prewriting activities

15 Prewriting Ideas To Help Your Toddler

Here are my top 15 ideas to try pre-writing ideas with your toddler before starting their first formal year of education.


Model how to use play dough.

  1. Roll the play dough into little balls in the palm or your hand.
  2. Pinch the dough.
  3. Stick things into it; like birthday candles.
  4. Pound the dough.
  5. Bash the dough with your fist.
  6. Make little animals.
  7. Roll the dough into long snakes.
  8. Poke the dough; or
  9. Tear the dough.

If your child has a gluten allergy; try using modelling clay.

Play dough fine motor skills for building prewriting skills from Baby Brain Connections
Remember to ‘TALK TALK TALK’ using descriptive words like “squishy” or “springy.”


Start out holding a pipe cleaner for your toddler and having them thread beads or fruit loops through. You want them to eventually be able to make a beaded bracelet or necklace without your assistance.

Threading for prewriting skills from Baby Brain Connections
You could also try lacing through holes.


Tongs really stretch the muscles in the palm. Opening and closing movements force the hand to build muscle gradually. Make an activity in the bath with pom poms and coloured bath water play.

Eventually encourage tongs; being used from two hands to just one hand.


The cleanest way to condense sensory mess is quite literally doing these things in the bath or outside.

  1. Finger painting
  2. Jelly squishy mess
  3. Cloud dough
  4. Shredded coconut
  5. Rainbow coloured rice
  6. Spaghetti play
  7. Natural items: lentils/chickpeas/soup mix
Jelly messy play for prewriting skills
Jelly play sensory mess.
Spaghetti play for prewriting skills
Spaghetti play sensory mess.


I give my kids the Aldi and Mitre 10 catalogues for them to rip or cut with scissors. They can rip a whole page or cut a picture out to glue.

The only problem that has come up with this activity is that they might think it’s okay to rip books. So if you already have books hidden up high then give this a try.


Model drawing and talk about what you have decided to draw. Say funny words like “swirly piggy tail” or try dotting the page saying “spotty dog.”

Toddlers need thicker crayons to start with. I find they last longer because they are harder to snap and break. Alternatively they can use oil pastels.

TIP: Keep oil pastels under supervision because they go all over clothes and they are hard to get out of material furniture.

Prewriting skill ideas from Baby Brain Connections
Prewriting figures
Discuss what you see and what they have meant to draw. Give praise and encouragement.


Anything sticky gives your toddler the opportunity to pull their fingers apart. It’s using different fine motor muscles that they wouldn’t normally use. You could try:

  1. Try sticky food,
  2. Stickers on a page, and
  3. Gluing buttons/sequins/crazy eyes/foam shapes, letters or numbers.


Did you know you can actually buy toddler scissors and they are really quite safe as well as being the right size for a little child’s hand.

Try helping them cut:

  1. Shapes from cardboard,
  2. Draw a line and cut along it,
  3. Have them cut their own pictures out,
  4. Zig zag lines for more challenging ideas;
  5. Helping trim leaves off plants or cutting flowers.

You can also try different thicknesses of paper/card board or even modelling clay to cut with scissors.

Scissors help prewriting skills
15 prewriting ideas to help your toddler.


Tweezing makes toddlers hold the pincer grip. Inviting them to play with tweezers makes grabbing small items a playful experience without them realising their practising the pincer grip.

Below I added puffed rice to a tray with bells that Miss L needed to tweeze a tea strainer to open. This really challenged her and the best part was that it was $1 from kmart.

Gripping a tea bag drainer will help prewriting skills by building fine motor skills.
There are a huge variety of ‘ tweezers’ out there. In this picture the tweezing action is from a kmart $1 tea strainer.


Under supervision, ‘Tap Tap’ is a hammer and nail resource that toddlers can tap nails into cork. It is a lot of fun but I recommend this for 4 year old’s. If you’re keen 3 year old’s with supervision. Pulling the nails out also builds that pincer grip. Eventually try and get them to be independent with this. It’s a good quite time activity.

Tap Tap helps prewriting skills.


I recently bought metal rings that I submerse in dried sensory trays. They try to find hidden rings with a magnet. Then they try and make the game up themselves, for each other. Magnets on your fridge will make a good vertical activity. Pulling magnets off the fridge again strengthens that pincer grip.

Magnetic sensory play supports pre-writing skills.


There are so many inexpensive books to try like:

  1. Colouring in books,
  2. Dot to dot numbers for Preschoolers,
  3. Sticker books,
  4. Water books that change colour with water; and
  5. Whiteboard wipe-able books.

These all make a great gift idea too.

Wipeable whiteboard books help pre-writing skills.


More pincer grip in a pushing motion.

Stamps help toddlers pinch better for pre-writing skills.


Start using 4-6 piece puzzles after 12 months of age. Even if they can’t puzzle pieces together. Model how pieces fit to form a picture. As they get older make sure to use terms like: ‘flip,’ ‘turn,’ ‘slide’ and ‘rotate.’ This early terminology will help them with shapes and pre-numeracy.


Years ago, when I was working in Early Childcare working with toddlers, I used to tell myself “One painting a day.” What I meant was the each child should have a chance at painting one picture each day they came to day care. Not only did that mean the mess stayed at the early learning centre, it meant that there were weekly opportunities to paint. I had worked it out that it was at least 40-80 paintings per year, sometimes more. Whilst literacy is important its the physical writing that puts our ideas and plans onto paper. That’s why prewriting is so important. It builds strength in fine motor skills so that when it comes to writing children aren’t lethargic or preoccupied with the thought of how tired their hand is or how messy it is for that matter.

Water paints are my favourite mess-free painting because it dries quickly.

Try painting on alfoil or plastic cling wrap with an ear bud (cue-tip). Trying different medias to paint on and different ‘brushes’ makes learning through play more enriched and challenging. =


I want to challenge YOU to copy or create a prewriting idea, just once a week, as an activity for your child. We priorize reading mostly making it a nightly routine at bedtime, but do we try weekly to support our child’s prewriting?

A Once a week prewriting (fine motor skills) activity for an 18 month old toddler – a preschool age child is 182 chances to practise prewriting.

Twice a week = 364 chances before starting school

Three times a week = 546 chances

Four times a week = 728 chances

Five times a week = 910 chances

That’s almost a thousand chances to write before starting formal education. It’s okay to SAY YES TO MESS!!

By Sarah Courtney


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