Young toddlers love the sensation of holding a pencil and writing with it.

When Do Children Learn to Write?

by Cara Batema

It’s natural for parents to freak out when their kids don’t progress at the same pace as their friend’s children or according to lists of developmental milestones. As a parent, you probably keep close track of your toddler’s writing skills to see if he’s up to par with his peers. Sure, your toddler is proud of his scribbles, but when you’re left wondering if it’s a polar bear or a shoe, you might start to worry. Toddlers and preschoolers tend to follow stages of writing skills, so you can help guide your child to learn to write.

1. Scribbling

Around 15 months of age, children begin to randomly scribble on the page. Children at this age are just learning that they can manipulate things and they realize that their movements of the crayon result in the lines on the paper. Toddlers will typically hold a marker or crayon in a fist and use large movements, but they eventually will gain more motor control, and around age 2 1/2 to 3 years, toddlers are better able to control their scribbles. They will draw the same shape, such as circles, over and over again. Close to age 3, toddlers transition to holding the crayon between their thumb and middle finger.

2. Drawing Patterns

While toddlers age 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 might not be able to draw letters yet, they do gain an understanding of shapes and patterns. They will draw lines and curves and dots, which are steps towards putting the patterns together to form letters -- a very exhilarating step for your little one! Your kid might even get imaginative and write a “code;” your toddler might draw a pattern and tell you what the “word” says.

3. Pictures

Now it’s time to start putting your child’s writing on the fridge. At ages 3 to 5 years, children are able to more purposefully draw pictures, which also use more colors or details. While at earlier ages just a circle might represent a cat, by this stage, preschoolers are able to draw the circle, lines for ears, dots for eyes, and a curvy line for a mouth. This stage is also very thrilling because kids start to learn that what they draw represents something else -- your preschooler starts to gain symbolic thinking. So go ahead, post the pictures and gloat a bit that your kid’s a genius.

4. Drawing Letters and Words

Also in the preschool years of ages 3 to 5, children learn to write letters. Most children first start by learning to write their names, which is a word they are very familiar with. They might draw a stream of real letters or “fake” ones, which are their visual representations of letters they think they’ve seen. Children will eventually begin to understand that some words are longer than others, so they will start to draw groups of letters and symbols of different lengths. The letters might not be entirely accurate, but it doesn’t matter -- encourage your child to write and even pretend that the words have meaning. All these steps lead to skills your kid needs when he enters kindergarten, when most children learn to write letters with more accuracy and form words with them.

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