7 Developmental Handwriting Milestones

By AASLOctober 30, 2018

Childhood development is complex. Between fine motor and gross motor development, and the variability between children, it’s not always easy to tell if your child’s development is considered “typical.” If you’re worried that your child’s writing and pre-writing development may be atypical, here is a tool for you to use. These are the developmental milestones in writing that average children meet by certain ages. Also, there are lists of indications that your child’s fine motor/handwriting development may be atypical.

1. Between 12 and 18 months, typical development includes:

  • Scribbling with a crayon, marker or pencil – Babies will usually do this when imitating an adult or older child who’s doing the same thing. At this age, in addition to imitating scribbling, babies will also begin to show ability to make purposeful marks (instead of just banging the crayons or markers against the paper).
  • Crayon in the fist – Not all fists are for fighting! A closed fist is how children hold crayons, markers, etc. at this age.
  • Scribbling on non-paper surfaces – Hey, if your child is writing on your wall, that may not be great for your wall, but it tells you his pre-handwriting development is on point!

2. At 18 months to 2 years, typical milestones include:

  • Staying within the sheet – Children this age will be able to paint, color or draw without going outside of the paper.

Try this with an 18 x 22 inch paper and see how it goes! Anything smaller might be too tough for a typical child.

  • Pre-Writing Strokes – By 2 years old, children should be able to imitate drawing vertical lines.
  • Finger & thumb grip – A typical child will begin to hold crayons, pencils and pens using his or her fingertips and thumb, even though they’ll still actually draw by moving the arm.
  • Whole arm drawing – Most children will move their whole arms back and forth when drawing or scribbling.

You may want to talk to an occupational therapist if you have a 2-yr-old who hasn’t met the following milestones…

  • Is still holding crayons with a fisted grasp instead of his or her thumb and finger
  • Is unable to purposefully scribble and imitate a straight vertical line
  • Tends to bang or eat crayons, markers, and pencils rather than scribbling with them
  • Scribbles a little bit, but can’t stay on a sheet of 18 x 22 paper

3. At 2-3 years, average milestones include:

  • Pre-Writing Strokes – Between 2-2.5 years old, a child should be able to now imitate vertical and horizontal lines, and by 2.5-3 years old, a child should be able to imitate drawing a circle.
  • Holding crayons – A child between ages 2 and 3 will typically hold a crayon with his fingers, but the crayon might still look awkward in his hands. He may hold the crayon with part of it resting on top of his hand or part of it under his hand.
  • Painting – At 2, most children can use paints and have control over a brush.

You may want to talk to an occupational therapist if you have a 3-yr-old who hasn’t met the following milestones…

  • Does not scribble or make marks on paper when you give her a crayon or pencil
  • Cannot imitate you when you draw a straight line, horizontal line, or circle
  • Uses a full fist to hold crayons

4. Between the ages of 3-4 years an average child will:

  • Pre-Writing Strokes – Between 3-4 years of age, children should be able to copy vertical and horizontal lines, and circles, without a demonstration from their parents. By 3.5 years, they should also be able to imitate you when you draw a plus sign.
  • Copy letters – Just before age 4, a typical child may begin to copy simple familiar letters and so on.
  • Tracing lines – Trace on top of a thick horizontal line without going off of the line much.
  • Coloring Shapes – By this age, children should be able to color grossly within the lines of simple shapes and forms.
  • Using Scissors – By this age a child should be able to easily cut an 8 X 11 piece of paper in half, and cut along a straight line without going off the line too much.
  • Grasp – Between 3.5-4 years, a child should be using his/her thumb and pad of the index finger, while resting the marker/crayon on the knuckle of the middle finger to color and draw.

If your child isn’t meeting the following milestones by age 4, you may want to see an occupational therapist.

  • Drawing straight lines and circles
  • Cannot hold a crayon or other writing utensil with fingers and thumb and is still using fist
  • Scribbles when coloring, instead of using a variety of strokes, and is unable to stay somewhat in the lines when coloring
  • Is struggling to use scissors properly

5. Between the ages of 4-5 years, children developing at a typical pace will…

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