When we talk about toddlers, I am thinking of children between the ages of 18 months and about 3 years old. These are children who are not yet enrolled in a preschool and obviously not into kindergarten. The interest of children of this age in writing, or drawing or coloring, varies greatly.
In my own experience (I have three children), two of my children expressed zero interest in writing drawing or coloring until they were aged four or older. However, my youngest child, from just about as soon as she could walk, loved to hold a pencil or pen or crayon, and happily marked up paper.
I think one of the reasons why children will self-select, or not select, to engage in writing or drawing is whether or not they have the ability to do so. Children develop the ability to hold a pen or pencil adequately enough to use it to scribble draw and color at different rates. With my older children, I did not realize how important the development of this ability was and how it connected to handwriting.
What I discovered after my children entered preschool was that my older children had not developed the fine motor skill and control to hold a pencil. I had been frustrated for months, if not years, to get them to sit down and write or draw. After all, I wanted them to learn how to start forming even bad looking letters. I figured it was important.
But they showed no interest.
After just a month or so in their Montessori program, my boys were happily holding pencils and using them. The reason, I found out from their teachers, that my boys did not start writing or drawing or show interest in doing so at an earlier age was that they lacked the fine motor skill to hold or use a pencil.
Not knowing any better, I had dramatically overestimated their fine motor abilities because I frequently saw them doing other things with their hands like putting together Lego cities, or driving cars, or using their hands to put small pieces of food into their mouths.
What the Montessori school did to bring along this ability in a short amount of time was give them fun activities that were not handwriting related to help them build those fine motor skills.
For example, one of my sons fell in love with using a tiny coffee grinder. The coffee grinder was smaller than the palm of my hand. The children fought over using it. You would put in one bean at a time into the top of the grinder and then turn the tiny handle. When the bean was ground up, then you would use a tiny tiny brush to brush out the ground up coffee and put it into a tiny bottle. The children made a huge mess, naturally, because it was hard.
But what I loved about the Montessori program was that they frequently gave them very exciting and fun activities that were not available at home, that were hyper focused on their fine motor skills, using their thumb and forefinger to hold things and manipulate things and move them around.
Thus, if you are the parent of a toddler and you want to get your toddler interested in writing, you have to take a look first at where they are developmentally. Do they have the fine motor skills to hold a pencil? If not, then rather than focusing on forcing them to hold a pencil, you should be looking for awesome and really intriguing activities to give to them that encourage them to develop the use of their hands and fingers.
If you have a child that has very good fine motor skills and great dexterity, but they aren’t interested in writing, then perhaps what you can do is find other interesting and exciting ways to encourage them to write.
Perhaps it is not with a pencil or pen. Perhaps you set up a sand table and help them learn to form their letters by drawing in the sand or dirt. Another way to encourage them to have fun with writing is to give them bath crayons so they can draw on the shower walls or on the sides of the bathtub. This is fun and exciting but still all about writing.
Another thing to consider is whether or not you model the skill you want your child to be interested in. Most children love to do the things they see their parents doing. If in your general day, you do not sit down and do any writing by hand, because you do all of your writing on a computer or with your cell phone, it is going to be much harder to convince the child that this is a worthy activity.
I think a great way to get a child interested in holding a pencil or writing is to sit down and do projects for yourself that involve using a pencil and a piece of paper. Perhaps you just sit down and doodle. Or you hand write a note to a grandparent or friend. You can have your child help you with some of these activities, so they can see the value in learning how to write.
You may also try and come up with fun games that involve a pencil and paper. Mazes are a pretty cool way to get a child used to using paper and a pencil. Have them use the pencil and draw their way through the maze to the end. You can buy simple maze workbooks or you can design a maze yourself.
Another option is tracing. Your child can connect dots or trace a picture from a workbook or from something that you have drawn. they can use a pencil, or they can simply follow along the lines with a finger.
Yet another way to draw your child into using their hands to make letters or draw is to make it a sensory experience. You can make or purchase sensory letters that are formed with sand. The area on the card is smooth but the letter itself is roughened by sand. Your child can trace his finger along the letter and feel where the sand is and it feels a more rough.
Are you struggling to get your toddler interested in writing? Let us know in the comments.
Emily Anderson is a mother of three children, all under the age of 10. Located in the Pacific Northwest of the US, Emily is a mom and part-time blogger, jumping in front of the computer when the kids are sleeping. She started this blog in April of 2019 and is proud that the blog is now paying for itself. If you want to know about her journey as a blogger, check out out her personal digital journal or her post about failing her way to blogging success.