I am often asked questions ‘When should my child be able to write their name?’ or ‘Why are my child’s peers all writing their name and my child isn’t yet?’. Typically, a child will learn to write their name between the ages of 4-5 years. However, it isn’t the be all and end all if your child can not write their name as it is a very tricky skill. Most of the children that come to see us not only have challenges with their handwriting skills but may also have language challenges, visual perceptual difficulties, or sensory needs that all impact on their everyday skills. Writing your name is not an easy task when we think about all the skills that are required to be able to do this successfully. Let’s take a look at these skills.
Sensory processing: Being able to move through our environments and process input through our senses (sounds, smell, touch, visual, taste) comes naturally to some however, often our littlies are still learning how to do this. For example, Billy may become very distracted by the sound of his neighbour’s lawn mower, he may not be able to stop moving his body during group time at preschool or he often states that the lights are too bright and he can’t see. Our bodies need to be able to respond to sensory information in our environment to be able to remain focused and concentrate especially when learning new skills such as prewriting skills.
Visual perceptual skills: Visual perception refers to our brain’s ability to make sense of what we see with our eyes. When our children are learning the foundations of writing, they rely on visual information as they are looking at their hand and what their pencil is producing. If you feel your child has ongoing challenges with completing puzzles, imitating basic prewriting shapes (see attached picture) or challenges finding toys/objects in busy environments then they may have challenges with their visual perceptual skills. Having challenges with this area will affect one’s ability to learn foundational skills for handwriting.
Postural stability: Does your child slouch in their chair? Constantly move around in their chair at mealtime and struggle to support their body to eat? Or does your child avoid table top activities such as craft? Having a strong core support is one of the foundations of being able to sit at the table comfortably and engage in table top tasks. If your child has low muscle strength throughout their body, table top tasks are going to be very challenging and they may avoid these all together. We need a strong base of support to be able to engage in prewriting activities at the table. It would be recommended to speak to an Occupational Therapist if any of the above relates to your child.
Prewriting shapes/ fine motor strength: Before a child can successfully copy letters, Weil & Amundson (1994) have suggested that children should be able to copy at least nine forms (prewriting designs) on the Beery Developmental Test of Visual-Motor Integration (Beery VMI). Prewriting skills begin with being able to imitate and then copy a vertical and horizontal line, circle, cross, diagonal lines, square and then a triangle (see order of shapes below). It is usually recommended that before a child can write letters, they first need to understand how to imitate the following shapes/designs. Children also need to be able to have the strength in their hands/ arms to be able to control the movement of a pencil and stabilise their paper.
Can you now see how writing your name isn’t just as simple as putting pen to paper? If your little one isn’t writing their name yet and all of their peers are, take a step back and think about all the things your child can do. If this is an ongoing concern for you and you feel your child may need extra support in the above areas, we are here to support you and our child reach your goals.
Alex Gray BOccThy(Hons)
Paediatric Occupational Therapist & Clinical Lead for Early Childhood Intervention
Weil, M., & Cunningham Amundson, S. (1994). Relationship Between Visuomotor and Handwriting Skills of Children in Kindergarten. American Journal Of Occupational Therapy, 48(11), 982-988. doi: 10.5014/ajot.48.11.982
Daly, C., Kelley, G., & Krauss, A. (2003). Relationship Between Visual-Motor Integration and Handwriting Skills of Children in Kindergarten: A Modified Replication Study. American Journal Of Occupational Therapy, 57(4), 459-462. doi: 10.5014/ajot.57.4.459
Writing Skills: What to Expect at Different Ages. (2020). Retrieved 3 August 2020, from https://www.understood.org/en/learning-thinking-differences/signs-symptoms/age-by-age-learning-skills/writing-skills-what-to-expect-at-different-ages