Pre-writing shapes

Prewriting shapes

Pre-writing shapes

You might be wondering, “How do children go from scribbling to actually writing letters?” and the answer is pre-writing shapes! Pre-writing shapes are a major component of pre-writing skills and learning to draw. An amazing way to set our toddlers up for successful writing (later on-when it’s actually age appropriate) is by playing around with pre-writing shapes. When it comes to early childhood development always builds upon development. Meaning that for every new skill a toddler develops there are many underlying skills that needed to be there first. 


Development of pre-writing shapes

Different shapes are expected at different ages, and these skills build on each other. The first thing that we need to consider is the difference between imitating and copying a shape.

  1. Imitate: After watching someone else draw the pre writing shape, the toddler is able to draw it themselves
  2. Copy: The toddler can look at a picture of a pre writing shape and reproduce it. 

It is a small difference but it shows us that toddlers first learn pre-writing shapes through watching us draw. 


Children learn pre-writing shapes in the following order:

  • 1-2 years old: Randomly scribbles, spontaneously scribbles in vertical/horizontal and/or circular direction, imitates a horizontal/vertical/circular direction
  • 2-3 years old: Imitates a horizontal line, imitates a vertical line, imitates a circle
  • 3-4 years old: Copies a horizontal line, copies a vertical line, copies a circle, imitates  +, imitates  / and , imitates a square
  • 4-5 years old: Copies a +, traces a line, copies a square, copies a / and , imitates X, imitates Δ, grasps pencil in writing position
  • 5-6 years old: Copies X, copies Δ, recognises between a big and small line or curve


Development builds on development. Just like a ladder, you climb step by step. Before starting to work on letters, check in to see that your child can do all of the above pre-writing shapes!


What do pre-writing shapes teach a child?

Every time a child draws a pre-writing shape on their own, they are creating or further developing: 

  • Pathways in their brain 
  • Strengthening their muscles inside of their hands 
  • Developing the understanding of how hand or soft to press down with a pencil
  • Coordinating micro movements of the shoulder, elbow, wrist and fingers
  • Testing out different pencil grasps and using different types of writing materials 
  • Developing creativity and autonomy by starting to understand themselves as independent people who have to ability to create 


What can I do to help my child develop their pre-writing shapes?

To help your child improve their pre-writing shapes, we want to focus on increasing their opportunity to practice drawing the shapes that are appropriate for their age, as well as you modelling other shapes. You can increase the variety by giving your child different writing tools (long/short pencils and crayons, rolling or smudging as well as drawing) as well as changing the surface they are writing on (vertically too!). This will help develop their finger, hand and shoulder muscles (fine motor development).


You don’t only have to draw to improve fine motor skills, here are some other activities that will improve your child’s fine motor skills and in turn develop their ability to write pre-writing shapes:

  • Threading and lacing with a variety of sized laces
  • Play-doh activities that may involve rolling with hands or a rolling pin, hiding objects such as coins in the play dough or just creative construction
  • Scissor projects that may involve cutting out geometric shapes to then paste them together to make pictures such as robots, trains or houses
  • Tongs or teabag squeezers to pick up objects
  • Every day activities that require finger strength such as opening containers and jars
  • Finger games that practice specific finger movements such as Incy wincy Spider
  • Craft: Make things using old boxes, egg cartons, wool, paper and sticky or masking tape
  • Construction: Building with Duplo, Lego or other construction toys


If you have concerns with your child’s fine motor skills and ability to draw pre-writing shapes, reach out to an occupational therapist for support!

You may also want to learn more about speech pathology or speech therapy for kids today!