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Most children start writing legible letters and numbers around four or five years old, though it differs from child to child. Before they begin formally learning to write, many fun activities can help them develop their fine motor and visual discrimination skills that will help them learn to write. The following child-driven activities require little or no set up, and are appropriate for both independent play or for family participation.

Paint or draw on an easel

child painting on an easel

Painting or drawing on an upright surface builds arm muscles that children use for writing, among other activities. It also allows gives children the opportunity to and develop an understanding of how paint, markers, crayons, and pencils behave on verticals surfaces as opposed to horizontal ones. Most importantly, creating art on an easel is a lot of fun!

Make sticker art

Peeling and sticking stickers is a wonderful way to build finger strength and teach patience and precision. Start by giving your child large stickers and, as they become confident with peeling, make the stickers increasingly smaller. For added practice, after they have stuck the stickers on paper, ask children to connect the stickers with straight or curved lines to make new drawings.

Draw with sidewalk chalk

child's hand drawing with sidewalk chalk

Similar to painting on an easel, drawing with sidewalk chalk builds arm and hand strength by giving children the opportunity to create art on a different kind of surface than paper. Chalk is also great for developing the grip children will need to use with pencils and pens.

Make dot art

Provide children with dab-a-dot markers or qtips and paint (water color works particularly well with qtips). Encourage them to use these tools to make pictures using dots. This not only fosters fine motor skills, but also visual discrimination, as children learn how to control their hands to make the patterns that they envision. If possible, show children of different kinds of pointillist art, including the work of George Seurat, Australian aborigines, and the Gond people of India.

Play with tweezers

Child friendly tweezers develop both hand strength and control. Provide children with bowls of items like pom-poms or cotton balls, or allow them to use tweezers pick apart the insides of seeded fruits and vegetables like pumpkins and squashes. As children learn to use the tweezers, they’ll come up with more and more imaginative games for themselves. 

Play with clothespins

Child opening clothespinOpening and closing clothespins is a great way to build hand and finger strength. While the most obvious use of clothespins is to have children pin clothing or other fabric to a clothesline, you can also give your child freedom to experiment. They’re sure to come up with their own interesting games.

Play with hole punchers

Provide child-safe holepunchers, ideally that create different shapes. Children can then use the small shapes they punched out to create collages. You can also provide children with yarn so they can thread the yarn between the holes they punched in the cardboard or paper they used. All of these activities develop both strength and precision.   


Mathangi Subramanian, Ed.D., believes stories have the power to change the world. Her middle grades book, Dear Mrs. Naidu, won the South Asia Book Award, and her picture book A Butterfly Smile was inducted into the Nobel Museum by Laureate Dr. Esther Duflo. Her novel A People’s History of Heaven was longlisted for the PEN/Faulkner award, a finalist for the LAMBDA literary award, and named a Skipping Stones Honors Book. A former public school teacher, senior policy analyst at the New York City Council, and Fulbright Scholar, she currently consults for Sesame Workshop. She holds a doctorate in education from Columbia Teachers College.