Handwriting Progression

Figure 1
Taking notes with a pencil
Note: Thought catalog. (2017, March 5). Taking notes with a pencil. Unsplash.com.

Handwriting Progression

Have you ever watched a child learn to draw or color? How do those little hands manage to make the movements to write letters and words? There are so many components that make up the skill of handwriting, not to mention the components of letter legibility, sizing, and spacing, along with the different types and styles of paper for writing on lines that assist in writing development.

Unfortunately, there is not nearly enough space in this blog post to address them all, so this blog post will focus only on the skill of making marks in the form of shapes and letters on blank paper.

Exploration of any and all items that a person comes into contact with in his or her environment is key to learning about the world. This exploration begins very early in infancy as babies begin to touch and grab everything in sight, then begin to put objects into their mouths to learn what the objects taste like, and then begin to experiment with the objects to learn what the objects do. For example:


As a young child first learns to hold a writing utensil (i.e., marker, pencil, crayon, etc.), the beginnings of handwriting emerge as waving the writing utensil around in the air.

Then comes the next step of waving the utensil around closer and closer to other items (i.e., mommy’s shirt, daddy’s pant leg, etc.), until eventually, the two objects touch each other and Whala! the writing utensil makes a mark on that expensive shirt or pair of pants and presto!, your clothing has officially been initiated into the world of childcare and additional knowledge of the item is instilled in the child’s knowledge bank, whether consciously or subconsciously.

Over time and with more experience in making marks on various items with writing utensils, the child learns that by putting a marker to paper (or kitchen wall) provides a fabulous opportunity to create images, and repetition produces more images! Thus the creation of scribbling.

Scribbling progression includes:

● Making a single mark

● Making multiple marks

● Keeping the pencil on the paper for continuous lines in back-and-forth motions, in diagonal and horizontal directions

● Keeping the pencil on the paper for increasingly accuracy horizontal motions

● Eventually improving to also vertical motions


Once a child has mastered the art of scribbling, the next step comes as a child begins to watch other people (typically parents or other children) making “marks” on the paper in more deliberate, organized ways to draw specific shapes. Imitation is when a child begins to make longer, more deliberate “marks” of shapes, as the child sees the other person making “marks” in specific ways: See it drawn, Immediately draw it yourself.

Pre-writing shapes form the basis for all numbers and letters within the English language. These pre-writing shapes are:

While imitating someone else’s “marks” is a helpful learning strategy to learn shapes, with children it is often difficult for them to comprehend and reproduce the details within simple shapes. So a square and a circle often look like the same thing. What makes a square different from a circle? The corners and straight lines. These differences take time and practice for children to understand and replicate.


Once a child learns how to make specific “marks” while imitating another person, the next leap of skill is to learn how to make the marks, or shapes, without seeing someone else make the mark immediately beforehand. Some children are able to make this leap without difficulty, but sometimes this skill is still a bit tricky for children to navigate. One way to help a child navigate this change of skill is to use the strategy of connecting dots to make the shapes, beginning with the shapes as pre-writing shapes then transitioning to the alphabet letters.

Near-point Copy

As the motor control and visual motor skills required for maintaining shape formations during imitation, tracing, and connect-the-dot strategies are learned by a child, the next step of learning to copy the shape is to see the shape – already drawn, no imitation – then draw the shape right next to the provided image. As a child becomes more familiar with the details and shape formations and improves in accuracy, additional letters – turning into whole words – becomes possible.

Far-point Copy

Once the skill and high accuracy for near-point copy of shapes and letters is achieved, a child can begin learning how to look at shapes or letters farther away, no longer directly on the paper in front of him or her

– such as from a classroom chalkboard or whiteboard

– and recall the shape or letter in order to draw the image that was seen onto the paper resting on the table or desk directly in front of the child. Continued practice helps the child increase in accuracy of shape and letter formation when visualizing images from a distance, as well as increasing executive functioning skills such as working memory.


With each step of these skills, it it important that you as the child’s caregiver calmly demonstrate each skill, provide positive encouragement and support as the child performs, or even attempts to perform, the skill, and provide immediate but gentle and loving correction along the way to ensure the child begins each shape and letter with the proper starting points and directionality so your child will more quickly learn the correct steps of handwriting without learning incorrect or difficult habits that will later cause increased difficulty and negative attitudes toward handwriting.

Handwriting. Such a HUGE skill!

CTP Blog Post written by Megan Koyle, MOT, OTR/L

April 20, 2023


Heffron, C. (2016, January 20). Tips to improve handwriting: Sizing, spacing, alignment,

and more!. The Inspired Treehouse.https://theinspiredtreehouse.com/


Kiley, C., (2016, January 20). Developmental progression of handwriting skills.

MamaOT.com. http://mamaot.com/developmental-progression-of-handwritingskills/

South Warwickshire NHS Foundation Trust – Children, young people, and families

occupational therapy team. (n.d.). Handwriting development. SWFT.NHS.UK.



Thought catalog. (2017, March 5). Taking notes with a pencil. Unsplash.com.


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