At this age, a child has started to establish a preferred hand dominance. This is when they chose the same hand to hold a pencil, to pick up a spoon and to reach for a drink. This is an important skill to master, as without it a child cannot easily progress to writing letters.
How a child holds their pencil also changes. Their pencil grasp will move from a brush stroke to a three-fingered grasp. This is when their fingers were at the top of the pencil and are now around the pencil nib. This grip is also called a static tripod grip. It is called static because a child would not be expected to move just their fingers to draw. They will be using their whole arm.
During the age of 3 to 4 years, they will start to learn how to colour between 2 lines and draw a basic person when asked. By the age of 4, a child should start to be able to copy a circle and a cross shape. They could also be ready to copy the letters V, H and T.
Although some people may want a child to write their name by the time they are 4 years old. It is more important that your child learns to enjoy making marks on the paper. Activities such as pencil tracking, general drawing games, and copying basic handwriting patterns are good. If your child is not showing a definite hand choice. Or they are not holding a pencil grip using three fingers, do not worry. These are both skills that develop between now and the end of the school reception year.
Handwriting practice should be…
Helping a child move away from making scribbles on the paper. They will be making more round and vertical marks with purpose. This is the start of their handwriting journey where they are learning how to control a pencil using the movements in their hand.
What can you do to help?
When it comes to helping your child learn to write, pencil control skills are often overlooked and taken for granted. After establishing a hand dominance, they are the next skill that a child needs to learn. Without this ability, there is little merit in going on to teach your child how to write their name as their letters will appear shaky due to their inability to control the pencil.
We all learn differently and handwriting takes time to master. However, if you use the three tips suggested below and spend time guiding your child in their play, time spent now will help them learn to write letters quicker later on.
1. Playing with cars. For some children picking up pencil and drawing on a piece of paper can be quite alien to them. Pencil control is about gaining eye-hand coordination skills. If a child can learn to move something in their hand to the direction that they wish it to go in, then this is a basic form of gaining pencil control. Why don’t you encourage your child to create a town or a village where there are roads that your child has to drive a car along. The aim is for them to keep their car on the road with no deviations.
2. Drawing on paper. Being able to control a pencil on a piece of paper first starts with drawing horizontal and vertical lines. Only once these have been mastered had a child move on to drawing around circles squares and triangles. At this stage, I would not worry about how your child is holding their pencil. I would be wanting them to move the pencil between two lines spaces. I like to theme my worksheets so that they are appealing to the children.
3. Become a magician or a fairy. As pencil control is about the hand being able to move an object accurately, magician’s wands and fairy sticks offer a wonderful opportunity to gain this skill. If you do not have one to hand these are easy to make. I have seen wands made out of tree sticks with beads and ribbons attached. The ultimate aim is that your child holds their wands similar to a pencil and uses them (tail-end down) to “draw” either in the air, on the sand or in the ground with control.
Helping a child to develop pencil tracking skills can be fun. In my experience, this is really a crucial step has to be a mastered to help the child develop handwriting skills.
Want to learn more?
Hi, I’m Sheilagh a children’s occupational therapist and best-selling author. I’ve worked with hundreds of children, parents, teachers and schools. I’m proud and privileged to have been involved in some incredible children who have flourished in confidence and skill when working with me. Including 8-year-old Tom* who started as a reluctant writer and later won a school story writing competition. Then there was Sarah*, aged 7 3/4’s who increased her handwriting speed in less than 2 weeks to above her chronological age. I love helping children love handwriting.Who do you know who I can help? Tell me by clicking here.