Pre-writing activities aren't just about properly holding a crayon or mastering a firm grip -- though these skills are important as well. Pre-writing activities for toddlers help train the small muscles in your child's hands and fingers so they can complete the motions necessary to eventually form letters, according to the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapy. Using shapes as a foundation is an effective way to help introduce children to these movements, along with building hand-eye coordination.
Tracing or drawing shapes using different materials helps increase your toddler's sensitivity to different sensations and experiences. Tracing blocks or flat wooden shapes in a bin of dried rice, granulated salt, flour or whipped cream helps children develop a new understanding of how it feels to trace that exact shape. While you don't want to encourage your child to eat these items, it's best to avoid using anything poisonous or anything that could present a choking hazard, such as dried lima beans.
Cut out shapes made of very fine sandpaper and glue them to piece of plain paper. Allow your child to practice tracing the perimeter of the shape on the gritty side as well as the smooth side so she learns to distinguish between the interior and exterior of the shape. The slightly granulated sensation of soft sandpaper also increases the sensation of the shape as your child passes her fingers over the surface.
Have your child experiment with flexible materials such as colorful pipe cleaners, shoestring licorice and non-toxic clay to form basic shapes like circles, squares and triangles. The shapes don't have to be exact, but the act of molding or bending the material into that shape strengthens small finger muscles. It also gives kids a sense of how one would go about forming a shape from a straight or curved line, states Northumberland Care and Trust, part of the U.K's National Healthcare Services.
Toddlers absorb experiences in different ways, including by listening. Take a shape like a circle or block and trim the edges with tiny bells. Show your child how to trace the shape with her hand, making sure to hit all the bells so she knows she's staying in the correct line. You can also attach bells to paintbrushes and toothbrushes and encourage your child to trace the lines of a pre-drawn shape to bring an audible rhythm to the task at hand, suggests the National Healthcare Services.