The writing of a 3-year-old isn't recognizable as real words. More often, the "writing" consists of random scribbles that don't even look like real letters. However, those early activities help preschoolers develop fine motor skills necessary for holding and controlling a pencil. Prewriting activities also help children learn that the symbols on the paper have meaning. A variety of activities for 3-year-olds focus on using writing utensils and improving motor skills.
An easy way to help 3-year-old children develop writing skills is to give them as many opportunities as possible to put pen to paper. Offer a variety of writing utensils and paper for prewriting practice. Choose large crayons, markers or pencils. Regular pencils and crayons are often too thin for 3-year-olds to grip well. Writing also doesn't always have to take place on paper. Let the preschoolers use chalk on the sidewalk, a finger in shaving cream or a wet paintbrush on a fence.
Three-year-olds get practice recognizing and making letters by tracing. You can create your own tracing activities that allow you to customize the letters or strokes you teach. Make the shapes on a piece of cardboard using hot glue. When it hardens, the shape is raised. Children can trace the shapes with fingers or place a piece of paper over and scribble with a crayon to reveal the shape.
Before a 3-year-old can write letters, he needs practice with the basic strokes or shapes that make up the letters, such as horizontal lines, vertical lines, diagonal lines, circles and Xs. Have children trace the specific strokes on paper or roll out pieces of clay and shape them to match the different strokes and shapes. To help reinforce the different shapes, have each child wave a silk scarf in the air following different strokes, waving it straight up and down to practice vertical lines, for example.
The fine motor skills needed to control a pencil develop at different rates in each child. Some 3-year-olds have finger dexterity, but other kids have to work on that control until age 5 to 7. Give the 3-year-olds lots of practice at manipulating objects to support the development of fine motor skills. Many common preschool classroom activities help with dexterity, including stacking blocks, putting together puzzles, playing with clay, stringing beads or using lacing cards. Another idea is to have kids pick up small objects and transfer them to a container. For a homemade game, cut holes in the lid of a small plastic tub, such as a clean butter or yogurt container. Have children pick up pompoms with their fingers and push them through the holes.