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Printing and Handwriting Development

Learning to print or write is one of the most complex motor skills your child will learn. Becoming an efficient writer will allow your child to express his thoughts and ideas easily and clearly when he goes to school. The basics of drawing and using a writing tool start to develop between 1 and 2 years of age, and most children are able to print all of the letters of the alphabet by the time they are 6 years old.

It is important for children to develop the foundations for writing skills as early as possible. Children with writing problems are at much higher risk for poor self-esteem, frustration in school, and academic failure. Once a child is past Grade 1 or 2, it is much more difficult to correct writing problems, so it is important to ask for help early if your child is struggling.

Below are some of the typical developmental milestones for printing and handwriting development. As well as some “red flags” that might indicate a problem.

If you have concerns about your child at any age, please feel free to contact us to speak to a professional. You can also make a referral to our centre at anytime.

Between the ages of 12-18 months, your child will:

  • Imitate you by scribbling with a crayon or pencil
  • Start to make marks with a crayon rather than banging it
  • Do his own scribbling on paper or other surfaces
  • Hold the crayon in her fist

Between the ages of 18months to 2 years, your child will:

  • Paint or colour without going beyond a large piece of paper (e.g. 18x22 inches)
  • Scribble without going off the paper
  • Start to hold the crayon with her fingers and thumb, but still use her whole arm to colour

Red Flags for Printing and Handwriting Development (2 years of age)

If you notice some of the following things about your child by the time she is 2 years old, you may want to talk to an occupational therapist, or another health professional in the community.

  • Cannot pick up a crayon and scribble on paper
  • Still prefers to eat or bang crayons instead of scribble with them

Between the ages of 2-3 years, your child will:

  • Imitate you drawing a vertical line ( I ) – at about 2 years
  • Draw different strokes, dots, and circular shapes
  • Use paints and a brush
  • Imitate you drawing a horizontal line (---) – at about 2 ½ years
  • Imitate you drawing a circle - after 2 ½ years
  • Hold the crayon with his fingers, but the crayon might be on the top of his hand or under his hand when colouring

Red Flags for Printing and Handwriting Development (3 years of age)

If you notice some of the following things about your child by the time she is 3 years old, you may want to talk to an occupational therapist, or another health professional in the community. 

  • Does not scribble or make marks on paper when given a crayon
  • Cannot imitate you drawing a straight line
  • Still holds the crayon in a full fist

Between the ages of 3-4 years, your child will:

  • Copy a model of a horizontal line, vertical line, and circle
  • Trace around the edge of a basic shape template
  • Imitate you drawing a cross (+) – at about 3 ½ years
  • Trace on top of a thick horizontal line without going off very much
  • Start to copy some simple horizontal and vertical letters, like E, F, L, H, T – just before 4 years of age

Red Flags for Printing and Handwriting Development (4 years of age)

If you notice some of the following things about your child by the time she is 4 years old, you may want to talk to an occupational therapist, or another health professional in the community. 

  • Cannot draw straight lines and circles
  • Still holds the crayon in a full fist
  • Does not use a variety of strokes when colouring (i.e. just scribbles)

Between the ages of 4-5 years, your child will:

  • Draw a person with 3 different body parts
  • Colour mostly within the lines in a colouring book
  • Copy a model of a cross (+)
  • Draw very simple pictures from a model, such as a boat or flower
  • Copy a square from a model – at about 4 ½ years
  • Draw inside the path of a very simple maze (i.e. with straight lines)
  • Trace around her own hand with a crayon (after 4 ½ years)
  • Connect dots spaced about ½ inch apart to make simple drawings
  • Hold the crayon like an adult does, with her thumb and fingers near the tip of the crayon

Red Flags for Printing and Handwriting Development (5 years of age)

If you notice some of the following things about your child by the time she is 5 years old, you may want to talk to an occupational therapist, or another health professional in the community. 

  • Cannot copy a square and a cross (+)
  • Still holds the crayon in a full fist, or with her hand on top of the crayon
  • Is not able to make any recognizable drawings
  • Colours way outside the lines in a colouring book

Printing and Handwriting Development for School-Aged Children

Between the ages of 5-6 years, your child will:

  • Draw a face with eyes, nose and mouth
  • Print a few capital letters without copying (around age 5)
  • Copy his own first name from a model, but some letters may be large or awkward
  • Copy a triangle from a model
  • Draw a person with 6 or more parts
  • Print her name clearly without a model (by 5 ½ years)
  • Hold her pencil like an adult does, with thumb and fingers near the tip
  • Use one hand consistently as his dominant hand
  • Draw a smooth line inside a curved maze track
  • Copy numbers 1-5 from a model (just before age 6)

By the age of 6 years, your child will:

  • Print all letters and numbers without copying

Red Flags for Printing and Handwriting Development (6 years of age)

If you notice some of the following things about your child by the time she is 6 years old, you may want to talk to an occupational therapist, or another health professional in the community. 

  • Cannot draw all the basic shapes (square, circle, cross, triangle)
  • Still holds the crayon in a full fist, or with her hand on top of the crayon
  • Is not able to make any recognizable drawings
  • Colours way outside the lines in a colouring book
  • Is not able to draw most of the letters and numbers
  • Has not chosen a dominant hand for drawing and colouring tasks

Red Flags for Printing and Handwriting Development (over 6 years of age)

Once your child is in school, the expectations for writing tasks get higher very quickly. If your child is showing any of the following problems, you should discuss it with his teacher. You can also contact our centre to speak to an occupational therapist, or to make a referral

  • Your child seems to hold the crayon or pencil very awkwardly for his age
  • Your child refuses to participate in drawing or writing tasks that are appropriate for her age
  • Your child’s drawings or printing look very immature for his age
  • Your child is getting very frustrated by written tasks
  • Your child is still making a lot of mistakes in how she forms letters by Grade 2 (e.g. reversals, incorrect formations)

If you have concerns about your child at any age, please feel free to contact us to speak to a professional.  You can also make a referral to our centre at anytime.