Build the foundation needed for writing while having a ton of fun with your toddler with these pre-writing toddler activity ideas!
Have you ever noticed your toddler drop her fork repeatedly before giving up and eating with her hands instead?
Or get frustrated when he can’t hold his crayon quite right during art time?
The vast majority of young toddlers struggle with these fine motor activities and need a little help working these muscles and learning the skills that lead to writing and other fine-motor skills.
The good news is that it’s easy – and FUN! – to add pre-writing activities to your daily routine!
Christina and Monica from What Does Mamma Say share their expertise as teachers and moms to reveal everything you need to know about pre-writing activities for your toddler and how to add them to your schedule (plus 20 ridiculously fun ideas you can play with your toddler today!).
Check it out and then leave a comment with the activity you’re going to try with your toddler this week!
DISCLOSURE: Piece of Cake Parenting is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Read more about these links in my disclaimer policy.
As our babies grow, we stand in awe as they start developing, learning new skills, and becoming their own little person.
And as they grow, we want to help them learn and try to plan out all of the perfect activities.
You might not know it, but one of the most important skills for children is fine motor skills, because they are crucial for feeding, writing, grasping different objects – basically, ALL the activities that involve using their fingers.
In this post, we are going to focus on the fine motor skills needed for pre-writing activities for toddlers and share 20 super fun activities you can try out with your toddler.
What are Pre-writing activities?
As the name suggests, pre-writing is what comes before actual writing.
Although it’s natural for us adults, writing is actually a very complex process that requires teamwork between the brain, eyes, and fingers.
But this doesn’t happen overnight.
And in order for your toddler to become skilled enough to write, she needs to practice plenty of pre-writing activities.
Simply put, pre-writing activities are specific games that we can play with toddlers for them to develop the skills that they will need when they go to school and are required to use writing utensils.
Why are pre-writing activities critical?
In my many years working as a teacher, I’ve come across quite a few children who had trouble holding a pencil, solving the most simple tasks like drawing a line, or coloring while staying in the lines. I am talking about children who are 5-6 years of age.
They needed a little bit more help and guidance from me.
Often, I could sense their frustration when they couldn’t keep up with their classmates or couldn’t complete a task the way that they wanted to.
This is precisely why pre-writing activities for preschoolers are essential.
Pre-writing activities help your toddler to:
- Strengthen hand muscles,
- Develop hand-eye coordination (which is needed in so many other daily activities),
- Improve control over hand and finger motion,
- Learn how to control and move each finger individually,
- Develop bilateral coordination (being able to use both hands for activities- for example, one hand is used for writing while the other is holding the paper).
- And more!
The good news is that you don’t need to spend a lot of money to buy expensive toys that exercise those fine motor skills. You already have tons of everyday items around the house that make splendid DIY pre-writing activities for toddlers.
Best Pre-Writing Activities for Toddlers
Here are 20 of our favorite pre-writing activities to do with your toddler.
Pick a few to work on each week and your toddler will have a ton of fun while mastering important pre-writing skills.
Play-Doh is a brilliant pre-writing activity for toddlers.
There are virtually limitless things you can do with it. From simply modeling it to using adding extra tools and kits you can find to play with.
The important thing is that all the squishing and squashing that will strengthen the child’s hand muscles, develop control over the fingers, and generally improve all the skills needed for writing.
Not to mention, it’s fun and it develops imagination.
We love Play-Doh!
As babies start having some control over their arms and hands, painting is one of the preferred activities for the little ones.
Finger painting, in particular, works for younger children as they learn to control their fingers and practice drawing lines and circles.
Later on, you can introduce paintbrushes, which will help improve the valuable motor skills needed for writing.
And let’s not forget that kids love getting messy! As long as they don’t eat it, expect a little body painting here and there as well. Hey, it’s creativity at work.
3. Colander Threading
If you find yourself asking how can I improve my toddlers writing skills, you’ll love this fun and unique activity for you little one.
It’s time to get that colander out of the cupboard and give it a whole new mission that is perfect for your toddler.
Those little holes in your colander are perfect for practicing fine motor skills.
You can use uncooked spaghetti, pipe cleaners, thin sticks, toothpicks, or anything that will fit through the holes.
Your toddler will spend ages threading the sticks through the holes of the colander, which is great for pre-writing skills and building up his attention span.
Besides being fun, watch how your little one refines control over his hand movement and concentration as he plays this activity.
4. Plastic bottles and pom-poms
If you have some plastic bottles that you are about to throw away, hold on to them for a little while. You can use them to improve your toddler’s fine motor skills.
Simply take the lid off the bottles, grab some pom poms, and encourage your child to put the pom-poms back into the bottle.
It is such a simple idea but highly effective.
Your toddler will have to refine his pincer grip in order to grab the pom-pom and then he’ll need to control his hand well enough to put the pom-pom through the mouth of the bottle.
If you do not have pom-poms lying around, no worries! You can use marbles, pebbles, cheerios, or anything else that fits inside.
The same goes for plastic bottles. If you don’t have any, just look for any container with a tight mouth for your toddler to practice squeezing her pom poms through.
Besides practicing fine motor skills, you can also use this as a color sorting activity or a number game.
Practice your colors by asking your toddler to put a specific color of pom-pom into each bottle.
Or play with numbers by telling your toddler to count and put a certain number of pom-poms in each bottle.
5. Stickers fun
In my teaching career, I’ve never met a child who doesn’t like stickers. They absolutely love playing with them.
My little boy had a sticker phase in which our house was full of them.
And even though they were EVERYWHERE, I kept buying him more because stickers allowed him to practice and refine his fine motor skills, which makes it a great pre-writing activity.
6. Tubular pasta threading
Get a piece of long string and some tube-shaped pasta for this toddler pre-writing activity. Then ask your little one to make pasta necklaces or pasta snakes, depending on what theme you want to play.
Putting the string through the pasta requires a lot of hand-eye coordination and control.
This was one of the pre-writing activities that kept my 2-year-old son busy for about fifteen minutes!
7. Sorting cups
All you need for this activity are some cups (preferably with different colors) and different objects that you have around the house.
Use the cups to sort the objects based on their color, texture, or type.
For example, we had some shells, plastic bottle lids, pebbles, and pom-poms. We put them all in a pile, and my son had to sort them in the appropriate cup.
This helped him develop his visual-spatial intelligence, logic skill, and, of course, practice grabbing different sized objects and controlling his hands and fingers well enough to put them in the cups.
8. Fishing Game
Some time ago I bought my son a wooden fishing game. It has two fishing rods with a small magnet at the end, and in the tray, there are 13 marine animals. He absolutely loves this game, and after months and months, he still hasn’t grown tired of it.
I love it as well for several reasons.
It developed his vocabulary (he learned all the names of the animals), and I was delighted to see how skilled he became in ‘catching’ the fish.
I have to admit, this isn’t an easy activity at all. You need great control over your whole body, but especially your arm and fingers.
You can easily make your own fishing game by tying some string to a stick with a magnet at the end and then add another small magnet on the object of choice.
The beauty of a DIY fishing game is that you are not limited to marine animals. You can fish for colors, numbers, shapes, letters, and anything else you can think of.
9. Cardboard sewing
For this pre-writing activity, grab a piece of cardboard or a thicker piece of paper and cut it into whatever shape you want (a butterfly, a ladybird, a flower, and so on).
Then decorate it together with your little artist and punch some holes all along the edge.
Next, have some string ready and guide your toddler to put the string into each hole, as if you’re sewing.
If you want, you can also write a number under each hole and put the string through the holes in order to help your toddler practice fine motor skills AND numbers.
10. Spaghetti Cheerios
You might be thinking that pasta is quite a popular material for pre-writing activities. And you’re right!
Here it teams up with another yummy treat, Cheerios, to help preschoolers practice their pre-writing skills.
This activity is very simple. Put a single strand of dry spaghetti in a small mound of play-doh to hold it upright.
Then have your child put one cheerio at a time on the spaghetti noodle.
As my son did this, I noticed a pattern. One cheerio on the spaghetti noodle, two in his mouth. One on the spaghetti, two in his mouth.
It’s a yummy activity for sure!
11. Fine motor skills with pens
As you’re starting to see, early writing activities aren’t just practicing holding a pen and drawing letters.
Do you have a bunch of colored pens around the house? You can put them to good use with this activity – no writing required.
Take the caps off the pens and mix them together. Then ask your toddler to help you with the important task of reuniting each cap to the correct pen.
12. Mixing colors with an eye dropper or syringe
Pour some water in a few transparent glasses. Color the water using either food coloring or simple arts and crafts paint.
One glass will have green water; one will have red water and another yellow. Of course, you can have as many glasses and colors as you wish.
Have your toddler mix the colors by taking some water from a glass using an eyedropper or a syringe and putting droplets in the other glasses.
This is a fantastic pre-writing activity because it strengthens the muscles in your toddler’s fingers and helps them to improve their control.
As a variation, you can use just two cups – one filled with water and one empty. Have your little one transfer the water from one cup to another using the eyedropper.
13. Put the toothpicks back
I think most of us have a kitchen cupboard that needs organizing. But we never seem to get round to doing it.
I have one just like that, full of spices, little boxes, cans, and who knows what else.
Because it’s so full, sometimes some of those objects try to escape.
One day, I opened the cupboard door one day and spice boxes and toothpicks came pouring out and spread all over the kitchen.
But something good came out of all this.
My little boy came to my help and started putting the toothpicks back, one by one.
What a great way of developing fine motor skills and the perfect pre-writing activity to do with your toddler.
14. Play with Lego
Playing with Lego has multiple benefits.
It exercises creativity, problem-solving skills, and improves fine motor skills. Connecting those pieces together requires hand-eye coordination, bilateral coordination, and hand and finger strength to press down on the Lego.
Lego is such a versatile toy, and there so many ways in which it can be used. From free play to more organized, educational activities. Here are some interesting activities in case you need some inspiration.
15. Golf tees and play-doh
Because we have a golfer in our family, we have golf tees and balls lying all around the house. So we took those and repurposed them for a great toddler pre-writing activity.
Use a little bit of play-doh as a stabilizing surface.
Then have your toddler stick a few golf tees into the play-doh. This will improve his/her hand strength and also the ability to grasp those little tees.
If you want to go a step further, you can stick the tees in the play-doh as straight as possible and try balancing a golf ball on top of it.
16. Scooping rice with a spoon
For this easy toddler pre-writing activity, grab two containers – one full of rice and another empty one.
Then show your toddler how to carefully scoop the rice into the empty recipient using a spoon.
This is a simple pre-writing activity for preschoolers that will not only help with writing when they go to school but also with feeding themselves successfully.
17. Toilet paper tubes and elastic bands
Lately, I’ve been hoarding toilet paper and kitchen roll tubes. And I’m happy to say that it’s been well worth it!
Besides doing arts and crafts, we also used them to refine our little one’s control and strength over his fingers and hands.
All you need is a toilet paper or kitchen roll tube and some elastic bands. Then challenge your toddler to put as many elastic bands around the tube as he can.
18. Make a Mosaic
Mosaics are a fun project to do together with the whole family.
Before you start, prep a bunch of pieces of small paper that you will use to stick onto your mosaic.
On a large piece of cardboard or thicker paper and make an outline of whatever you want to do. It could be a shape, an animal, a tree, a butterfly- anything you can think of.
Then ask your toddler to grab each piece of paper and help to fill in your mosaic with all of the colored pieces of paper.
It’s a fun pre-writing activity and awesome family craft all in one!
19. Plastic cups castle
This is a pre-writing activity that requires a lot of hand control and coordination.
The game is simple: put 3-4 cups next to each other in a row. After that, carefully stack another 2-3 cups on top of them. Each row will have fewer cups. This could be a teamwork game or played individually.
20. Water squirting toys
Most kids love playing in the water. Give them some squirting toys, and they’ll happily play away.
The most important thing is that through the action of squeezing the toy over and over again, they will strengthen their hand and fingers muscles, which makes this super fun while also being a great pre-writing activity!
Tips and advice
- When playing with smaller objects, make sure you watch your kid like a hawk. When ingested or aspirated through the nose they pose a risk of suffocation.
- Don’t force your child to do an activity if he doesn’t want to.
- Choose activities that are best suited for your child and you know are most enjoyable for your little one. Some kids love playing with play-doh while others don’t.
- Some fine motor skills activities may become frustrating for some children, especially if they don’t succeed in doing what they are supposed to. If this is the case, you can either give the child a helping hand while praising her effort or simply turn your attention to another activity
- Generally, activities that involve fine motor skills work best when the child is well-rested, not hungry, and in a good mood.
- Always encourage and praise your little one’s effort.
- Keep in mind that each child develops at their own pace so it’s important not to push your child into an activity that is beyond her ability at that point in time. It will only bring forth frustration.
It is vital for children to develop their fine motor skills and they will naturally do this at their own pace.
What we can do, as parents, is encourage them and provide our toddlers with plenty of opportunities to practice through fun and engaging pre-writing activities.
We want our children to be fully prepared for when they start their educational journey so we hope that these easy to set up, DIY toddler pre-writing activity ideas will help your child improve and refine key skills needed for school.
RELATED: 17 smart learning methods for kids
Which writing activity is your favorite? Leave a comment below!
Pin for later!
Cristina and Monica are the voices behind What Does Mamma Say but also passionate teachers, doting moms of boys, master chefs for their families, multi-taskers and wonder-women as all mothers are.
What Does Mamma Say is a project that was born from their desire to give something back to the wonderful mom community that was so helpful to them when they needed support and guidance the most. On their blog, you will find educational activities for kids from the perspective of two experienced teachers, free printables, parenting articles, their experiences as first-time moms and much more.
Did you enjoy this post? Tell your friends and share on social media by pinning this image or clicking the share buttons below! Thanks for the support!
We think you’ll also enjoy…