What I Wish Every Parent Knew: Pre-Printing Skills

This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series What I Wish Every Parent Knew

Most parents focus on helping their child(ren) learn to read and write the alphabet, but first you need to think about the foundation for printing skills, which is pre-printing skills!

Do you remember spending hours as a child colouring and drawing pictures? We had lots of time to learn and practice these skills.

Now, these activities are often replaced with higher-tech pastimes that are very appealing to young children, but don’t offer the same developmental punch. Add to that the cultural idea that ‘the earlier and faster, the better’ and before you know it, kids are rushing straight into printing without having a solid foundation of preprinting skills.

Even though the world has changed, development has not, so take time to enjoy the early years with your child and PLAY! Leave printing for kindergarten and have fun working on preprinting skills.

Pre-printing skills include:

  • Development of the small muscles in the hands: You need good wrist strength, thumb strength and arches of the hand in order to have a good pencil grasp, which will allow good pencil control, speed and legibility later on.
  • Eye-hand coordination: get the eyes and hands working together in functional tasks rather than screen-based activities.
  • Tool and utensil manipulation: The ability to use a knife and fork, scissors and other tools around the class and home with ease.
  • Alphabet letter recognition: Use magnets, letter blocks, books and puzzles to teach the alphabet names and sounds.
  • Preprinting pencil strokes: Once you can copy shapes like a circle, square, triangle and an “X”, you have the pencil strokes you need to make most letters. The typical progression of pre-printing strokes is: |- O + / \ X △

Pre-printing activities without paper:

  • Classic toys such as Lite Brite and Lego work the small hand muscles. Make patterns and copy simple designs. Mom or dad can use a permanent marker to draw letters and shapes on the Lego then your child can put them together to build patterns or words.
  • Flatten clay or play doh on the table or slant board then use toothpicks to draw shapes and pictures. Cut up straws then poke the pieces in along the shape outline. Pull them out then use your finger tips to “erase” and do it again! Roll clay/dough into snakes and form into shapes and letters.
  • Use your fingertips to draw in a cookie sheet with sugar or pudding, or in a baggie filled with hair gel or shaving foam! Squirt shaving foam on the bathtub wall and draw shapes in it!
  • Turn out the lights and use a flashlight to “draw” strokes (down, across, around counterclockwise) on the ceiling.
  • Use toothpicks, popsicle sticks, q-tips, or pipecleaner to make 3D shapes and pictures.
  • Place coins, pompoms, beads, Cheerios or cotton balls on a bingo dauber sheet or along the outline of simple shapes. Use a tack to poke along the outline of simple shapes and pictures on paper.
  • Use masking tape to tape large shapes or letters on the floor or wall. Drive cars or animals along the path.
  • Look at I Spy books – put in a sheet protector or baggie and circle the items as you find them with a dry erase marker.

Hands of painting little boy

Pre-printing activities with paper:

  • Use broken crayons, chalk or fat pipsqueak markers and an easel, tabletop slant board or other vertical surface such as a mirror, wall, window or whiteboard.
  • Do mazes, dot-to-dots, tracing and tic-tac-toe!  Use stickers as dots to make your own dot-to-dot pictures. Pretend the paths are roads or railway tracks.  Do each sheet as “rainbows” – follow the same path using at least 3 colours. There are many on-line sources for free printable mazes, dot-to-dots, bingo dauber sheets and simple colouring pages.
  • Encourage creative drawing – put on a picture starter (e.g., googly eyes) and have your child draw the rest. Add facial features to scribbles or thumb prints to make “scribble monsters.” Do cooperative drawing – the adult draws the harder parts (e.g., ice cream cone) and the child draws the easier parts (e.g., the ice cream scoop).  Finishing shapes – you draw half a circle, your child finishes the picture!
  • Encourage your child to add details or decorations to other pictures – for example, add “polka dots” to a dinosaur, stripes to an animal, flowers to “wall paper” or grass to a hill. The more details, the more pre-printing practice!
  • Practice drawing as many pictures as you can think of using simple lines and shapes – how many pictures can your child draw with circles? Encourage them to vary the size and position of the shapes.
  • Draw robots or aliens and encourage your child to be creative in adding parts! These pictures (as compared to people or animals) ensure that your child will be successful no matter the end product because they get to decide what their creature looks like.
  • Trace around cookie cutters or any object! Use carbon paper, sand paper, tissue or tracing paper for extra fun!
  • For a fun project, scribe a simple story then help your child draw pictures to go along. Staple and voila! This would make a fun Christmas gift!

Working on pre-printing skills will not only provide plenty of fun play opportunities for you and your child, but will also provide the solid foundation for learning to print.

Nicole Rowan
By day, Nicole is a mother to three awesome kids ages 9, 7 and 4, and a pediatric Occupational Therapist to hundreds of other people’s kids. She could be accurately described as an award-winning OT who loves to have fun while doing good, hard work. By night, Nicole is *the* thrifting style blogger of Edmonton and two-time Yeggies nominee, sharing her love of thrifting and other spirited adventures!
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