Teaching Pre-Writing Skills Part 1: Coloring

Dear Homeschooler,prewriting skills part 1 TH

Learning to color and write with control is hard. One reason for this is the transition from gross motor to fine motor movements. Most kids start off coloring from their shoulder or elbow, moving the whole arm to make strokes. In order to get detail in coloring and writing, movement must be generated from the wrist and fingers.

This process can be broken down into smaller steps. The first step is coloring:


1. Scribbling

This seems like an easy and natural skill, so, why start here? Yes, it is natural unless your student is still very young or has special needs. When I was teaching autistic students, I often had to start here as some didn’t have the motor skills to hold a crayon or the attention span to sit and do an unpreferred task without improper behaviors. If this is not your student, go ahead and move on to step 2, but if it is, don’t be discouraged. If this is something your student has a really hard time with or just hates, start slow. Have them sit and scribble for 30 seconds then move on to something they enjoy. Slowly, increment the time they have to scribble until they can scribble with appropriate behavior for a longer period of time.


2. Coloring Within Physical Borders

Once kids can scribble, we want to start teaching them to control their scribbling within an object. Start by using a large, simple object like a 8″ – 12″ circle. The easiest way I have found, especially when teaching kids with special needs, is to provide a physical boundary that they can feel with their finger and crayon. A great way to do this is using Wiki Stix to outline the shape. Another option is using a thick line of white glue to outline the shape. Let this dry before letting your student color it.

Over time, start making the shapes smaller and smaller. This helps them learn to make smaller crayon strokes and aids in that transition from gross motor to fine motor.


3. Coloring Within Flat Borders

The next step is removing those physical borders. Again, start with large shapes with thick, defined borders and slowly make the shapes smaller and the borders thinner.

4. Coloring With Different Colors

Make coloring more interesting by adding different colors. Your student can choose what colors they like, or you can create a coloring sheet that delineates which colors to use.


If you don’t want to make the coloring sheets, modify a favorite coloring book by creating boundaries and eliminating fine details.


Look in workbooks at the dollar store for coloring activities.


Look here for color by number work sheets.


5. Coloring Details

After you’ve been working on those coloring skills and can see improvement in those fine motor movements in the wrist and fingers, start working in coloring sheets with more details. Let your student be creative with colors and mediums. Use your student’s favorite coloring book or pattern pages, or print off pages here.


Other tips

  • If your student has a hard time with this skill, incorporate favorite characters or themes.
  • Use a visual timer to help your student know when the activity will end.
  • Use your student’s favorite color.
  • Use different writing utensils, such as markers, chalk, etc.
  • If your student writes from the shoulder or elbow, try stabilizing the elbow on the table to minimize movement and increase movement from the wrist and fingers.
  • Use pattern coloring sheets for fun!
  • Use specific coloring pages to support learning in other subjects. For example, use animal coloring sheets as work in Science or color patterns and shapes in Math.

Do you have any strategies to build your student’s coloring skills? I’d love to hear about it below.

Till Next Time,



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  2. My kids are just about at this level.

  3. I never thought of using borders – physical or drawn – to lead my kids into coloring with structure. I always wondered why my kids weren’t really into coloring until they were older, but now you’ve got me thinking about leading my younger kids through some coloring activities. I like ideas that challenge my way of thinking about teaching! Thanks so much for sharing! 🙂

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  5. I love this! I’ve been working with my three year old on coloring and these are great tips. Thank you for posting. I’m sharing this on my Facebook page and Pinterest…I’d appreciate if you could stop by and have a look at my new blog.

  6. I love this! Thank you for sharing.

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