• Iris Windsor

Learning to Write

Updated: Feb 13, 2019

A child's early attempts at writing certainly won't look much like words and sentences, but his scribbles, lines, and drawings are all helping him get ready to learn his ABCs — and perhaps someday produce the next great Australian novel.

Many children are able to grasp a crayon and shove it around on a piece of paper when they're about 12 or 13 months old. Their writing and drawing skills improve in tiny incremental steps throughout the toddler years until they're able to draw recognizable pictures and, eventually, put a few letters down on paper.

12 to 18 months Over the last several months of his first year, your child's fine motor skills improved steadily. Now she's physically ready to grab hold of a crayon and start experimenting. At 12 or 13 months, some toddlers are already able to scribble vigorously, while others start tentatively (they'll drag a crayon around on paper, scrawling inadvertently). If yours takes longer, that's fine, too. Children develop at different rates, some faster than others. By around 16 months, your little one will probably be a scribbling pro, creating a gallery's worth of drawings for the refrigerator.

19 to 25 months Your toddler's scribbles will start taking discernible shape now, though he doesn't yet form letters and numbers — he can't hold a writing implement steadily enough yet for that. But he's become enthralled by anything he can draw with — crayons, pens, and colored pencils. Beware, this is prime time for crayon scribbles on the wall. And he's probably starting to spend longer on each individual drawing now, covering more of the paper rather than making a single swirl. Draw a single line and he can easily imitate it, though it may not be very straight.

26 to 30 months At about 29 or 30 months, kids move from mere scribbles to true art. They're more interested in coloring and painting, and they start adding colors and trying to represent real objects and things. A drawing may look to you like a solid mass of green ink, but ask your child and she'll tell you it's a snake in the jungle. She may also start attempting to incorporate language into her drawings: Look closely at a painting and you may see that the larger scribbles are figures, while the chicken scratches are attempts at letters or words. She may also start signing his pictures, though the letters won't look like any alphabet you recognize.

31 to 36 months By the time he's 2 1/2, your child will be able to hold a thick pencil or crayon solidly in a writing position. According to Nina Lief, a child development expert and co-author of The First Three Years of Life, children this age are usually able to master the up-and-down movement required to make a "V," which is a little trickier and requires more dexterity than making a straight line.

Between now and his third birthday your toddler will also start making circular strokes, and some will be able to write a few letters — or squiggles that look an awful lot like letters. A few will start writing their first name — or a few letters of it — around or just past their third birthday. Many don't, though, and that's okay. Don't feel pressured to push your child to learn to write, Wait until he's really interested and excited about it. Writing is a developmental skill that does not have a formal timetable, so toddlers can take their time and still be developmentally on track. . What's next

What's next?

As preschoolers get more adept at using crayons and pencils, they'll start making more elaborate and accurate drawings. Most will be able to write their first name before they enter kindergarten, especially if they've been learning the alphabet in daycare or preschool. Sometime before her fifth birthday, your child will learn to make horizontal lines, to copy a circle and a square, and to draw people (she'll probably start with stick figures and add on curves as she gets better at it). At Dragonfly's Early Learning, this is all part of the process. When the children start with us from a very early age, they are given the tools to allow the process of writing to take a gradual path through their years with us.

To learn more about Dragonfly's Early Learning go to


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