48 answers

Should My 3 Year Old Be Writing Letters?

Hi mamas,

In reading through a couple other requests/advice columns it seems that a lot of moms have 3 year olds that are already writing their letters. My son is 3 1/2 (turning 4 in April) and can only legibly write like 4 or 5 letters freehand - mainly straight line letters like T, H, I, A and L. His fine motor skills with other things are actually pretty good but it seems to be hard for him to do the writing. He can trace the letters fairly well on those little dotted line worksheets. He is doing very well in other areas, and has already mastered the independent sounds of about 10-12 letters but I am wondering if I should be worried about the writing part. Just as a note it is difficult for me to even get him to try to write the letters freehand, he doesn't seem to want to do it unless I make dotted lines for him. Any advice/thoughts? Thanks! :)

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What can I do next?

Featured Answers

Hi Robin,
I am a kindergarten teacher, don't worry he is fine. It's okay for him not to write freehand, you are doing very good if you are already helping him hold the pencil correctly. I would suggest to make big letters and let him fill them with macaroni or color them. You might do a letter or two, then say "let's practice doing it with a pencil" or something like that. You can also use side walk chalk and let him do it on the cement. just keep in mind that he is young and you do not want to push him to the point he is going to hate writing.

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DO NOT WORRY ABOUT HIS LETTER FORMATION AT THIS TIME.
He should still be refining his fine motor skills and will begin to correctly form his letters soon.

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Don't worry about it, each child develops at a different rate. As long as you continue to give him the opportunity to practice, he'll get it.

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More Answers

Dear R.,

Please stop worrying about his writing skills, give him lots of fun things to do, strengthen your loving acceptance of him, and do art projects WITH him. That is the way to get him to practice using his hands and fingers, then maybe in a year or so he will want to write. Play dough and finger painting and learning to use scissors - make fringe and oh so many other things to do. Go to the library and check out some art books for young children.

I know how you feel, I wanted so much to hear my children's and their children's voices and hear them join in with the singing and fun of talking. I, also, have wanted to see my children's and grand chidren's writing and see them develop that way. It is hard to wait, there are lots of other hard things to wait for or to wait until they are over. Just do not allow yourself to miss any of the glorious moments that are happening right now. They will mature and do all this stuff.

The other day I was watching my 9 month old gr granddaughter as she was expecting her lunch to begin momentarily. She was getting anxious and started thinking how to hurry things up, finally she reached toward my daughter and cupped her hand and took it quickly to her mouth. A baby sign !! How cute and smart !! If I had been cleaning up the dishes instead of watching I would have missed it.

Sincerely, C. N.

2 moms found this helpful

Get him the Winnie the Pooh video about ABC's. It features Tigger teaching Pooh and Roo to write their letters, and shows some very simple ways to write, e.g., "first go down, and then around." My grandson was under 3 when i showed him this video (I had been teaching him letters for fun since he was under a year, and by the time he was a year he knew them all, and could do phonics by the time he was 2--if you do it as a little game, it's easy! "How does 'moon' start? With 'mmmmmm'--M!"), and the next morning he got up with his chalkboard and was writing, saying, "First go down and then around," and has been writing ever since! Good luck! R.

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Absolutely not. I really don't think that kids this young possess the motor skill to successfully write letters. Around 4 1/2 I would start encouraging him to write his own name - upper and lower case letters. This is an important skill he will need for Kinder. Focus on other motor skills - lacing cards, cutting with scissors, gluing cherrios to a paper etc. . . If he shows interest in letters, then encourage the activity and make it fun. Dotting out the letters is a great way to get started. You can also put shaving cream on a cookie tin and let him write letters in it. Lakeshore has a computer software program that gives you fonts that dot the letters out. It is a little pricey ($35) but with 3 kids, I think you will get your money's worth. I also did a lot of letter activities with my kids. Letter of the day, find things around the house will letter "A", gluing beans to a letter B made from construction paper, collages from magazines . . . you get the idea. Also, my 3 year old loves Super Why on PBS. It is a great show and she is learning her letters quickly.

Good luck. You sound like a busy mama.

M. S.

2 moms found this helpful

Dear R.,
My child was like that; she is now graduating high school. I was puzzled also, since her other abilities seemed to be coming along better. She began kindergarten in a class where only 3 could not already sort-a read! The teacher assured me she'd catch up, and she did. Even when she was very small, like your son, she could "draw" in detail, but seemed not real interested in forming alphabet letters properly. Someone told me 3 year olds can't "see" or "do" mentally diagonal lines. Their brains aren't sophisticated enough to do that yet. They just imagine that when you see it, you see what they see. My daughter learned to write in kindergarten, and enjoyed learning it there. She now buys books and is eager to be a math/music major. Praise anything he does with pencil, paper and books, and wait hopefully. Don't pull up the carrots to see if they've grown yet.

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Thirty years ago, five year olds in kindergarten were just working on socialization and fine motor. Now we are doing this with three year olds. Our expectations of children are perhaps beyond their developmental capabilities. Studies show that reading really clicks in for 7 year olds, but we expect kids to read at 5 now. The children who really become readers at 7 show no signs of delay in comparison to the kids who have been reading since 5 according to a neighbor who is a Phd in ed. and is a literacy specialist. (Check studies regarding the country with the highest rate of literacy - New Zealand. They start guided reading instruction at 7.) Now for my advice for what it is worth...don't push too hard. He will stop liking the activity and it will become a battle. Write letters in sand, shaving cream, in the air, or not at all. Does he really need to write at the age of 3 and 3/4?

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Relax, he sounds perfectly normal. I taught Pre-K and Kinder for a number of years before having my own 3 kids. Every child goes at his own pace, as you know, and your son sounds like a very typical bright 3-1/2 year old.
This sounds like it MIGHT be about wanting to write the letters perfectly , as opposed to simply not wanting to write. This is common ( in firstborns more than others), and many children just need reassurance that it's ok to get things messy, wrong, or otherwise imperfect. Ask yourself if you use words like "Good job" or "Good try" versus telling him how he can do it better. We so often inadvertantly put pressure on our kids by saying "this one is perfect!" or "that's the best ever!" Instead, try to keep your critiques low-key and casual.
Use the dots sometimes, ask him to draw the dots for you sometimes, and find creative ways to get him to write some letters here and there. A few ideas we've used: Get him his own notebook (let him pick out the kind he wants- lined is better, but anything will work at this stage). Also get some good colored pencils with erasers. Ask him to help you make lists. For example, you might say over breakfast, "Honey, can you help me make a list for the store?" And then help him spell a few simple words. Groceries, baby needs, laundry items, dinner ingredients,toys he likes, TV shows....
If he wants to just use the first letter, that's fine. And always let him know that you appreciate the help. Don't even mention the shape or condition of his letters- it's not important. What is important is that he begin getting comfortable with writing. Don't press it though, he's still young, and many children don't get interested until closer to 5.
Good luck with your new little one!

1 mom found this helpful

As an occpupational therapist mommy of a three year old, I can sense where there seems to be an expectation that kids so young already know how to write their numbers. However, there cognitive, motor and spatial skills are really too immature still at this age. So while many preschools emphasize writing and tracing, and some preschoolers master the skill, it is by no means something to expect from your child at this point. Rather, let hime build with legos and blocks, let him color and practice other skills (like getting dressed, eating with a fork and knife). The writing will come! By the way, A, H and T are hard letters to master! Good luck!

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NO, please don't pressure him. you are way ahead, even if others say they can do it. right now the best you can do is read with him, let him 'read' to you parts of his favorite books (that he's memorized).point out signs like, "look,it says 'stop' s, t, o, p" etc. reading and writing are natural and develop organically.

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