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Developing Early Writing Skills: Gather Round Activities

woman and two children around table coloring

These parent-child activities help young children develop writing skills early from birth to three.

Birth to 12 Months | 12–24 Months | 24–36 Months
Gather Round activities are designed to help families promote their child’s language and literacy skills, while also nurturing the other domains of development. A children’s book is suggested for each topic area and age and activities related to the book based on a range of developmental domains and early skills. The activities can be used with parents as a tool to promote children’s learning through book-sharing and age-appropriate parent-child activities.

Birth to 12 Months


That’s Not My Monkey by Sam McKendry
Publisher: Usborne Books

Activities that build on the ideas in That’s Not My Monkey

1) Create a textured ball out of duct or masking tape. Let your baby explore this ball any way she’d like. For young babies, hold the ball to her hands so she can touch it. Or, you can move the ball slowly in front of her face and watch how her gaze follows the ball (this skill is called “visual tracking” or the ability to follow an object with one’s eyes). A baby 4–9 months old will probably first hold the ball and touch it, then put it in her mouth (supervise carefully). Older babies, 9–12 months old, might also enjoy playing a game where you hand the ball to her, and she hands the ball back to you. She may even throw the ball!

2) Play “texture toes” with your baby by lining up several different fabrics and objects with different textures (the textured ball, a towel, a rug, a stuffed animal, a square of aluminum foil) and hold your baby so his feet are on each one for a short period (30 seconds or so). Which textures does he seem to enjoy? Which does he seem to dislike?

3) Play with scarves. Tie several lightweight scarves or handkerchiefs together, end to end. Place them in an empty tissue box. Pull one end out and hand it to your baby. Show her how she can pull out the long line of scarves. Learning to coordinate her fingers and grasp the scarf helps your baby practice using the muscles in her fingers and hands.

4) Go on a texture hunt with your baby. Walk around the house and invite him to touch different objects and talk about what they feel like—a soft cushion, a dry washcloth, a bumpy basket.

5) Offer your baby a range of safe objects to explore with her fingers and hands. Encourage her to reach and grasp, move objects from one hand to another, and to reach across her body to get desired objects. This kind of activity helps build the muscles in your baby’s fingers and hands that will help her eventually write.

12-24 Months


Where’s Spot by Eric Hill
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile

Activities that build on the ideas in Where’s Spot

1) Get wet with water play! While your toddler is in the bath, give her a small plastic cup and small plastic bowl. Watch her scoop, pour, and dump. (As with any activity in the tub, supervise your child carefully and drain the tub as soon as your child gets out.) This kind of activity exercises the muscles in your child’s fingers and hands that will help her write later on.

2) Take out a stuffed dog or other stuffed animal. Say, “Woof woof! My name is Spot!” (Or make the sound of the animal you are using.) Your child may like to pet Spot, feed him, or put him to sleep. (Spot might snore in a very silly way.) Toddlers nearing 2 years may enjoy holding their “pet” to make things happen. Using both hands (one to hold Spot and one to “feed” or “pet” him) helps your child learn how to coordinate his hands and use them together, which will help when he learns to use one hand to hold the paper and one hand to write.

3) Choose a stuffed or toy animal and hide it under a pillow or blanket. Then, just like in the book, walk around the room with your child and ask, “Is Teddy on the bookshelf? Is Teddy under the sofa? Is Teddy under the pillow?” After searching in a few locations, you and your child can discover Teddy in his hiding place.

4) By around 15 months, most children are able to use chunky crayons to scribble. (They start by holding the crayon with their fists.) You may have to show your child how to use them for the first few times. Give your toddler lots of chances to explore drawing, another great activity for strengthening fingers and hands.

5) Cut small, medium, and large “bone” shapes from scrap paper or cardboard. Draw a dog face on the top of a shoebox and cut an opening for Spot’s “mouth.” Show your toddler (18 months and up) how she can pick up the bones and “feed” them to Spot by dropping them in Spot’s mouth. Picking up and manipulating smaller objects requires the same hand and finger coordination that is used later for writing.

24-36 Months


Peek-a-Zoo by Marie Torres Cimarusti
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile

Activities that build on the ideas in Peek-a-Zoo

1) Take out several familiar objects like a shoe, a hat, a spoon, and a crayon. Put a washcloth or dish towel over one of them and use the book’s text to begin a game: “Guess who? Peek-a-____.”
Slowly pull off the washcloth, showing just one part of the object at a time. Pause before you say the name of the object to see if your child will label it. Then see if your child would like a turn playing “Peek-a-___” with the washcloth.

2) Take turns playing hide-and-go-seek with your young toddler. Hide somewhere that your child can easily find you—such as behind a chair or under a blanket. When your child is looking for you, you can say, “Peek-a-boo, where am I?” Then see if your toddler would like a turn. Turn-taking games help toddlers learn to cooperate, and hide-and-go-seek teaches problem solving.

3) Play peek-a-bear with your toddler. Using one of your child’s stuffed animals, take turns hiding this object somewhere in the room (leaving part of its body peeking out). Games like this teach your child how to take turns and also help develop problem-solving skills.

4) Hide a small plastic animal or other child-safe object inside some play dough or homemade salt-dough and have your child dig it out with his fingers. This kind of activity helps build problem-solving skills and exercises the muscles in his fingers and hands that will help with writing later on.

5) Give your child a pair of child-safe scissors and some paper she can snip. Show her how to hold them and assist in whatever way she needs, providing close supervision. At this age, rather than cutting a line, toddlers are just learning how to hold the scissors and snip with them. This activity is also very helpful in building the skills necessary for later writing.

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