Multi-Sensory Activities to Practice Pre-Writing Shapes

Mastery of the pre-writing shapes is an essential part of a child’s development towards efficient handwriting.

Pre-writing shapes include the following (in order of development):

Pre-writing shape

Approximate age of development

Horizontal lines 2 years
Vertical lines 2.5 years
Circle 3 years
Cross 3.5-4 years
Square 4 years
Diagonal line 4.5 years
Triangle 5 years

Activities to promote appropriate development of pre-writing shapes:

  • Play with Shaving Cream: Cover a surface with shaving cream, and have your child use her index finger to imitate, copy, trace or draw the pre-writing shapes. Try this activity on a vertical plane to add an extra challenge to this activity. For example, write on a mirror or on a tile wall while in the bathtub. By working on a vertical plane, your child uses her shoulder to stabilize the arm movements, creating extra strengthening and increased stability of the arm and shoulder.
  • Finger Paint: Finger painting can be done on a table, easel, or by taping paper to the wall. Have your child cover the paper with paint and then use her fingers to imitate, copy, trace or draw the pre-writing shapes.
  • Use Sand or Rice: Pour a small amount of sand on a table or a plate and have your child create these shapes with her fingers.
  • Use a Chalk Board: Use chalk to create the pre-writing shapes, then use a wet paint brush to trace them. This creates two opportunities to practice! This can be also done without a paintbrush. Instead, dip your child’s finger in water, and then trace the shapes.
  • Play with Play Dough: Use little fingers to mold play dough into various shapes. This can be done by copying a shape, either on top of a shape (imitation) or by memory. This activity also provides an opportunity to address fine motor coordination and strength; have your child pull, pinch, or roll the dough for an extra challenge. A fork and knife can also be used to manipulate the dough while simultaneously addressing feeding skills.

Once the pre-writing shapes are mastered, these same strategies can be used to practice letters! Using a multi-sensory approach to pre-writing shapes increases your child’s awareness, memory and motor learning to learn and maintain these skills. If your child continues to have difficulty with these shapes, please contact a certified occupational therapist.