9 Pre-writing Shapes Your Child Needs to Master BEFORE learning to write

Did you know that there are 9 pre-writing shapes that your child should master before they attempt to write letters?

It’s all too tempting to run before walking, but it’s essential that these skills are mastered first. Now that back to school season is fully upon us, you might be looking at ways to help your children learn to write. If your child is just starting school, or will within the next year, I recommend you work on these shapes first.

In this blog post, we will be exploring the 9 pre-writing shapes, some examples of fine motor skills that you can work on with your children and ideas on how to use the pre-writing shapes within activities.

When my children were younger, we spent a great deal of time working on these basic pre-writing shapes, before we started working on other tasks such as learning to write letters and writing stories.

9 Pre-Writing Shapes

Before we begin with the activity in question, here are the 9 pre-writing shapes. As you can see from the photo below, these are very basic lines, crosses and shapes – the specific strokes and lines all needed to be mastered before a child can comfortably move onto other tasks such as writing their name.

But first, let’s address the ages. These ages are simply an average base-line. Some children will be ready to write much sooner, whilst others might take a little while longer. This is okay. Always use your own assessments and observations of your child to establish when they might be ready to form these pre-writing shapes.

A graphic showing the 9 pre-writing shapes that children need to master before being able to write. The shapes include a horizontal line, vertical line, circle, cross, square, diagonal lines an x shape and a triangle

One of the best things you can do to establish whether your child is ready for pre-writing shapes is to allow them to create plenty of art. Process art, mark making and art will all allow your children the opportunity to build up their fine motor skills.

Keep browsing this blog once you have finished reading the post so that you can get plenty of ideas that you can try at home with your children.

Work on Fine Motor Skills before pre-writing skills

I should add that before putting a pencil in your child’s hands for the first time, they need the fine motor skills and hand strength to attempt the pre-writing strokes.

Some examples are:

  • Manipulating play dough
  • Threading beads
  • Using tweezers to pick up objects
  • Practising pincer grip with clothes pegs
  • Using the index finger to ‘write’ in a salt or flour tray
  • Plenty of art!
  • Using scissors
  • Painting with cotton buds.
  • Lacing cards
  • Using pipettes

a graphic sharing  pre-writing activities parents can try with their children. These are explained in the main blog text

The ideas below are simply for inspiration. You can theme your activities based on your own child’s interests. Look out for more blog posts based on pre-writing shapes in the coming weeks. Follow me on Instagram and Pinterest so that you don’t miss out on the suggestions:


Pre-writing Ideas to Try:

Once your child is ready to start the pre-writing shapes. I suggest a three-step process.

  1. Copy lines with loose parts
  2. Copy over the top of lines
  3. Draw lines independently


Step 1

Use loose parts such as pinecones, pebbles, pompoms or wooden peg dolls as a way of introducing pre-writing shapes.

Start by drawing the pre-writing shapes onto a tuff spot tray or the ground in chalk, then provide a basket of loose parts for your child to use. If they aren’t really sure what to do, join in the fun yourself!

As you can see from the photo below, you don’t have to stick rigidly to the 9 pre-writing shapes I shared above. You can have fun with swirls and wiggles, particularly if you intend to repeat similar activities throughout the course of a few weeks or months.

a 4 year old girl in a pink tutu uses natural loose parts, pompoms and animal figurines to go over pre-writing shapes

Step 2

Once your child has mastered the hand-eye coordination necessary to follow the lines, invite them to use a wet paint brush or do-a-dot marker to copy over the pre-writing shapes.

Try this ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’ inspired activity – or use it as inspiration to recreate your child’s favourite book with a pre-writing twist.


Step 3

Once tracing is mastered, it’s time to work on drawing the lines independently. This can be daunting for many children, so I just writing in sand or a salt tray first.

a 4 year old girl practises writing in a blue salt tray


Is your child starting school soon?

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Sian Thomas
an image of This Playful Home founder, Sian Thomas. The photo includes a photo of her daughter when she was around 18 months old

I’m Siân (rhymes with yarn), a play advocate, proud parent to three, and former teacher. My mission is to infuse more joy and less overwhelm into the lives of parents. Discover play-based activities with me that not only make learning FUN but also forge deep connections with your young learners, creating memories to cherish forever.