5 Pre-Writing Activities For Your 3-Year-Old

young girl writing

While your 3-year-old probably isn’t ready to write a full sentence (or even a single word), there are several activities you can do to help her get ready for writing.

The following activities are simple, require very few supplies – and are a great way to spend quality time with your child. As an added bonus, they’ll help prepare your child’s hands and eyes for writing.

Name Tracing

Materials You Will Need: paper, highlighter, marker or pencil

What To Do
This fun activity will provide an opportunity for your child to learn how to write his/her name. Write your child’s name on paper with a marker.

Remember to write the first letter using a capital letter then the rest in lower case.

Let your child trace over the name with a highlighter. By repeating this activity, your child will begin to understand how to write his/her own name!

It will take time for your child to write his/her name legibly.

Cutting Practice

Materials You Will Need: pair of child sized scissors, pictures from magazines

What To Do
Have your child work on fine motor and pre-writing skills by inviting your child to cut out pictures from old magazines. Your child may choose to cut out toys, food, or just pictures of interest.

Your child may also cut out letters or numbers that he/she recognizes. This activity is easier than trying to cut on lines, but still requires hand strength and more advanced fine motor skills.

Play Doh Letters

Materials You Will Need: Play Doh

What To Do
Have your child roll medium sized balls of Play Doh into 6 inch ropes. Ask your child to choose a letter to make, then see if your child can use the rope of Play Doh to do so.

If this is challenging for your child, write the letter on paper first, then let your child form the Play Doh on top to match.

Dot to Dot

Materials You Will Need: piece of paper, markers

What To Do
Write your child’s name on paper using dots, (5 or 6 per letter), instead of lines. Have your child start with the first dot and connect the dots.

Hopefully your child will recognize his/her name! Try this with the names of other family members if your child enjoys this activity.

Tally Marks

Materials You Will Need: small number of objects, paper and pencil

What To Do
Today’s activity will introduce tally marks to your child as a new way to represent quantities. This is especially good for a child who is challenged by writing numerals. Tally marks to show the numeral 4: ////

Place 4 blocks or objects in front of your child. Show your child how to make a tally mark for each block. It’s not important that you use a slash for the 5th object at this point, if you are counting that high.

Want more? Visit Productive Parenting to see more than 60 pre-writing activities that you can do with your kids – from birth to age 5. While you’re there, become a member (for free) and have activities emailed to you based on the developmental age of your child. Activities build on one another from infancy to age five to provide a solid foundation for learning and, at the same time, promote lasting parent-child relationships.

You can also find Anna at My Life and Kids.

Anna Luther

About the Author: Anna Luther

Anna Luther is the mom of three little kids, and the driver of a minivan. She's the Director of Social Media for Productive Parenting - a website that is full of simple activities you can do with your kids! In her spare time, she blogs at My Life and Kids, where she shares her stories, makes you laugh and helps you feel better about your crazy, messy, fabulous life.

Write a comment


  1. Lucy C Paredes RN June 26, 15:38
    This is the picture of my handsome grandson and I am so glad for this article since he does start Kindergarden this fall, thanks
  2. Miss Penny July 29, 08:41
    Just because your child might be able to trace letters at 3 years old does not mean this is what you should be doing with a three year old. As a kindergarten teacher, one of the most difficult problems I have teaching handwriting is REteaching a child who has practiced making letters wrong for years because their parents were in a hurry to start their education. I suggest the above activities using lines and shapes instead of letters. Making letters requires a precision that is not developmentally there for most 3 year olds. I know, I know, you are saying, "but my child can, and they like doing it, I don't see any reason not to." If they can do it at three then there is no reason to practice, they'll do it easily at five. There are other things three year olds should do. What should three year old do: climb, build, pretend, run, jump, talk, talk, talk! Keep the 'sitting-still and focusing hard' activities to a minimum. They will have 13+ years ahead of them to do that.
    • sooneeta-Mauritius February 18, 09:33
      hi. my son is 3 yrs 3 months and at school they were making him draw and write, and i, as a primary school teacher, i was worried coz i believe that he should be having fun. Now am a bit assured that my belief in learning thru play and fun is the gud. thanks Sooneeta
    • Emily November 23, 22:30
      That's so silly that you think you have to reteach a kid how to write a letter the "correct" way. Do you have strict ideas on if letters should have tails or not? Learn to tailor your teaching to each kids separate knowledge, that's what a good teacher does. I think your anger over a parent doing something other than run around and play with toys is silly. My nephew is very bright and loves to hear stories. He can "read" my dad's name tag he wears on his shirt because we've talked about it, that it seems like he can take the next step to learning letters just fine. Besides, as soon as you learn how to write as a human being in general we each start to make our handwriting our own. My handwriting doesn't match anyones I know so, unless it's upside down or backwards, I don't see how a parent would be teaching them how to do it wrong. Learning new tasks also gives them different things to occupy time especially if they're not already in preschool. Maybe playing with trucks and dinosaurs all day isn't enough to keep him satisfied, and momma doesn't always have the steam to play make believe. I can't sit back and randomly read such a statement that makes me cringe...to me it's like saying Why have Pre-AP classes, if they're smart enough to do it now, they should just wait and do it in college. See how dumb that is? It's important to not treat kids like they're all basic...some babies want to match shapes with the corresponding hole and some want to throw those shapes.
    • nicole August 11, 07:20
      Thank you SO much! I'm a mom of a 3 year old and a one year old and a university teacher with PhD in education and I feel exactly the same. Thank you for making me feel not alone in this!
    • wall1057 August 26, 14:07
      AMEN! My grandson just came home with papers of letter tracing and number tracing! These kids are 3. There is plenty of time to teach writing when it will be easier to do it correctly! Especially since cursive is not really be taught much anymore. Some of my kids wrote better in cursive than print because they had already learned to make the letter incorrectly.
    • lynnk February 03, 14:39
      Thank you for stating this. The other piece is that there are other pre-reading skills needed prior to the abstract activity listed here for pre-reading.
    • rebeccà August 13, 01:49
      this is the best comment so far!!
  3. […] Pre-Writing Activities For Your 3-Year-Old […]
    • momo2 January 16, 16:32
      Hi! My son is 2years 9month, he can only write 1, he did not like to write at all and he won't allow us to hold his hand but he love to colour, anytime we want to do his assignment he will hold his pencil and he will be looking at another direction and start asking for something he did not need at that moment inorder to distract me. I will like to know if there is a way to make my son to love to write and identify. Thank you.
  4. Penny Bright January 13, 17:13
    my child turned 3 in November. her daycare insists she should be able to properly hold a pencil and should have chosen her right or left hand by now. since she hasnt we have been asked to make her use her right hand only and only color if she hold pencil/crayon properly. I would think that her age would allow a little more freedom to develop. she has only been in daycare for about 5 months so she could be behind the others, however, I am not sure I want to "force" her to do anythign yet. I am afraid it will make her dislike writing and coloring all together. please advise Penny
    • Kate Setter
      Kate Setter January 16, 13:20
      Hi Penny - I just wanted to let you know that I'm looking into this and will get back to you with thoughts from one of our therapists.
    • Diana February 15, 13:29
      I've been teaching in a special education setting for children ages 3 to 8 for seven years. That said, I've had the same experience as you when my child was 3. What I've run into is at some preschools the employees are not always certified teachers and sometimes are not well versed on child development. I wouldn't be worried about hand dominance because some children do not choose a dominant hand until 5 or 6 years of age. I definitely would not force your child to use a specific hand. It will come with time or she could just be ambidextrous. If you are worried about her grasp, which once again I wouldn't be getting on to her about it, start doing some fun play based fine motor activities. There are tons out there that can be made with things you would usually throw away. One of my favorite things to use in my class is clothes pins. It strengthens those little fingers she will be using for a tripod grasp and you can build activities that can reinforce numbers, colors, shapes and anything else you would like! They can even be used as a tool to pick up little objects. My students love them. I hope this helps you and gives you some fun ideas to do with your daughter.
  5. Tara July 23, 21:54
    My daughter's kindergarten class expected all children to be able to hold a pencil correctly, know and write ALL letters and numbers until 25 without looking at a paper. That being said I think it is appropriate to start at 3 and work from there.
    • April August 08, 15:33
      I agree with Tara, over here they expect children to at least know how to write their name and hold pencil correctly by the time they go in kindergarten, if not they are held back or even put in special programs. Both my one and three year old boys are in a preschool and my 3 year old is already learning how to write his name. Even though you say we should wait until 5, its the child that suffers when he starts kindergarten and doesn't know how to write or hold a pencil correctly, and that i DO NOT want for my child. I personally like early teaching, but at the end every one has their own opinion and I respect that.
  6. James August 15, 22:59
    Our son has ADHD he is on meds just started kindergarden but cannot write his name .we are working with him he went to p-k last year teacher said he would need work with but this summer he would not be still .he is a little better very smart know his lunch code and numbers ,letters my cell number to .does not color good teacher not so happy with him way we took it so what would be the answer ?
    • Emily November 23, 22:38
      How is you son doing? I think some kids just need an outlet to move! They're so young, when they don't want to do something they just wont. You have to find the motivation and sometimes it's within the realm of being jealous of other kids abilities...when they're disappointed with themselves they'll show you and when they don't give a hoot, they'll show you that too. I loved being able to write my name in Pre-K, but I'm an artist and have loved to doodle since very young. Maybe your guy needs sports or something else to be motivated with.
    • Alice August 18, 10:10
      James: My son has ADHD and is now 13. When he was in kindergarten he hated to color and write. If he had to color for class he would take one crayon scribble the whole page that one color and call it done. It wasn't until 3rd grade that he started to like to color just a little. Writing was just as bad. Once he learned that certain words could be abbreviated he jumped on it and will try to abbreviate everything-he still does. Writing paragraphs now in school is still a struggle. I saw a study once that suggested that children with ADHD will sometimes have issues with writing and coloring and that as parents and educators accommodations should be put in place to help with that. If you don't have an IEP with the school I would get one, it will help tremendously throughout your child's education experience. My son has an IEP and it has truly helped tremendously because he hates to write he falls behind other students in classwork and homework the IEP helps to give him more time for his work and for taking tests. Good luck, I know the struggle.
  7. Amanda October 05, 17:15
    This is insane. I learned my alphabet in kindergarten and to write in 1st grade. What are the teachers doing if we are teaching them this stuff before they even start kindergarten? My daughter is going to be 3 after Christmas and cannot imagine forcing her to write when she hasn't even gotten all her letters memorised.
    • Afro belle November 28, 23:39
      my daughter is 3 and half she was born here, but she went to Africa at the age of 1 she just came back she's 3 she started nursery. we speak 3 different languages with her now she has difficulty speak or understand English. The teacher is giving us hard time, She wants her to do as the other kids. Any advice
  8. Laurie January 31, 13:46
    I am a mother of 3 children, ages 13,10&5. I also have a bachelors degree in elementary education, specific learning disabilities, & a masters degree in education. I currently teach students grades K-3 that have Autism Spectrum Disorder. I feel from my 19 years teaching experience & parenting experience, that children should not be forced to do any learning they are not ready for. We need to quite trying to keep up with the "jones's" as it deals with our kids being the best at everything. I wish preschools would have the main focus of learning is to play, socialize and grow in ways that will energize the kids to enjoy learning. Developmentally all kids are growing at different paces. They will eventually plateau at age 7-8. This is when their little brains have developed enough to start taking in and holding onto all the higher level learning. From an article I read a few years ago on the countries in the world that had the lowest illiteracy rate, I would love to go toAustralia & spend time learning their techniques. They do not introduce formal academic learning until age 7. Just something to think about. Enjoy your kids while they are kids????
  9. Kimberly March 01, 12:18
    I hate what kindergarteners are forced to know this day in age. 50 sight words phone numbers birthday addresses, how to "decompose" numbers!!! I'm sorry but that word just bothers me for my kindergartener to even say!! We are on our second round of kindergarten because we didn't meet benchmarks to the school expectations I believe early learning is very much needed or the kids suffer from it not the parents. They watch their friends move on and they feel bad they have to stay in same grade. If u don't know almost all the stuff before u start kindergarten you are already behind and it's so sad. I remember we played in kindergarten when I was a kid just learned our abc's played house sang songs. There is to much pressure now days and I don't agree with it.
    • Chiquita October 28, 10:46
      I agree with Kimberly; in today's society, the children must excel early. Its extremely hard in this world we live in. Try making the learning experience as fun as possible.Never feel the work is too hard or that its to hard on the child at that age. He/She are in their repetitive stage... so everything they do daily is remembered. Today's society expect more in every aspect now more than ever.
    • Emily November 23, 22:44
      These days? What? I was doing that when I was in kindergarten. It's very important! Using songs we learned how to spell words and were even asked to sing our addresses, and it has been very helpful. I remember those songs to this day! It wasn't a chore, it was fun!!! Don't feel bad with your kids though, encourage them to think that they'll be smarter than the new kids because they get to go over everything again. These are the generations that are going to get to go to college, instead of it being a privilege.
      • wall1057 August 26, 14:10
        Yes, Kindergarten IS the correct time to learn these things! We are talking about 3 year olds!
  10. sathya priya August 13, 23:15
    My kid is pre term baby.now she is 3 yrs and 11 months. She is very adament to hold the pencil for writing. She is asking me to hold the pencil for writing. If we beat also she is stubborn and not writing a letter. She likes only the number 1 2 3 for writing other than that she wont move for 4 5etc or abc. She will be writing 2 and starting saying i have written 1 she is repeating the same. How to give practice for alphabets and other numbers
    • kranti October 21, 00:23
      hi sathya priya .please dont worry abt ur child writing letters or numbers... may be she is not yet interested to read or write. Now in preschools they are forcing to write. But their age is only to play well as they can. Make them to write but please dont tense for that. Make them engage in other outdoor or indoor games. And make them learn slowly in studies also..even my 3 year old son i am not making to read or write..sending to playschool just for activities
  11. Kelly February 03, 16:51
    So what about when your kid is obsessed with letters and numbers? My son just turned 3 and he points them out everywhere we go. He can identify upper and lowercase and he knows all the sounds that they make, even some letter combinations like "ch". He accurately reads a digital clock, of course he has no concept of what the time means.This has all happened almost on its own, there is no "lesson time" in his routine. We just talk about what he sees and we do read quite a bit. Should I just leave it as it is, or encourage what seems to be an active interest? I don't want him to be bored when he finally goes to school.
  12. Sandy February 17, 16:30
    so Miss Penny parents are not supposed to teach their children about letters and words because teachers are not smart enough to work around this? In my experience as a teacher and parent all efforts in the reading and writing area are useful and make the child's brain think about these things and be ready to embrace all styles of teaching.
  13. Emma Coles April 04, 06:58
    Early education is the best platform to set up your kid future. and choosing the right place for your kid is also an important task for their parents.
  14. jamilakhan October 20, 07:25
    Nice information,thanks for sharing this type of information.
  15. Kevin April 16, 15:20
    That kid is left handed!!!!! I realised thst because i.m too
  16. David November 20, 23:59
    The blog is really interesting. Pre-writing skills are the basic skills that children need to acquire before they can write. Such abilities lead to the ability of the infant to keep and use a pencil and the knowledge of drawing, writing, copying, and coloring. Kids are very curious about the events of childhood. Pre-writing skills are necessary to allow the child to develop the ability to hold and move a pencil fluently and effectively, thereby producing readable writing. At home and in schools, we have to give proper training. There are so many pre-schools offering various activities to develop the ability to read, write, speak and listen.
  17. Sandy April 30, 07:31
    This is a great idea, I think we can also teach them to read books; it can develop our children at this age too.