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Parents’ guide to handwriting for 3 - 4 year olds

Children in this age group are beginning to experiment more with drawing and writing tools and other media.

Young children learn many of the pre-handwriting pattern and letter shape directional pushes, pulls and changes in direction on a much larger scale, long before they pick up a pencil, through playing with cars or pretending to cook. These movements become a young child’s drawings/scribbles once they start mark making, initially as big uncontrolled movements then becoming more controlled and smaller as their gross and fine motor skills develop.

They continue to develop these pushes and pulls initially through activities such as drawing pictures and patterns in sand, paint and with other writing tools and materials. These activities are introduced based on large scale movements to help store them in the motor memory to be recalled later when the child is learning to refine their lines and shapes drawing skills. Then through more focused formal approaches such as worksheet activities as they help a child to experience how writing tools feel when drawing or write different types of line and shapes, which they may not otherwise use.

Remember children develop at different times so the table below is a guideline only, based on the average expected achievement levels for a child in this age group.

Handwriting skills

3 year olds

4 year olds

Dominant writing hand

Starting to develop

Preference appearing

Pencil grip stage

Stages 1 to 2

Stages 2 to 3

Sitting in chair correctly

Sitting for tasks

Up to 5 minutes

Mark making

Scribbles imitate strokes

Not applicable

Pre-handwriting patterns

Non-pencil activities


Single letter formation

Not applicable


Position paper correctly

Prefers vertical surfaces

Vertical to horizontal

Can your child sit correctly for handwriting?

The best sitting position for both right and left-handed writers.

Supporting your child’s handwriting

Expected handwriting achievement levels

Can they form the single letters correctly?

Focus on your child writing their name, ensuring the lower-case letters and capital letter are formed correctly, using the correct start point, directional movement and finish point for each letter.

Can they form the pre-handwriting patterns correctly?

Pre-handwriting patterns teach your child the pencil pushes and pulls, which they may not have otherwise experienced, required to form letters.

What stage pencil grip does your child use?

Children should develop naturally through distinct pencil grip stages and should not be forced to use a stage they are not ready for as this can result in them developing a poor pencil grip later.

How your child develops their hand dominance

Hand dominance is a natural developmental process which happens in stages.

Learning through play and other non-pencil activities

This age group develop many of the physical skills and vocabulary that they will need for learning to handwrite through play.

The first tools used for mark making

Children, due to their natural physical development, initially prefer to use thicker tools, such as chalk, paint brushes and crayons etc, for mark making and simple drawings and to do so on vertical surfaces.