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Lil' Writers Series Part Two: Early Writers - Hand Dominance, Letter Formation and Reversals

So your tiny person has started writing with purpose! They've discovered that they can use a tool (a pencil, marker, crayon, or finger) to make marks on a page and they are doing it with PURPOSE! Maybe they are scribbling, attempting letters or numbers, shapes or other drawings. Perhaps they are further along in the process and they are beginning to write words like their name or other basic words or sentences! Regardless of what they are writing, let's talk about how to encourage these skills, what to watch for and what NOT to worry about!

A reminder about pencil grip. Your child will be eventually working towards the Tripod Grip, which uses the thumb, index and middle finger to grasp the pencil, in a tripod (go figure!).

You can check out my Part One blog post that talks more about this and the tools you can use to help encourage this grip! In short, triangular crayons and markers, pom poms in the hand, or specialized pencil grips all can assist if your child is not naturally forming this grip on their own. If ever you are concerned about fine motor development, please speak to your child's doctor or a pediatric Occupational Therapist for more support! There does come a point where habits become too difficult to break, so catching these challenges early will increase the likelihood of correcting them successfully. Keep working on building those fine motor skills! You can check out more about this in my Part One post, linked above.

Hand Dominance

Your child might be flipping back and forth between their right and left hand when writing. This is TOTALLY normal! They will eventually establish a preference, even if they have the ability to write comfortably with either hand. Hand dominance preferences usually begin around the ages of 2 to 4, but a child might not truly have a dominant hand until 4 or even as late as 6 years of age.

Letter and Number Formation

If your child has started showing interest in writing letters and numbers, here is how you can support them!

1) Tracing - starting with different styles of lines and shapes, you can encourage what will become letter writing! For example, practicing straight lines, angled lines, curved lines, squiggly lines and zig-zag lines will all help develop the motor skills used in writing numbers and letters. By using yellow markers/highlighters or dot pattern letters, you can write out words, lines, shapes or designs for them to trace over. As they become more skilled and more confident, you can start to reduce the support by doing fewer dots (think of a connect-the-dot) or writing every other item in yellow. A great goal is to have them writing their name independently when they enter Junior Kindergarten (but PLEASE don't stress if they haven't mastered it on their own by the time the school year rolls around!).

2) Numbers and Shapes - there is always an enormous emphasis on writing letters that often, numbers and shapes get left behind! When practicing writing skills, numbers and shapes are just as important. Why? Well, your child will eventually need to read and write numbers for math! It is an important skill, just as much as letters. But why shapes? You would be surprised at the number of students who tell me they can't draw, and in fact, they avoid the task because they don't know where to start. I always tell them that drawing is just combining shapes together! Sometimes, they look at me and say they don't know how to draw a triangle! Learning to draw basic shapes will build the coordination skills needed to feel confident in drawing basic pictures! The lines and movements used in shapes are also relevant for letter and number formation, so it does not take away from developing those skills at all.

3) Writing Programs and Language - some people like to use formal writing programs to help their children build letter and number formation skills. I personally like the Handwriting Without Tears program quite a bit! No, I'm not sponsored by them. I genuinely just love the program. It's a part of a larger program called Learning Without Tears and they offer Pre-K, Handwriting (numbers and letters printing for K-2 and cursive for 3-5), Keyboarding, Writing (skills), and Distance Learning programs. I am particularly fond of the Handwriting and Keyboarding programs. I've used them both with my students and have seen great success. Let me tell (and show) you why.

Language - they use clear, simple and accessible language and vocabulary when describing exactly how to form a letter. The language is consistent and helps the child remember where to start, what to do and how to write using the double lines system.

Letter Order - they don't teach the letters in ABC order. Instead, they use the similar shapes and lines used in forming letters to group them accordingly. For example, in the lowercase program they will start with the letter c, and teach the magic c strategy. Then they apply the same skill to help learn the letter o. They will then use that same root skill to teach letters and add on to create new ones!

Double Lines - their specific paper helps students write in a reasonable size. Often a child will write in whatever size lines you provide them. If you give them a big blank space, they will fill the space with their letters. These double lines help control the size of the lowercase letters, and use the spaces between, above and below to write their smallies, tallies and sinkers!

Sorry, their what?

Smallies are letters that stay within the lines. - w, e, r, u, i, o, a, s, z, x, c, v, n, m

Tallies are letters that go above the lines. - t, d, f, h, k, l, b

Sinkers are letters that go below the lines - q, y, p, g, j

You can buy their gray block paper (uppercase and number practice) or their double lined paper on their website here. Again, not sponsored in the slightest. Just love their stuff! However, if you are handy with a computer, you can very easily make your own double lined paper and print it out for free at home.

Simply make two lines that span the page closer together, then press Enter twice and copy/paste down the page! You can do this on a horizontal or vertical page. Alternatively, you can do lines on half the page and leave room on the top for a picture to accompany the writing.


I get questions about reversals ALL THE TIME. Reversals of letters and numbers are common. They are normal! They are mostly not a concern, until the age of approximately 7-8. Sometimes, kids reverse individual numbers or letters. Sometimes, they completely mirror entire words on the paper. It may be once in a while or may be quite consistent. While it isn't something to ignore, it's definitely no reason to panic. Correcting as needed and keeping anchor charts, examples or models near by as reference can be great strategies to help with this. For example, keep a name plate with the upper and lowercase letters on it so that when your child comes to a letter that they often reverse, they can reference the chart and have a better shot at copying the letter correctly. I mentioned this earlier, but I'll repeat for those in the back. If ever you are truly concerned, PLEASE advocate for your child and reach out to the pediatrician and/or a pediatric OT for support. It never hurts to ask! Catching challenges early lead to greater chances of success in implementing strategies and supports. I'm a great advocate of partnering with medical professionals as well as the school team so that there is consistency in the support and strategies used among the teachers, parents and medical professionals!

Next week we will be looking ahead to Part Three, where we will chat about the basics of writing from a content perspective. We will look at basic sentence structure, grammar, spelling and punctuation!

Our Webinar will take place on Thursday, February 25 at 8:00pm so mark your calendars and watch for the registration link!


Happy Writing!


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