Getting young children to write can be a difficult, tooth-pulling kind of task. Whether they’re still scribblers, or are printing their name, try these ideas to help make this important developmental skill interesting and fun!

1. Never let ‘em see you sweat (but do let ‘em see you write).

Young children rarely need to be shown how to talk on a play telephone or push buttons on a computer. Why? They see adults do it all the time. Make your writing tasks — big or small — visible to them.

Write thank-you notes and birthday cards in their presence. When appropriate, let them write or draw on the card as well. Make it a practice to have them sign their name on cards that are sent on behalf of your family. In the beginning, it may only be random marks, or an alphabet letter or two. Don’t worry; the recipient will love the personal touch.

Sit next to them as you write down appointments or other information on your calendar, or even when jotting down a reminder to yourself on a piece of paper.

2. “Enlist” their writing.

Let your child add their own items to the family grocery list, or write down items as you say them aloud.

Provide each child with his or her own to do list, and post it next to your own. Garage sales, thrift stores, and the bargain section of bookstores are good places to find inexpensive magnetic pads that can be placed on the refrigerator.

3. Give them natural opportunities to develop fine motor skills.

Simple tasks like tearing paper, unwrapping shrink wrap (such as the kind you find on products at the store), and peeling off stickers are all great exercises for developing dexterity in preschoolers.

While you’re working in the kitchen, give them two or three different kinds of dry beans to sort by color or size in small-size muffin tins. For a bigger challenge, have them use large, plastic tweezers (like the kind found in science sets, or play doctors’ kits) to sort the beans.

4. Put away the lead.

Sometimes, pencils just aren’t as fun as all the other things children can use to draw, write, and color. Expose them to a variety of marking tools.

Let them write with sidewalk chalk on the driveway. Put markers, pencils, and crayons together in a container and let them choose what they would like to use when drawing or writing. White and fluorescent chalk looks really cool on black construction paper. In the winter, show them how to make big letters and words in the snow using a big stick.

5. Become a label-maker.

Label your child’s drawings by writing the name of the object beside the picture. If they’ve drawn a picture of an event, make it a practice to write out what they tell you about it.

6. The hands have it: using finger paint and shaving cream.

Finger painting can be so much fun for kids, and since most of it is washable, it doesn’t have to be a hard-to-clean mess! Let them swirl, draw, and make all the curly-q’s they want while stepping in occasionally and teaching them how to write their name in the paint.

Spray a dollop of shaving cream on a washable surface. Smooth it out with your hand, and let your child practice writing their alphabet letters and numbers. They can also practice drawing shapes. When they’re finished, wipe up the sudsy “mess” with a damp cloth. The cream won’t hurt their clothes, your surface will be clean, and the room will have a fresh scent!

7. Journaling

Use a journaling book, sketch pad, or simple spiral notebook to journal your day with your children. Take a few minutes to talk about the day, writing down in just a few sentences what your child remembers. Draw simple pictures for some of the words to help the ideas stand out to your child (like a pictograph).

Information and Resources

Encouraging Young Children’s Writing contains useful information for parents about the development of drawing and writing in children.

Teaching Writing: Preschool, Kindergarten, and First Grade