9 Pre-Writing Activities to try with your Preschooler

Pre-writing activities? Just what exactly are they? Shouldn’t writing be as simple as picking up a pencil and copying out the letters? Well, no actually! If you currently think that writing is as simple as placing a pencil in your child’s hand, then this blog post is for you. Development of fine motor skills is absolutely crucial in order to build up the hand strength and pincer grip needed to hold a pencil both comfortably and accurately. Read on to find our favourite pre-writing activities to try.

The key here is don’t run before you can walk! Be patient, work on these pre-writing skills in a fun, playful way before trying to introduce writing. Throughout the years, my children did many pre-writing activities before moving on to letter formation – it certainly made the whole process smoother. The activities in this post are idea for children aged 3 upwards.


What are pre-writing activities?

As the name suggests, pre-writing activities work on the skills a child needs in order to write. This includes hand-eye coordination, crossing the midlines, fine motor skills, pincer grip, tracking and balance. In this post, we are going to be delving into pre-writing activity ideas specifically for fine motor skills.

Below this infographic, you will find some activity prompts that you can try at home with your children. Look out for further ideas by adding this blog to your ‘favourite list’ or by following me on Instagram and Pinterest. 

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

1.Manipulating play dough

Play dough will ALWAYS be one of our favourite pre-writing activities. We make the dough from scratch every time, which is a great activity in itself, as is the play afterwards.

If you’re short on time to make play dough, the store-bought stuff is perfectly fine – we use it often. Get your child to roll the dough into a ball or make ‘sausages.’ My daughter loved to roll the dough flat – either with her hand or rolling pin in order to make a little small world.

There are plenty of fun play dough recipes and activities to try on this page, so please type in ‘play dough’ in the search bar to find one!

a play dough small world featuring woodland animals

2. Threading beads

Threading beads is an excellent way of using the pincer grip in order to develop pre-writing skills. Chenille sticks and pony beads are a great combination IF your child is used to such activities, but I would suggest starting with bigger objects first (such as food pouch lids or cheerios), then gradually use smaller items as your child gets more confident.

Below, you can see a simple set-up for children just learning to use pony beads. Taping down one end of the chenille stick with duct tape makes it easier to focus on the pre-writing skills development rather than the frustrating task of keeping all the beads on the stick!

A three year old girl threads beads onto a chenille stick


3. Using tweezers to pick up objects

Tools such as tweezers and scoops can add extra challenge to activities as they require manipulation of the hands and fingers to work. I recommend the fine motor toolkit from Learning Resources as a simple addition to sensory play activities.


4. Practising pincer grip with clothes pegs

Clothes pegs are such a fab everyday resource for early learning. We use them in so many ways, from name recognition , to number recognition and colour matches, too. You can even recreate a mini washing line with pegs to introduce so ‘real-world’ play into the proceedings.

The giant pegs in the photo below are (surprisingly) easy to manipulate, making them a fantastic place to start. The large pegs require the entire hand to be squeezed, which results in a really great workout for the hands whereas smaller pegs require pincer grip – either way, it’s an excellent workout for the hands and fingers!

a three year old girl practises matching the letters in her name with large wooden pegs

5. Scissor Skills

It can seem like a terrifying prospect to allow your little learner to wield some scissors, but it’s another important pre-writing activity that helps to build strength in the hands and fingers. There’s plenty of activities you can try, from TP people haircuts to following lines on a printable however our personal favourite is flower arranging!


6. Trace with index finger / paint brush

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

Salt trays are an excellent way of getting little ones to trace or copy shapes. The tray above was used with my daughter when she was practising high frequency words (HFW) however it can also be used with much younger children to copy pre-writing shapes.

7. Lacing / sewing

Lacing activities can come in many forms: from lacing (and tying) shoelaces to using special printable cards to practise threading. One of our personal favourites is lacing (or sewing) leaves – this is an idea straight from Mother Natured, who is one of our favourite to follow for nature-based activities.


8. Create Art

Art can often get ignored at home for fear that it will cause a huge amount of mess but it needn’t be a stressful experience, especially when there are so many sensory benefits. 

In many ways, art is the perfect pre-writing activity that also allows for creative outlet. Holding a paintbrush, squeezing a sponge or even using fingers during art sessions are all great ways for children to explore and experiment with their hands and fingers

9. Squeezing Pipettes

Pipettes (or turkey basters) are another fabulous resource for pre-writing activities in the early years. In fact, our pipettes seem to be a feature in most of the water play we do! From colour mixing to simple science experiments, they add a fun element to proceedings whilst still having all the benefits of boosting fine motor skills.

Is your child starting school soon?

Starting school is not just about the academics – whilst learning about pre-writing activities is really helpful, you need a holistic approach to the lead up to school.

Head on over to my membership, ‘How I drink my Coffee Hot’, to access the ‘Starting School’ mini course.

Topics covered include:

  • Building Independence
  • Social-Emotional Readiness
  • Foundational Academic Skills
  • Your Readiness as a parent
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.