Handwriting milestones 5-6 years

Handwriting is a complex skill that adults can take for granted. Most children are not ready for the complexity of the task until approximately 6 years of age while some children will be able to write prior to beginning school. Nationally there is no expectation that children can write in a formal sense on entry to school.

Children of this age are moving from a palmer grasp, if not already, to an incomplete tripod grasp.

Fine motor skills at age 5 are that children can:

  • Fold paper diagonally
  • Write their first and last name
  • Write the entire alphabet with varied neatness
  • Draw objects and thread beads onto string

By age 6 fine motor skills also include:

  • Tying a knot and bow
  • Copying letters and numbers and printing their name

As fine motor skills become stronger, children gain better control in writing letter forms. At this age children have adequate hand strength for sustained pencil work.
Children usually identify hand dominance around age 3 and so hand dominance should be well established. Children who use both hands should be encouraged to choose one hand.

Children at this age will learn that when writing one hand is used to stabilise and the other hand is to be the helping hand.

Play that helps handwriting

  • Children should be able to use intrinsic muscles of the hand such as forming a pyramid with fingers flexed, spreading fingers apart and back together to make a bill of a duck. Shadow puppet finger play is excellent for improving dexterity.
  • Children may enjoy drawing and labelling objects.
  • Children are learning the difference between upper and lower case letters. Children should begin appropriate words with capital letters as there is reduced variety of starting points.
  • Children develop fine motor skills at their own pace and there is no point rushing a complex activity such as handwriting.


Activities to develop handwriting skills

  • Bubble Wrap – children love to play with bubble wrap. The action of popping the bubbles between the thumb and index finger helps to strengthen fingers for a more controlled tripod grasp.
  • Clothes pegs – helping to hang washing on the line and hang up clothes improves finger movements and strength.
  • Water pistols – children love water pistols and squirt guns. The pulling of the trigger is an action which develops a strong index finger which again supports the tripod grip.


Important – The key is to keep writing fun

Handwriting is a complex skill made up of many discrete components. Children this age require a lot of encouragement to build their confidence as writers.


This article was written by Michelle Barrington for Kidspot, New Zealand’s leading education resource for parents.


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