Building Blocks for Success in Pre-Writing

Step 4: Starting to Write! (a step up from pre-writing)

This last blog of the pre-writing series is going to be short and sweet! We have made it through (1) starting with gross motor skills, (2) strengthening fine motor skills, (3) incorporating multi-sensory pre-writing practice and we are now finally ready to write! If you have an emergent writer, make sure to read the previous blogs in this series [linked above] to see where your child fits into the steps of pre-writing! This blog will focus on tips and tricks for the initial stages for a beginning writer! We will discuss:

  • A developmental sequence for letter formation
  • Ways to incorporate daily, functional practice
  • When to seek an occupational therapy referral

Start with capital letters

Let’s think back to the pre-writing strokes. Can you create all 52 letters [think upper AND lowercase] with those 9 pre-writing lines?

Simply Special Ed resource Simple Writing with Level 1 tracing examples with pre-writing strokes with vertical lines, horizontal lines and shapes

The answer is almost! At least for capital letters! All of the uppercase letters [with the exception of J and U] can be built with different size lines and curves! This is in line with concepts in the Handwriting Without Tears curriculum that is known for their multi-sensory approach to handwriting! As you saw in the last blog, I love to use their wooden pieces [affiliate link] for this reason – it bridges the gap from pre-writing to independent writing! Lowercase letters get a little bit trickier with changes of direction and retracing over lines, etc. So I typically recommend starting with capital letters as the most developmentally appropriate approach for an early writer!

person writing an uppercase F under letters that have the same motor sequence/plan F E D P B R N M

There are many different philosophies when it comes to grouping letters for teaching. From an occupational therapist’s (OT) perspective, I like to group letters that have similar motor plans or stroke sequences. For example, the letters F and E are very similar. They both start with a vertical line down, and then horizontal lines coming across starting at the top. E simply has another line. Same with P B R. Even M and N have that same vertical line down, picking up the pencil, and another stroke coming out from the top of the first line. Grouping these letters together makes sense from a formation standpoint as these letters have similar stroke sequences if formed correctly. There are many other ways/groupings to teach letters/sounds. I always encourage multi-sensory learning, and think that learning letter name, sound and form together helps the concepts to “stick”.

Practice makes perfect

Not all kids are going to want to sit down and spend time practicing writing. However, we encourage writing proficiency because, as a society, we recognize that legible handwriting and communicating via written work are important. Therefore, we can assume we probably use this skill every day! How could your child naturally have opportunities to practice writing? Where does it seamlessly fit into your daily routines?

student playing tic tac toe on the chalkboard

Find ways in your daily routines to involve writing! Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Play tic tac toe with the letters you are learning rather than just the traditional X/O
  • Write the grocery list or a “menu” for meals
  • Write the baseball line up [or other sporting event info] while watching TV
  • Practice your address/phone number [an important life skill!]
  • Write a letter to send to someone in the mail [have a pen pal!]
  • Write thank you or happy birthday cards [see this FREE letters to Santa resource]
  • Labeling toys with your name or the toy’s name
student playing Chomping Charlie game with tweezers and multi-colored acorns

Just like I mentioned in a previous blog, there are many ways to upgrade your favorite games [like Chomping Charlie (affiliate link)] to target specific skills. The game doesn’t come with tweezers, but to build fine motor strength, I had students pick up the acorns with tweezers, pass them to their non-dominant hand, and feed them to Charlie. Similarly, you could have students write down all the colors of the acorns on small pieces of paper, crumple them up, and instead of rolling a dice, they pick up a piece of paper to know what color acorn to feed Charlie. Be creative! There are tons of ways to incorporate writing [even if it is just to make a scoreboard!].

When to seek an OT referral for pre-writing or handwriting

You may be working really hard at home and in the classroom to build these skills. What if it doesn’t seem to be working? The main question to ask before seeking an OT referral is: “does the writing delay impact your student’s ability to access their education“? If so, then a school-based OT referral may be appropriate!

student participating in an OT assessment, the BOT-2 with some of the materials on the table

In my district, we start with a screening process where school professionals and the OT observe the student, collaborate on some in-class, pre-referral strategies, and monitor for change! Make sure to learn about this process at your school and be willing to take part in the suggestions that are made prior to an evaluation! We are always looking to keep students in their least restrictive environment. See Arielle’s blog on special education laws for more information! If a formal evaluation is warranted, the OT will take it from there! If there are skills that you’d like to address with your student that don’t necessarily impact education, there is medical-based clinic that can address any area of occupation/activity!

a variety of occupational therapy materials on a blue table including a timer, pop-it fidgets forming the letter F, Handwriting Without Tears app on the iPad with Write Right stylus, play dough, adapted scissors, a glue stick, Simply Special Ed's cut and paste resource with a frog and a Mr. Sketch scented marker

Occupational therapists are amazing [if I do say so myself!]. They can address many of these skills with students to work towards independence and success across daily environments. However, I hope this pre-writing blog series has empowered you to also feel as though you can support children well as they become writers!

This blog is part of the OT Pre-writing series:

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