Teaching Pre-Writing Skills Part 2: Tracing

Dear Homeschooler,image

We continue on our journey to writing. In Teaching Pre-Writing Skills Part 1: Coloring, we looked at the process of coloring and learned work on the transition of using gross motor movements (movements from arm and elbow) to using fine motor movements (movements from wrist and fingers). We will continue working on those fine motor movements and building more pencil control.


Using Your Finger

It may or may not be a hard transition for your student to go from coloring, which has no constraints except for the outer boundary, to tracing which has zero creative leeway. If it is difficult for your student, start them off by having them trace lines and shapes with their finger. Once they can do this, have them practice tracing letters and numbers with their finger. You can use flat surfaces, or you can add a sensory element by using tactile cards. These cards are great because the student can FEEL the lines. They also may increase your student’s engagement in the activity.  I found mine at the Dollar Store, but if you can’t find any, you can make them.


A Word on Pencil Grip

We want to encourage a proper pencil grip from the beginning. Trying to change an established pencil grip later is difficult and adds frustration to future lessons. Jenae from I Can Teach My Child! demonstrates a great tip on how to teach your student how to grip their pencil. If your student is still struggling with this, try using a pencil grip. There are lots of different ones out there. This is the one I use with Princess Super Kitty. Another strategy is using fat pencils.


Establishing a Dominant Hand

Has your student established a dominant hand? Gone are the days where right-handedness is the preferred way, but establishing a dominant hand, be it left or right, is important, as stated in the article “The Importance of Hand Dominance” by North Shore Pediatric Therapy:  “… in order to develop skillful and proficient hand dexterity, coordination, and fine motor control, hand dominance needs to be established.” The article also gives good ideas on how to do it.


Preparing to Write

Although I can be flexible where lessons take place (and, yes, I have let creative writing, etc. happen on a clipboard outside), when we are working on our penmanship, we sit at a table. Bottom-sitting is also required. ZooKid loves to sit on his knees and sometimes half-stands for lessons. As long as he is engaged in the lesson, I am usually ok with that, except for penmanship. It is important for your student to stabilize their body and have good posture with feet on the floor. Slanting their paper about 45 degree puts their hand in the right position on their paper. Using their non-dominant hand to stabilize the paper also aids in neat writing.



We are now ready to start tracing! I suggest starting big. Make your traceable 4″ – 6″, then slowly make it smaller. Once the student can trace within a 1/4″ of the tracing mark, move on to the next step. Each student will progress through the steps at their own pace. You can use printables or make your own. I like to make my tracing marks with a yellow highlighter and have Princess Super Kitty trace with her pencil. I suggest the yellow highlighter because the student can easily see their own pencil marks. Below are some examples of bigger and smaller traceables:

Straight Lines

Curved Lines



You can draw your own pictures like I did. You can also have your student trace a coloring book page with a marker.

Letters and Numbers

If your student is struggling to stay on the lines, you can create a border around the big letters. You can also use writing paper. Below is a page from Princess Super Kitty’s Princess Sophia Writing Book.



  • Use a slanted surface or use white board/chalk board hanging on the wall. This naturally forces the stability into the wrist and encourages fine motor movements.
  • Eliminate distractions.
  • Practice other fine motor activities to build strength in the finger, hand, and wrist.
  • Add a kinesthetic element to the writing lesson. For example, Handwriting Without Tears uses wooden blocks to make letters.
  • Write on different surfaces with different writing utensils (chalk/chalkboard, dry erase marker/white board, crayons, pencil crayons, paint, etc.)
  • Start working on uppercase letters first: There tends to be more straight lines, which are easier to trace.


Do you have any useful tips on tracing? I’d love to hear about it. Comment below.

Till Next Time,



  1. This is really hard for my son. He has autism and gripping the pencil and writing is hard. I have to use pencil grips to help and we are working on this daily.

    • Fine motor skills can be challenging for students with autism. Keep at it, Julie. All progress, no matter how small, is worth it. Do you other fine motor activities to help increase his dexterity? It might help his writing in the long run.

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