• Hannah OT

Practising Writing Skills Without Writing

Updated: Apr 30, 2020

Since qualifying as an occupational therapist I have run numerous motor skills groups - all focusing on improving fine motor control, specifically handwriting! What I recognised very early on is that children learn better when this learning is combined with rhythm and music. Through combining music with drawing I found the perfect combo to supporting (often reluctant) children who struggled to write to engage, learn to love it and have fun - the key... we never did any writing:-) My inspiration for this technique came from Write Dance who do just that - they encourage children to dance whilst practising pre-writing shapes - this is an excellent method and combines the much needed gross motor skills development with the muscle memory for basic shapes to inform letter formation:

In the absence of being trained by Write Dance - I took some of the shapes and came up with my own - something that is really easy for you all to do at home.

What are pre-writing shapes?

I came upon a fantastic and really informative post on Facebook outlining pre-writing shapes perfectly and also - perhaps more interesting and reassuring to the parents who commented - detailed the ages at which such shapes were expected. It perhaps is not surprising that many of the more complex shapes do not develop until much later which really does support what I said in my previous post (Practise Doesn't Always Make Perfect!)...the British system is not conducive to child development in the expectations held for children aged 3-5. Two parents commented that they were worried that their sons were showing no interest in wanting to write... my answer - they don't need to, encourage them to draw everywhere, in everything and any time!

Pre-writing shapes...

Some pre-writing patterns...

Here is a link to another fantastic blog about supporting hand writers:

Let your child experiment with drawing in sand, flour, paint in water, in rice, on the window and tables with washable marker, with chalk on the pavement, in shaving foam, clay and in the air. Play games with your child - challenge them to draw an animal through only using two shapes, get them to challenge you in return.

Above all... have fun, get messy and enjoy!

Ideas that have worked for me

This technique I have used successfully with very little ones and older ones and you can grade the challenge depending on the age and ability of your child. Below you will find three pictures which are scenes that I have drawn with children using rhythm and song to inform muscle memory. I have then increased the challenge to see if they can find letters within the scene - or even words. It is a lovely activity that you can do with any aged child and I have seen some wonderful results! One very little one, was humming along to 'zoom zoom zoom we're going to the moon', and although was not able to complete the shape independently could be felt anticipating the movement and she smiled when we got to 'blast off'. Another example was a 5 year old boy with autism who really struggled to form letters, but who was able to complete the shapes independently whilst singing along to songs - it also supported his motivation to engage e.g. Nelly the Elephant - he was able to complete the shape to the rhythm of the song which meant that he had associated the movement - muscle memory - with the song.

Don't forget to check out the videos for this section here!

Jungle theme:

Here you can see I've formed a jungle scene with pre-writing shapes and patterns and added rhythmic quotes or songs - here I've formed the elephant by singing 'Nelly the Elephant':

  • "Nelly the Elephant packed her trunk and said goodbye to the circus" - head, ears, trunk, eyes and mouth

  • "Off she went with a trumpety trumpety, trump trump trump" - body, tail and legs.

I then extended the activity to challenge whether or not they could find the letters to the word 'jungle' in the picture. This encourages letter formation without the pressure of forming letters in isolation and turns it into a challenge or game.

Sea Theme:

Here you can see I've done the same, but with another theme and I've challenged to find two words and letters in the picture. "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean" is a lovely rhythmical song which supports muscle memory in forming of these two pre-writing patterns.

Space theme:

Here I have combined a number of activities (this is for demonstration purposes only!) such as composite drawing (combining of simple shapes to form complex shapes), following a straight line, a moon scene and perhaps my most favourite activity for little ones - mark making to 'zoom zoom zoom' - you can really make this as simple as you want, and it can work to any favourite song of your little one or big one - you could challenge your big child to draw shapes/ patterns to their favourite song completing circles, dashes, lines or drawings to the beat of the music.

Get creative at this time with writing practise and you'll be surprised what can be achieved when you take the 'writing' out of writing!

Tune in next time for some ideas around mixing up movements and writing in some different and fun new positions.

Hannah OT:-)

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