As young children progress from early mark making toward writing letters it can be tempting to push them toward tracing sheets and worksheets designed for handwriting practice. However, there are many ways to practice handwriting without these tools. We’re not saying that you should never use handwriting sheets, but we do believe that if you choose to use them they should be a very small portion of your writing activities.
So what can you do instead?
Here are some of our favorite ways for getting kids to practice handwriting without using tracing sheets.
Handwriting develops as fine motor muscles are strengthened, so there’s a lot you can do before ever introducing handwriting. Fine motor activities like playing with play dough, lacing, and using tongs, are also beneficial for writing development.
Try some of these fine motor activities with toddlers and preschoolers and check out some of our top picks for fine motor tools.
Learn more about Fine Motor Skills
Looking for more detailed information on supporting fine motor development? In Basics of Fine Motor Skills, you’ll learn which skills are important for fine motor development, plus what fine motor development looks like in children at all age levels.Your go-to-guide for everything fine motor related, it’s the perfect resource for parents, teachers, and therapists.
As kids are learning letter formation it can be helpful to use letter formation rhymes likes these ones from Teaching Mama. These verbal cues help kids remember how to make each letter. They’ll come in handy with the handwriting activity ideas below.
Writing without Actually “Writing”
Practice writing in the air by having kids use their whole arm to make large letters in the air.
Practice writing on a friend’s back by having kids write a mystery letter on their friend’s back. Then have the friend try to guess the letter.
Practice writing on the palm of a friend’s hand by having kids write a mystery letter on their friend’s palm while the friend has his or her eyes closed. Then have the friend try to guess the letter.
Writing on Different Surfaces
Set up an easel or tape a large sheet of paper to the wall. Then let kids use markers, crayons, or paint to write on it. Writing on a vertical surface is good for motor development.
Use a paintbrush and water to paint the letters on a sidewalk, fence or other surface that will show water marks.
Set up a sensory writing tray. These can be made with a variety of materials, but the most common ones are salt, sand, rice or shaving cream. To set up a writing tray place the material of your choice in a tray and encourage kids to form the letters and make marks with a finger or another writing “tool” like a pointer, dowel, twig, or something similar. In this watermelon sensory tray we first trace out the letter or word with our finger and then use watermelon “seeds” to build the letter or word. The Imagination Tree has some terrific examples of Sensory Writing Trays to check out.
Give kids the chance to use chalk, indoors or out. Outside let them draw and write on sidewalks or an outdoor chalkboard. Inside you can hang a large chalkboard are use individual chalkboards.
Provide dry erase markers and dry erase boards. These glide along very easily and are great for beginning writing. Plus kids can easily erase the writing and create new marks over and over again.
Window markers are another great tool to encourage writing. Obviously you can use them on windows ;), but they can also be great to use on large acrylic sheets, like in this outdoor easel, and even in bathtubs (just be sure not to use them on tile because the grout can stain).
Reusable alphabet mats can also be a fun tool for developing handwriting. Kids can build the letters, use dry erase markers on them and more. They are also excellent for alphabet process art activities that strengthen those fine motor muscles AND work on letter recognition.
For even more ideas, pop over to No Time for Flash Cards for some additional pre-writing activity ideas.
Drawing is Writing Too
Remember that early drawing is just as beneficial as letter formation, so encourage your child to draw or write. Letter formation will come. Using a regular drawing journal can be a helpful way to integrate drawing and writing into your regular routine.
If there is a drawing your child has done, you can ask him to dictate a sentence for you to write to go with it if you’d like. Kids learn a lot from our modeling.
Don’t Forget Core Strength!
Also note that learning to write is related to additional factors like core strength and hand-eye coordination. So while you’re fine tuning those fine motor muscles, be sure you’re also incorporating activities that help in these areas as well. Our favorite recommendation for this is free outdoor play on a variety of climbing structures. As your children are playing on a playground…climbing, testing out he monkey bars, etc..they are developing great core strength to later support handwriting.
More reading on the link between handwriting and core strength:
The impact of core strength on handwriting (The OT Toolbox)
Exercises to Help Develop Core Stength (ILS Learning Corner)
What are some of your favorite ways to practice handwriting without tracing sheets? Do you have any tips to share? We’d love to hear about them in the comments.
Get the Free Handwriting without Tracing Sheets Handout
Grab a free printable copy of this information. Teachers can share it with parents to give them ideas for quick practice at home, and parents can use it as a handy reminder.