The Physical Skill of Writing

How many children tell you it hurts their hand when they write?

Physical Development and writing skills are inextricably linked. In order to be able to perform the fine motor dexterity that writing requires children need to have strong muscles, good co-ordination and balance. They also need to have developed a certain level of maturity, which is often why boys often take longer to develop this skill than girls.

As a class teacher it is important to remember that if you want to develop confident and independent writers who are able to produce work of a high quality and sustain this for lengthy periods of the day, you must recognise and invest time in physical development. As practitioners we need to provide a positive atmosphere for children when learning this complex skill promoting practice and redrafting as important learning tools. An Olympic athlete would not be asked to compete in world competition without the right physical training, plenty of practice and reinforcement, analysing mistakes, trying again and the self belief that they can win and achieve.

As teachers ourselves, we were lucky enough to teach children across the whole primary age range including children in special school. Through this experience our belief about how children learn the skill of writing evolved and we were able to test out theories and demonstrate a very high level of achievement.

It is worth remembering that until the brain is mature enough and the muscles strong enough a child simply cannot learn a skill and trying to teach the child does little good. We need to provide children with as many opportunities as possible to engage in and explore their physical environment, taking risks, facing and solving challenges and learning about what their bodies can do in different situations. As a practitioner we need to be proficient and confident in standing back, watching closely and taking appropriate intervention steps when necessary.

When a child is ‘ready’ to learn the skill we need to provide simple instruction that is repeated and reinforced as well as fun activities for them to practice. This will help develop their confidence and increase their chance of success.

Writing Formula


Children need to:

Make connections in the brain    +    Develop strong muscles    +    Develop co-ordination

                       (Maturity)                 (Physical Development)         (Perceptual Awareness)


Adults need to:

Give children time    +    Stand back    +    Hold your nerve

      (Patience)              (Observe)            Courageous)


Readiness for writing

How do you know when children have the maturity and the skills ready for writing?

  • Can they balance on one leg for 8 seconds?
  • Can they support their own body weight when doing a press up in the proper press up position?
  • Can they touch finger on their hand in turn with their thumb?
  • Can they lift their knee and touch with the opposite hand alternately?
  • Can they crawl?

Early Development

In a child’s early stage of development equal importance on the development of physical skills needs to be apparent in the classroom and at home. In the new Early Years Curriculum Physical Development is now a prime area and should be recognised as such in the classroom.

Gross Motor Exercises

These exercises are for developing upper body strength (shoulders) and core stability:

  • Spend sustained periods of time lying on the tummy whilst doing various activities
  • Crawling on fours at different speeds, forwards and backwards pushing a ball in front of them
  • Kneeling – balance on two knees, walk on two knees, throw and catch a ball whilst on two knees
  • Throwing – over the head two handed, from the shoulder one handed, shooting a ball through a netball net
  • Pull – ups at monkey bars
  • Pushing other children on wheeled toys (uphill and over rough terrain)
  • Set up a tug of war competition
  • Making snowballs out of scrunched up newspaper and using them to have a snowball fight (place a bench between 2 teams and challenge them to throw as far as they can across the bench at the other team)
  • Wheelbarrow races
  • Lifting and carrying heavy items such as buckets filled with soil or water, heavy shopping bags, heavy rocks or stones

Fine Motor Exercises

Providing two or three minutes warm up at the beginning of every session where children are required to write is important in preparing all the muscles that are needed for writing and helping to improve strength and co-ordination. Warming up the muscles is just as important when we write as when we do physical exercise. Pick just 2 or three of the following to teach the children and then teach them new ones each term.

  • Chair Pushups – whilst sitting on a chair, curl hands around the sides of the chair and push off the seat (bottom and feet off the ground). Hold this position for 3-5 seconds and repeat for the same number as their age
  • Shoulder Shrugs – with palms facing upwards raise the shoulders to the ears, then release. Repeat 10-15 times
  • Hand Fist – Make a fist with both hands. Open and close the hands 10-15 times
  • Desk Pushups – in a standing position put hands flat on a table. Bend the elbows and raise and lower the chin like a press up. Make sure the elbows are bent and straightened each time
  • Pushing Palms – place both palms together and push as hard as possible
  • Spider Legs – place both hands on a flat surface. In turn lift each finger off the table in turn. It is very important to isolate each finger and lift one finger at a time
  • Pickups – pick up a small object (e.g. pea) with the fingers and “hide” it in the hand. Use the same fingers to keep picking up the objects and store them in the hand
  • Finger Football – scrunch up a tiny piece of tissue paper (the ball) and use one finger at a time to “kick” the ball
  • Pencil Aerobics – while holding the pencil bend and straighten the fingers; walk the fingers up and down the shaft of the pencil while holding it; while holding the pencil make the tip do circles in the air; place the pencil on the palm of the hand and roll the pencil to the fingertips and back

A useful website with lots of great ideas to promote physical development is

More exercises can be found in this video: