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Tinker Time for Tots: Sensory Writing Trays and the Importance of Pre-Writing Activities

The Literacy & Learning Center's monthly program, Tinker Time for Tots, for preschoolers and their caregivers, focused on handwriting skills for the March learning activities. 

The day began with Dr. Seuss's ABC book. Carolyn Middlebrooks encouraged the children to name the letters along with her as she read. She also led them in several rounds of the alphabet, as repetition helps memory. The group then moved into the hands-on fun of practicing letters in shaving cream and sand. While both mediums were thoroughly enjoyed, the shaving cream may have had a bit of an advantage.

Just like learning to read, learning to write takes time. Preschoolers typically cannot write for a few reasons related to their development. Writing requires reasonable control of small hand muscles. Young children are still developing the dexterity and fine motor skills needed to steadily hold a pencil or crayon and form letters correctly. The need for eye-hand coordination also comes into play. Preschoolers are still refining this skill, making translating the letters they recognize into written form difficult. Also, preschoolers are primarily focused on learning spoken language and may need help to grasp the abstract idea that symbols represent sounds and words. But there are things we can do to help prepare them to write. 

Pre-writing is a gentle introduction to the concept and practice of writing. It's important because it teaches children what they must master to communicate effectively. Pre-writing activities can equip children to excel in reading and writing throughout their school years. In addition to the three skills mentioned above, pre-writing activities help children develop other skills, such as attention span. Writing takes time and cognitive stamina, so children need to learn how to focus for an extended time. It helps with pattern formation. Letters are patterns of shapes and lines, so knowing how to form simpler patterns beforehand is helpful. It also helps children learn to cross the midline — the imaginary vertical line that splits the body down the middle. Crossing it not only improves coordination and spatial awareness but also improves cognitive development.

If you were not able to attend with your little one, here are some ways to support pre-writing skills at home:

  • Grasping and Squeezing Activities: Play with playdough, squeeze toys, or pick up small objects to strengthen hand muscles.

  • Drawing and Coloring: Encourage them to scribble and draw lines and shapes to develop hand-eye coordination.

  • Singing and Rhyming: Songs and rhymes help children connect sounds with letters.

  • Simple Letter Recognition: Introduce basic letter shapes through games or songs.

  • Reading Aloud: Expose them to books and stories, helping them understand the connection between spoken and written language.

  • And don't forget about shaving cream!

Remember, every child develops at their own pace. Focus on fostering a love for learning and creating a fun and engaging environment where they can explore pre-writing skills naturally. If your child still needs to be enrolled in the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, which provides a free monthly book from birth to age five, visit to register.

The April Tinker Time for Tots will focus on numbers. For more information about upcoming sessions, contact Carolyn Middlebrooks at or 828-526-0863. 



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