Using Different Types of Textured Surfaces and Paper

To help young children to store pattern and letter shape formations into their motor memory it is important that the tools used provide a resistance rather than one that flows effortlessly over the writing/drawing surface. The greater the resistance the more the body can neurologically acknowledge (feel) the movement and help to send appropriate information to the brain.

Some of the best surfaces/papers and tools for young children to begin learning to draw patterns, shapes and correctly write letters:

  • Chalk on boards, walls or paths
  • Flip chart pens or large felt tips on course paper such as sugar paper
  • Using appropriately sized paint brushes on course paper (such as sand paper) or surfaces
  • Finger painting or finger drawing in sand, paint or cornflour mix
  • Finger tracing and then trying to draw the pattern, shape or letter straight afterwards.
  • Try chalking the shape or letter onto a blackboard and have the child use a damp sponge to wipe it off again (make sure the child starts in the correct place and moves correctly around the shape or letter to the correct finish point).
  • Appropriately sized crayons and pencils on course paper or card (non-shiny side of cereal boxes and corrugated card can be good fun and different to use).

Vertical to Horizontal Surfaces for Handwriting

Young children, due to the stage of their physical development, draw from the shoulder rather than the elbow and wrist using large arm movements. At this stage they often prefer vertical drawing and painting surfaces as it allows a free range of movements. This is often why young children will write on walls, not because they are being naughty but because it just feels comfortable and so more enjoyable.

Drawing and writing on a vertical surface is important at this stage; as it helps young children develop the wrist strength and flexibility they will need later on to hold a pencil correctly for handwriting.

The jump from a vertical to a horizontal writing surface can seem too great for some children; due to their stage of development. These children may benefit from the paper being positioned on a sloped board.

If you are not sure whether a child needs a sloped board for handwriting, instead of buying a specialist board, you could make one. Try using a ring binder or lever arch file stuffed with magazines and newspaper to make a sloped board. Tape the edges to stop the papers falling out; you could cover it in sticky back plastic to give a smoother finish to the board. The advantage of this is that you can make them to any angle of slope. Try a few to see which, if any, the child prefers.

A homemade sloped board is just as effective as a bought one. Often a child only requires one for a short amount of time and quickly moves to writing on a horizontal surface. For a few children a sloped surface may be required for a few years, or indefinitely, in which case a purpose bought sloped writing board is a sounder investment.

The Right Handwriting Tool for the Job!

As with learning any new skill the right tool at the right time can make a real difference to the whole learning experience as well as the outcome. Learning to handwrite is no different.

Young children, due to their gross and fine motor skills ability, require chunky shafted tools so that they can grip them effectively. This means they have a greater control over the tool and can achieve a more satisfactory outcome. If they are using a tool that is too thin, they will find gripping it difficult and have to keep changing their grip. They will have less control of the tool making the experience disappointing at best and off-putting at worst.

As children begin a more formal approach to learning to form their letters correctly then appropriately sized and lead grade pencils are the best tool for the job. Pencils come in all widths, lengths and shapes. The key is to find the style of pencil which best suits the child and their stage of pencil grip development. Remember one size doesn’t fit all!

When a child has learnt to join their letters and has a good and consistent letter size, places all their letters on the writing line correctly and in relation to each other, then it maybe they are ready to be moved to pen. It is important before moving a child to pen that they are writing with speed (appropriate for their age) and fluidity (comfortable writing all the letters of the alphabet lower and upper case correctly). A child whose handwriting is slow and laboured may need additional support and time before being moved on to pen.

How to get your child interested in drawing and colouring!

Not all children enjoy drawing and colouring and it can be difficult to encourage them. There are a number of reasons why some children seem reluctant to draw, paint or colour. For instance, some will not like the smell of the paint or crayons, while others may find the pencils, brushes or crayons too thin, long or heavy. Others may be reluctant due to past negative experiences. It can be tricky to work out exactly why a child doesn’t want to draw or write.

Here we have some tips and ideas that may help you to get started:

Paper Size– Some children like large pieces of paper to work on while others can be daunted by the prospect. Start off by having a range of paper sizes and colours for your child to choose from, this way you can find out which size of paper they prefer to work on.

Vertical surface – Having the paper pinned vertically on a drawing board or wall may also help encourage your child to have a go at drawing more than if the paper is laid flat on a table.

Drawing & Writing Tools – Have a range of pencil and crayon thicknesses, lengths and colours so that your child can choose the ones they feel most comfortable using. Try to make sure that the pencils are sharp enough to be used effectively as picking up and using a blunt pencil can be a negative experience which can turn a child off drawing or writing.

You could try using different drawing tools to start with such as chalks or special glass pens (which are great fun and designed to clean off easily).

Draw Together – Before you start drawing think about the kind of things that will interest your child, for instance drawing a train may be ideal for your little boy but not necessarily for your little girl. Use simple shapes to draw the objects so that over time your child will be able to copy so they too can draw successfully the train, cat or car. Practise by yourself so that when you are doing the drawing with your child it comes easily to you so that you can talk through what you are doing.

We have created some new drawings using simple shapes which you may find helps you to get started. Follow this link and scroll down the page a little you will find them under the ‘Activities to help hand development’:


Pick a time and place where you can start to draw in the same room/area as your child is playing. Start off by just sitting and drawing without actively involving your child. It is surprising how often a child will come to checkout and ask you what you are doing. They may just stand and watch for a while and go back to playing, just carry on and complete the picture without them. Leave the picture for them to see, you could let them know you have drawn it for them and have a little chat about it.

It may take a few goes but hopefully you will find that your child will watch for longer, maybe even asking you to draw different things in the picture, use certain colours, or want to help you colour or draw things.

At this stage it can help to explain what you are doing, for instance, if you are drawing a straight line or a wavy line to make a shape or pattern.

Other language you may use:

Straight, short, long, diagonal, up towards …, down towards …, across, curvy, wavey, zig zag, squiggly, swirling, dots, dashes.

A couple of weeks ago we talked about placement (preposition) and directional vocabulary which would also be great to use and help your child to develop as part of drawing activities.

By sharing and showing your child how to draw shapes and make pictures it gives them a positive and successful drawing experience, which encourages and gives them confidence to have ago for themself.