What are the essential motor skills for handwriting success?

Gross motor – postural control and shoulder stability

Before a child can hold their pencil effectively, they need adequate postural control.  Postural control is our ability to keep our bodies stable when we are stationary and when we move.  It is essential for us to be able to use our arms, hands and fingers with good control. The development of fine motor skills depends on a background of good postural stability.

Next children need to have good shoulder stability, muscle strength, stamina and control around their shoulders and upper arms which in turn will allow them to use their hands freely.

These skills are like the foundations at the base of the pyramid that the more refined skills can be built on. Like all foundations they need to be in place first!

Fine motor – Finger and hand control

In order to hold their pencil with their fingers children first need to be able to isolate their fingers from their palm.  Initially, when they hold a pencil, a child will grip their entire hand around it.  This becomes more refined as they develop their pincer grip and their fine motor skills improve.  This is what allows them to hold their pencil with their fingers and eventually to develop a dynamic pencil grasp. 

Pre writing Skills

Pre-writing skills are the things a child needs to be able to do before they are ready to write.  This includes being able to colour and trace inside lines, and to draw certain shapes.  Shapes such as vertical and horizontal lines and circles form the foundation of most letters.  Think of the letter ‘a’ for example.  It starts off as a circle, and then has a vertical line on the side.  Additionally, a child needs to be able to draw diagonal lines for letters such a ‘k,’ ‘v,’ ‘w,’ and x.’

Visual Perception

Visual perception relates to how the brain interprets the information that our eyes see, and how the brain, eyes and hand work together.  Before a child can write a letter, they need to be able recognise it and understand how it is formed.  They need to remember what it looks like, and then reproduce it on paper.  Activities such as puzzles matching games and reading can help to develop visual perception skills.


Handwriting is an incredibly complex skill.  Before children can hold a pencil, they need to be able to sit up with good balance and stability and move their arm independently of their body.  They need to be able to isolate their fingers to hold their pencil, They need to be able to form all of the basic pre-writing shapes, they need to visually understand the difference between letters and then they need to remember how to form the letters.  At any of these stages children can have difficulties. At Next Steps Children’s Therapy we can assess and give advice, recommendations and treatment programmes to support areas of deficit which may be impacting on the development of your child’s handwriting. Please get in touch if you would like further information on how we can help.

One thought on “What are the essential motor skills for handwriting success?

  1. Very helpful information Gemma. Too often we look only at the tripod grip when analysing handwriting but you are right to highlight it starts proximally. Thanks!


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