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Pre-Writing Activities for Preschoolers

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Before reaching for a pencil and paper, try some of these multisensory pre-writing activities to get your little one familiar with letter shapes and formation.

Multisensory activities engage various parts of the brain by combining auditory, visual, tactile and kinesthetic learning. Research tells us that when we activate our many senses, we are better able to absorb new information. [1]

Another study shows the specific benefits of finger writing. [2] Note: the research was conducted with school-aged children, displaying language disorders. Nevertheless, it demonstrates the value of adding a tactile element to learning letters and their sounds.


'Write' letters in shaving foam, This activity is so simple! Cover an easily wipeable surface, like a table or tray, with shaving foam. Encourage your little one to get their hands messy as they create shapes and letters.

Create letters in salt (for contrast, we dyed ours with 5 drops of food colouring. Full disclosure, the dye is still leaving our fingers slightly blue). You can also substitute cornmeal, sand or sprinkles. Fill a shallow dish or tray and have your kiddo drag their finger around to make letters and pictures.

Form letters in hair gel. Can you remember the last time you bought Dippity-Do? Well, add it to the shopping list because hair gel's squishy, malleability makes it great for drawing letters.

Pick a gel that's inexpensive and colourful (or dye it with food colouring) & fill a medium freezer bag until you have a thin layer coating the flat surface. Make sure any air is pushed out and seal the top with heavy tape. Have fun creating images and letters with your fingers!

Make Puff Paint tactile letter cards. These do take a little bit of prep work but I've provided a template here to get you started. I would suggest printing these on cardstock so the pages are a bit more durable. Cut out the letter cards and using fabric puff paint, squeeze a fairly thick bead along the dotted lines. You can also experiment with other materials like gluing on pipe cleaners or felt fabric. If you'd rather not DIY, you can also invest in a classic set of Didax sandpaper letters.

Using a dry erase marker, write letters on a whiteboard (or window). Have your little one use their finger to erase each letter following the lines that were created.

Paint with water on a chalkboard or aqua mat. Fill a small dish with water. Have your kiddo to dip their finger into the water and 'draw' the lines that form the letter. This may take a couple of dips back and forth. Alternately, you can use a paint brush or sponge brush to transfer more liquid.

'Write' letters on a foggy mirror or window. This one is more impromptu, but if you find time in the bathroom after a bath or shower, practice making letters on the mirror. It's also a fun way to leave a secret message for the next person.

Building Letters

Roll out thin lengths of Playdoh and invite your little one to arrange them into letter shapes. If you're using a printed letter guide, I suggest laminating it or putting the paper into a plastic sheet protector, so the dough doesn't stick.

Wikki Stix are so cool! These moldable, wax-covered yarn strips can easily be bent and twisted to create any letter; curvy or straight.

Use buttons, cheerios, goldfish crackers, marshmallows (or any other bits and pieces you find laying around) to form letters. Use the template provided and have you kiddo place the pieces along the dotted lines.

Magnetic letter construction pieces OR craft sticks & pipe cleaners. If you're not ready to invest in a letter construction kit, a simple alternative is it provide your child with craft sticks (for the straight lines) and pipe cleaners (for the curved lines), then watch them create their own letters.

Sponge paint or dot marker letters. Again using the template provided, invite your child to dab paint or dot ink along the lines of each letter.

Lay painters tape on the floor in the shape of your letter. Have your child walk the letter or drive over the shape with a toy car.

Make letters using your body. Follow the video below for a great way to conceptualize the letters using your body parts. Some of them are tricky; I'm looking at you 'O', but it's a great gross motor activity for wiggly preschoolers.

I hope you find some inspiration in these ideas. Most importantly, I hope your child has fun exploring letters! At this stage, letter formation is really about using what you have (and a little creativity) to engage them in hands-on learning.

[1] Shams L, Seitz AR. Benefits of multisensory learning. Trends in Cognitive Sciences. 2008 Nov;12 (11): 411-417. DOI: 10.1016/j.tics.2008.07.006.

[2] Van Reybroeck, M., Michiels, N. Finger-writing intervention impacts the spelling and handwriting skills of children with developmental language disorder: a multiple single-case study. Read Writ31, 1319–1341 (2018).


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