4 Year Old Still Can't Write Letters or Name

Updated on October 09, 2010
S.S. asks from Baton Rouge, LA
23 answers

my 4 year old still can't write letters let alone his name. His "pictures" that he draws are still scribbles and not the kind of "stick figure" pictures his classmates seem to be drawing. I try to practice with him but all he wants to do is scribble a few lines then go play. I honestly don't think it's a big deal, but his teacher at preschool seems to think itsimportant enough to mention to me. Any suggestions/ experience? Is this really a problem I'm ignoring?

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answers from Columbus on

It is important to mention to you, but at this point, it is not a delay, unless he has other issues that cause you concern too and the fine motor accompanies speech, language, behavioral, visual, cognative, social or sensory concerns.

I would take this as information right now and keep an eye on his fine motor skills and act sooner, rather than later if they do not improve by the time he enters Kindergarten and has formal instruction that is appropriate for his age and development. Preschool is not necessary nor is formal instruction at this age, so if he makes the milestones once he gets to school, he is fine.

If you see other things, or he seems angry or frustrated by his inablity to produce writing when he trys hard, then you might consider an evaluation with an Occupational Therapist.

The good news is, if he is just not interested at this point, all the early gains that his peers seem to be making will disapear very quickly as those children without accelerated instruction will catch up rappidly, once they are exposed to the instruction at a developmentally appropriate time.


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answers from Minneapolis on

Relax, this is normal! Kids all develop on their own time line and usually fall outside the US canned educational system norm at some point. My son wouldn't even acknowledge that letters existed, though he would happily tell you what color of ink they were printed in! He did respond slightly better to numbers, so we had him practice with those when we could rope him in for a minute. Now at 8, he's caught up (very quickly I might add) since he decided he wants to do it!

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answers from Austin on

Do not worry about it.
Just continue to have him practice when he is in the mood.

The one thing I never worked on with our daughter was fine motor skills. When he was in Kindergarten her teacher mentioned it so we worked on it for a few weeks and she did great.

Get playdo and the two of you roll out as many little balls of playdo with just his thumb and forefinger as he can sit still for.

Have him only use clothes pins, using only his thumb and forefinger, (make it a game) to pick up different things on a table, out of a bag he cannot look into..

Give him a bnx of paper clips and have him make a chain out of all of them.
Start off with a box of the large ones, then get a box of the little ones.

Get tissue paper and lay it over a magazine or an old book, and let him trace with a thin crayon or regular sized pencil.

get a large sheet of old gift wrap paper or uses a large sheet of paper and make a "road" for him to "drive" his little cars along. Tell him to try to only use his "pointing finger" then to try to only use his thumb also each one of his finger. have a race and see which finger is the fastest.

Use tracing paper over a piece of paper that you have already written his initials. Only use capital letters. Then his first name, then last name..

This is messy so you may want to do this out side. Get a roasting pan or a cookie sheet with sides and pour some sort of powdered food on it.. Powdered sugar, instant pudding mix, jello mix..

Then have him draw with his fingers.. Again have him use one finger at a time.

All of this can be done with fingers from each hand. It will seem like fun, when you are just doing this at any moment. Also we used to do some of these things this at restaurants while we waited t order or food to arrive. .

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answers from Pittsburgh on

In pre-school, my son's teachers pointed out to me that my son was having difficulty writing and was grasping crayons and pencils awkwardly. He would also tell me/them that his hands hurt when he did use a writing instrument for any length of time. I discussed it with the pediatrician who Rx'd an OT evaluation. He had a small fine motor delay and his hands were weak. OT was wonderful and made a HUGE difference.
He's still not very interested in art though and he's no Picasso but he completed first grade with Straight A's and easily completed all of his assignments involving writing.
(PM me if you'd like any tips on activities that are hand strengthening if you think he has a similar issue.)
Otherwise, I think it's just a case of all kids having different levels of artistic interest and ability.

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answers from Washington DC on

I think his teacher at pre-school sounds high-strung, or maybe she's just mentioning it for liability reasons since some parents would hold them liable for NOT informing them.

It sounds really normal. There's nothing wrong with your son, especially since he's a boy. Boy just need more physical activity than anything else, especially at this age. Why on earth would he want to focus on drawing when he's really dying to do something more constructive (in his mind) with his hands?

Read "Bringing Up Boys" by Dr. James Dobson. While I don't agree with everything he's ever written (it would be weird if I did since no one is exactly like anyone else after all) I found this book very helpful and found that it gave me some much needed perspective on boys in general.

Best of luck!

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answers from Portland on

The nervous system maturation and fine-motor skills needed for writing and drawing (or any other set of skills) develop at vastly different times for different children. If you visit a grade school and look at the art and "stories" commonly posted in hallways, you'll see an amazing range of ability – all of it normal.

Thank his teachers for alerting you to a possible problem, and keep an eye on it. If your son's development is really lacking, it will more than likely show up in other areas as well. But at 4-5 years old, he simply may not be ready to write yet. No big deal. I hope his teachers are not putting too much focus on "work" at his age – learning should be fun in preschool.

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answers from Las Vegas on

I know there's this big push to get kids to start writing early but the occupational therapist that have worked with my son (he has autism w/ fine and gross motor delays) have all expressed their disapproval of kids having to write at such a young age. The reason being is that it takes time to develop the tripod grasp needed to hold a pencil correctly and, if the child is required to start writing too soon, they can end up holding the pencil incorrectly and damage their thumb.

That said, since they are probably having your son write in preschool, you can always buy a special pencil grip to put on his pencil so that he can form a correct grip on his pencil a little easier. There's a company called Super Duper that has a lot of teaching supplies and occupational therapy supplies that you can access online. The last time I checked, they did have specially designed pencil grips available.

Another thing you can do, if you don't want to push the writing with the pencil issue, is spraying foam soap or shaving cream on the side of the tub while he is taking a bath and encouraging him to use his finger to write out his letters. Or you can use those special chunky triangle shaped crayons to have him write out his letters.

I'm with you though; he is still a bit young and he still has another year for that whole tripod grasp and writing skills to kick in before he starts kindergarten. A lot of development can and often does take place during the course of a year.

Hope this helps.

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answers from Savannah on

I was a preschool teacher prior to having children of my own - and I think that a 4 year old who can't write letters yet is totally normal.

Letters are extremely difficult to write. Try swapping hands and writing the alphabet to jog your memory. Its easy to be worried, because to us it is easy... I promise when he gets to Kindergarten, you will see a change!!

Good for you for pushing him a little though... he will get there!!

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answers from Columbus on

My son is the same way. He will be 5 next week and has absolutely no desire to write or even color. He does struggle with fine motor skills and I have been working with him on different activites to strengthen his wrist and finger muscles. I have been told by numerous kindergarten teachers to not worry about it. When the child is ready to do certain things they will, but until then not too worry. Every child is different!!

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answers from Detroit on

I agree with the other ladies. Kids are all different. I'm sure the teacher is simply letting you know his progress and maybe hinting at trying things at home.

My daughter was praised in pre-k because she knew how... Most of the kids didn't. That's just something she's always loved to do. Drawing, writing, doing stories on paper.... Anything artistic. I so don't expect my son to be the same way. He'd rather me give him an old phone or toy with tools to take it all apart. He's only 2 and I know he won't be writing like his sister. Heck... My ex-hubby doesn't have legible handwriting or printing. Our daughter writes better than he does... By far. My husband now and I are both mechanically minded which I expect our son to be as well. He's already showing those signs. I've always been told I have gorgeous handwriting and printing... I'm not totally sure how I got the artistic AND mechanical brain, but I do. But then again, I'm Ambidextrous. Not sure if that has anything to do with it. My daughter is right handed and my son is showing left dominant with ambidextrous tendancies.

I don't know if any of that is significant.

What I do know... Is he is completely normal for his age.

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answers from Salt Lake City on

All children develop differently and reach milestones at different times. My daughter is a year younger than my neice and was writing her name about 6 months or so before my neice. All of a sudden, one day my neice was writing her name without any instruction.
My daughter is also 4 and scribbles when she draws. She will draw people and other things when shes ready. So will your son. its not bad thing that the preschool teacher mentioned anything about your son. I think its good that she's observant.

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answers from Dallas on

Kids do develop on a master plan - not ours, and not the teachers. I have a 4 yr old boy and a 3 yr old girl. She was sitting down to draw pictures of people a yr before he even stopped scribbling. I never showed her how, she just did it. He has no interest, because as you say, no time. Gotta run, gotta play! He however, could count well before the age she is right now and she has no interest in counting at all. She wants to draw. So, you see, they are individuals, and that's ok. I don't think either one is smarter than the other or behind the other. They just have differant styles, moods, patterns. I try to work with those natural patterns. I might hand him a crayon and ask him to draw 5 number ones. That uses his affinity for counting to my advantage to get him used to working with the crayons. I might ask her to count the people in the picture she drew. I'm using her drawing affinity to introduce counting. But no pressure. He will take an interest when he decides and not before. You can maybe get him a "Cars or Toy Story" themed workbook or colorbook to get his interest a little. Or ask your very helpful preschool teacher what she suggests.

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answers from Seattle on

My son was reading fluently (chapter books, but easy ones, like magic treehouse) at 3... but didn't / couldn't write his own name until he was 5. He's 8 now, and still hates writing, but he can do it.

His preschool teachers were completely unconcerned, as was I... but we had several friends who insisted "dysgraphia". I know several kids who are dysgraphics, and my kiddo doesn't fit the profile, he just does. not. like. writing. (he doesn't mind painting, calligraphy, or typing... but he hates the way pencils & pends feel and the noise they make on paper). And he's stubborn. Which is okay with me. It'll eventually be a non-issue.

Could your son be dysgraphic or dyslexic? Possibly. But then again... the fine motor control is touch and go for most toddlers.

There's no harm in seeking out a diagnosis. If he's neither, no biggee, if he is... then you get 2 years of intervention before most kids would be tested for either.

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answers from Kansas City on

I start all my kids tracing words. I would write them in your own handwriting in a light color or regular pencil. Then give him a dark colored pencil to trace the letters. My kids traced letters for at least 2 years before they started writing them on their own. You are starting about a year late. But better late than never. At the age of 4 you should be able to get him to work for 20 minutes. So shoot for that.

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answers from Dothan on

and???? they dont need to be writing full abc's and his name at 4! They learn that in kindergarten. Its so ridiculous we are freaking out too much about kids at this age. My almost 4 year old can spell 3 letters , her 4 almost 5 year old friend cant spell at all. We were told they learn all that stuff about 5+. As long as you try to practice and get him interested in it you dont need to worry. I also have the Fisher price "cool school" keyboard, helps with the writing ability and more fun than on regular paper.

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answers from Seattle on

He might not be artistic. But letters can be worked on! My daughter wouldn't write her name until she was almost five. And we still struggle with other letters six months later! Just try to make it fun! Grab a writing workbook for preschoolers sometime, that will help.

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answers from Johnstown on

I wouldn't worry just yet...one of my 5 1/2 yr old twins was just like that--she had absolutely no desire to do anything with a crayon/pencil and paper up until about 4 months ago or so. Now she draws all the time. Since we don't put our children in preschool, neither of the girls are able to write their names yet...but we're working on it...and they will be able to by the time they start school in the fall. I personally wouldn't be alarmed just yet.

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answers from Jacksonville on

He might not be scribbling because he hates to write. In time he will learn. Continue to encourage him by writing what the letters should look like, guide his hands and let him practice, practice, practice. Make it fun, mix it up and try using different materials beside a pen...crayon, paint brush, chalk, beet, you name it.

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answers from Chicago on

North Shore Pediatric Therapy offers free screenings. Call them. It might be an OT issue...or maybe it is nothing. My son was doing the same thing.....when he did start to write letters, they took up the whole page.

Call Deborah Michael at North Shore Pediatric Therapy, ###-###-#### or email her at [email protected]____.com website is www.nspt4kids.com.

They are amazing.

Good luck!




answers from Birmingham on

I wouldn't worry either. When my son was 4 he was still scribbling like yours - I was a little concerned because other kids could write their names and draw better but once he turned five - he has completely changed he has a better attention span, sits down and actually wants to write and draw and he is now writing all his letters, name etc. - and his drawings are so much better - you can actually tell what he is drawing. I wouldn't worry - it is just one of those things that one day they just start doing and now is not his time yet! I agree with the last post all kids do things at different ages and I think the alphabet falls in the 5+ catergory!



answers from Miami on

I just want to say that my son, turning 4 in just over 3 weeks, still has no interest in writing his letters or his name. He's really not into colouring at this point either. I also kept him out of junior kindergaten for that reason, plus I think at this age they are way to young for that type of "work". So, I say let them be kids and play.



answers from Phoenix on

I agree with the ladies who are saying that it is not a big deal right now. My son tends to have his own interest and then one day poof he gets it and has interest. For a while I was having some issues with his writing and such, but I kept looking around for different teaching aids that would interest him. The best one that I have found and not very expensive, is Kumon!! They are really interesting and have something for every age, and they build on each other. Try looking at Target or teaching stores, even amazon.
Hope this helps!!

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