Fine Motor Skills/ Writing Help for a 3.5 Year Old

Updated on January 24, 2013
S.L. asks from Moab, UT
10 answers

Our 3.5 year old goes to preschool 2 days a week right now and I know that they work on this there, but I would really like to help him at home too.

Is tracing letters, numbers and shapes the best option for improving fine motor skills? Any other options out there?

Let me say that he is very good with hand eye coordination- very good with sports (can hit a ball pitched overhand to him) etc... it is just in the area of writing and drawing that he has some work to do.

What can I do next?

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answers from Chicago on

My son loved "writing" letters in shaving cream on the table. It was strongly recommended by an Occupational Therapist we knew.

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answers from Portland on

I think that unless your child enjoys tracing numbers/letters and is interested in it, no, there are much better things your child could be doing to develop their pincer grip and fine motor skills.

Lacing cards
Big beads
Smaller beads with big enough holes and some plastic cording or thick cord
Playdough (offer plenty of things to poke into playdough, teach the child how to use cutters and playdough tools, how to roll and pinch the dough into place
Using tweezers to pick up small items (we did this with mature sunflower heads-- gave the kids tweezers to pull them out)
Using scissors to practice cutting straight lines
Plastic pegboard

Also know that there is tons of development happening between now and when your child will go to kindergarten. My son was still doing more or less circular 'scribbling' at this age; now in kindergarten, he is able to draw well enough and to write his numbers and letters sufficiently. Please don't worry-- your son will be getting LOADS of worksheets for practicing his letters and numbers in K. They just expect that the kids can all use either some introduction or improvement. :)

There are also some Montessori botany puzzles (they are made to help a child practice their pincer grip-- I had a bunch of them at my preschool) and sandpaper 'letter' tiles which allows the child to trace the shape of the letter or numeral with their fingers.

Also, if you think he's ready, working with Tinkertoys can be a good challenge. You may consider waiting until four, but the work of putting the rods into the connecting wheels does take some finger strength.

Most of all, keep it fun. You can have him 'draw' on a cookie sheet with a bunch of kosher salt on it. Cheap and easy, and a new medium for his work. Also, there's the Waldorf practice of Magic Painting, where the larger brush helps prepare the child's hands for smaller pencils and more control of the instrument.

Here's a good article on the 'wet -on-wet watercolor' or 'magic painting'.

And lastly, one toy which does exercise those pincer muscles-- a Spirograph. You'll want to wait a little while-- at least four and a half or five-- but the demand of the toy to hold the pen in place while holding the wheel in the gears as you rotate it really has given my son some fun, creative exercise for his hands.

Have fun!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Detroit on

this is a develpmental skill that will come with time.. and a bit of practice.. boys do not develop the small motor skills.. as early as girls.. this is normal.

playdoh puzzles.. shaving cream on a tray and let him trace letters.

do not spend a lot of time on these activities.. it should be fun.. not a sturggle.. it will come in time.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

There are some games that use tweezer or chopstick like tools but you can also get some tweezers (not sharp ones) and have him try picking up cheerios. Maybe let him play with some tongs from the kitchen and have him sort/move balls or marbles. Someone also suggested to me once to just have a bowl of cotton balls and have the child grab one at a time (with fingers and thumb) and move them to another bowl.

If your kid likes to color, break off the crayon so it's a small piece and your child is forced to use fingers and thumb instead of palm gripping it. I picked up some crayon rocks for my kids. They are pricey though and I only did it because I thought if it was a rock my kids would be more interested. You can get away much cheaper by just breaking some regular crayons in half. Well, as long as your kid doesn't mind a broken crayon, you can get away with it.

I picked up some scissor scoops for my kids for my kids since they have trouble with scissors, but tongs may also help.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Appleton on

Coloring, stringing beads, kneading dough, working with pla-doh, planting flowers.

Anything that he has to use his fingers and help to strengthen them.

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answers from Pittsburgh on

Play doh/dough/therapy clay

Stress balls

Sidewalk chalk drawings

Big mazes - staying in lines

"Rainbow" letters (retrace with different colors, large. O. capital letter per sheet of paper)

Writing/drawing/painting on an easel or paper taped to a wall (something about this angle if the wrist that helps fine motor)

Dropping coins into a bottle O. at a time

Picking up pennies off a table using O. hand at a time

Crinkling handfuls of tissue or newspaper ( use only O. hand at a time)

Crinkle colored tissue paper & glue on page to make art

Round stickers into circles on a page

Use small, short, stubby, thick writing instruments

Triangular pencils

Pencil grips

Exaggeratedly large pencils/pens


answers from Los Angeles on

Hazel W gave you great suggestions :) My guy will be 4 in April and four things that have helped him tremendously since starting preschool in September are 1) Legos, it's the sticking together and pulling apart action, whether he "makes" anything or not, 2) playdough, (we make our own different scented and colored ones and had fun making gingerbread scented playdough for his friends for Christmas), he rolls, squishes it through his fingers, pats, and cuts with cookie cutters and other "tools", 3) using safety scissors to cut paper, and 4) Mr. Potato Head, all activities his teacher suggested to further develop fine motor skills. He received a Leap Frog Scribble and Write for Christmas that lights up the patterns of shapes and letters (upper and lower case) for him to trace, he enjoys playing with it so is getting lots of writing practice with it.


answers from Jacksonville on

In my experience, when they are small like your child, practice for handwriting (fine motor) skills works best when they are not writing. Have them pick up tiny objects using tweezers, or give them those stringing toys where they thread string thru precut holes. Let them string beads. Give them lots of playdough time and help them make interesting shapes and animals or whatever.

All of those activities work the muscles and the fine motor skills required to write. Without the mental anguish of "working" on writing.



answers from St. Louis on

when my younger son was 4, I knew he could write his name....but he refused to do so.

Finally, I realized it was the format which was at issue for him.....he found it repetitive & boring - no matter how I tried to make it fun.

& then came the day when I gave him a huge box & let him go to town! He wrote his letter on each wall until his name was spelled! All pun intended....he simply needed to think outside of the box!

& for me, that's the key to Early Childhood Education....making fun. Finding an outlet & venue which encourages the thought processes....thru hands-on involvement. Project Construct would be another name for this method & it works! Been using it for years....


answers from San Francisco on

Pretty much anything using fingers build fine motor muscles and skills: beading, lacing, cutting, gluing, clay/play doh, coloring, painting, etc.
A good preschool will offer many of these activities every day.
Tracing is fine but most kids find it pretty boring, just make sure he gets lots of opportunities to do things with his hands and fingers and he will be fine :-)

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