few pegs or a large set of tweezers and show her how to pick up objects with them. You can also teach your child how to peg clothes on a line.
- Drawing: A good way to encourage writing from an early age is to let your toddler pick up and grip sidewalk chalk and start drawing patterns and scribbling on big surfaces such as the driveway. Another great way to encourage the pincer grip is to let your child make balls out of Play-Doh.