Developing Handwriting Skills: When do children learn to write?

Child developing handwriting skills.From the moment your baby was conceived you dreamed of what they would look like, of them talking, walking, what they might be like when they grew up. The toddler years are a magical time as you watch and care for your child. It is also a time that you can really nurture your child and help them begin to develop the skills they will need as preschoolers and onwards in their elementary school education.

When they were 18 months, your baby may have taken more of an interest in a crayon as a tool rather than as a play toy and started to use it for its intended purpose rather than simply throwing it or trying to suck on it. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, scribbling and painting may be a favourite activity at that age. However this was likely to have been random scribbling rather than colouring or forming letters as your child discovered how to use a crayon and may even have scribbled on your living room walls!

At this stage it’s important to encourage the development of a child’s fine motor and early writing skills as researchers at the Cognition and Action Neuroimaging Laboratory at the University of Indiana found early handwriting skills may not only help young children write, it may also help them learn to read more easily.

By about 30 months old your child will typically be developing more control over the muscles in their hands. They will now hold a crayon or pencil with control, even possibly between their thumb and index finger and will attempt to draw lines, circles and maybe even letters. Although their jumbled drawings may not look like letters or words to you, they are an important part of your child’s pre-writing and pre-reading development.

Over the next year or two your child will continue developing these skills, eventually drawing pictures and scribbles of words underneath. These drawings are your child’s way of sharing a story with you.

Ways to encourage writing skills in your 30 month old:

  • Provide plenty of crayons/pencils/twistable crayon pens and drawing paper
  • Enjoy supervised play with paint on paper using finger paints or brush
  • Let your child see you or an older sibling write and model writing enthusiasm by painting or drawing alongside them
  • Display your child’s drawings on your refrigerator, show them to grandparents or stop by with a neighbor so they can tell them about their drawing
  • Always talk to your child about their drawings, don’t prompt or try and interpret, just ask them to tell you the story in their picture
  • Draw with chalk on the pavement, perhaps playing hopscotch
  • If the weather is good, put large sheets of paper on the ground outside and let your child paint freely, with their hands/feet or a paint brush
  • Give your child small blocks or legos to play with
  • Let your child play with a threading board

Remember, your child is on a quest of discovery, always playing and always learning. As a parent all you need to do is nurture your child, provide safe experiences in a loving environment and allow them to develop and learn at their own pace. Your child will grow up into a happy and confident adult with endless talents, they may even become the next Roald Dahl!

*Please note that not all children meet developmental milestones at the same time, if you have concerns you should always speak to your child’s pediatrician.


James, K.H. & Engelhardt, L. (2012).  The effects of handwriting experience on functional brain development in per-literate children. Trends in Neuroscience and Education, 1, 32-42.  doi:10.1016/j.tine.2012.08.001

Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5 (Copyright © 2009 American Academy of Pediatrics)

Maureen Kilgore

Maureen Kilgore is a mum with a passion for healthy living. She lives with her husband and two children in Belfast city Northern Ireland. Maureen is currently a "stay at home" mum looking after her kids full time and thoroughly enjoying it.

Note: This Perspectives Blog post is written by a guest blogger of The opinions expressed on this post do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Dr. Greene or, and as such we are not responsible for the accuracy of the information supplied. View the license for this post.

Get Dr. Greene's Wellness Recommendations

Sign up now for a delightful weekly email with insights for the whole family.

Got an idea, tip or a comment?

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *