When was the last time your child saw you write?  Children often see adults prodding their phones or sitting at laptops but writing by hand is something they may rarely see. The exception to this is often at Christmas as we write our cards and label the presents.  Showing children that we write is important.  If we couldn’t write there are significant and often legal moments when we would miss it. Christmas is a great opportunity to model the skill of writing for your children.

Top Tips:

  • Provide opportunities for messy and manipulative play
  • Have plenty of paper and chunky crayons
  • Get paint brushes and water outside and make marks on the ground
  • Chalk on the pavement
  • Print with vegetables
  • Write lists with children
  • Make up stories together and scribe for them
  • Don’t pressure children to form letters
  • Avoid correcting or teaching
  • Keep mark making fun and praise their efforts – then they will want to do more of it and improve


Why write?

Social media and e-mails have rapidly taken the place of letters as a way of keeping up with friends or doing business.  However, there are still forms to fill in, shopping lists to write and notes to jot down in meetings or lectures.  Although pens are put to paper less often these days, writing still remains an important skill that children need to master.

The Christmas cards that pop through our doors in December are still something that we look forward to; there is something very personal and heart warming about seeing the handwriting of an old friend on an envelope.  Christmas is a great opportunity for children to join in with their own attempts at writing.  Give them the chance to make their own marks on a card.  Their scribbles backwards and forwards are where they start, don’t put pressure on them to form letters. Circular movements come much later.

Stages of Handwriting

Handwriting is a complex motor skill and something we all need to practice.  Think back to your school days and how long it took you to develop the skill of writing by hand; it is not something that simply happens overnight.  There is a developmental process to hone the fine motor skills that enable children to go from making basic marks to writing their name and beyond.  One very remorseful parent realised she had completely put her child off picking up a pencil by being too keen to make her write the first letter of her name before she was physically ready.  It is like running before you can walk.

This is how children progress their skills to begin to write:

  • Opportunities for messy play are important, through this they develop the sense of touch
  • Handling toys and manipulating wet sand or dough builds strength in their fingers
  • Providing chunky chalks and crayons for them to use, shows them that their movements can produce marks

Watch how children first grasp a crayon with their whole hand (palmar grasp).  Gradually they will begin to become more deliberate in their movements making side to side marks. Slowly this is refined to develop a three finger (tripod) grasp which enables them to create movements that are round and up and down.  Around three years old they may be able to connect lines and begin to attribute meaning to the marks they make. Around four years old they may show an interest in writing their name.

Make Practice Fun

None of the above will happen if children are not given the opportunities and materials to practice and go at their own pace.  These opportunities need to be playful and fun to encourage children to want to be involved.  Remember that children do not go from finger painting to writing their name in one leap; the small steps and marks in between are all part of the process.

When children see adults writing with a purpose, they begin to understand that some marks have real meaning.  They understand that printed script may have different qualities to handwriting but the words have the same meaning.  They understand that writing goes from left to right.

Christmas Mark Making

What fun opportunities can you provide at Christmas to help children with their manipulative development which helps towards their emergent writing skills?

  • Provide the paints and glitter and get small children to decorate paper or gift boxes that you can use to wrap presents
  • Make some of your cards with the children
  • Make salt dough tree decorations
  • Make and decorate biscuits
  • Help mix and knead the pastry for mince pies
  • Older children can start to write a letter to Santa Claus with help; you can scribe the letter for younger children as this enables them to see that the marks you are making have a meaning
  • Buy a special pen with glittery ink for them to make their mark on significant Christmas cards – if your card list is long don’t expect them to want to sit and write on all of them, they may not have your patience!
  • Talk to them about the people and the different names you are writing on the cards
  • Help children with their scissor skills and get them to cut up old cards to make tags for the presents
  • After Christmas older children can try to copy a basic thank you letter

Scribbles are children’s first attempts at writing and people love to see these on their cards.  Remember the marks don’t have to be recognisable for people to be charmed by children’s efforts. 

Happy mark making and enjoy the festive season!

For More Information:

Writing – Help for early years providers – GOV.UK (education.gov.uk)

Learning to write – CBeebies – BBC

Making their mark – children’s early writing – Early Education (early-education.org.uk)

18 Christmas Crafts for Toddlers and Pre-schoolers (thesprucecrafts.com)