When is The Right Age to Introduce A Pencil to A Child

Why are we in a hurry to see our child write? No sooner does he/she start scribbling with crayons, that we extend a pencil or worse still, a pen for him/her to grasp. Do you know when is the right time for a child to hold a pencil and the numerous stages that a child from 15 months to 3 years must undergo to develop his/her pincer grip so that he/she is ready to begin formal writing?

This is where pre-schools come in with their endless range of art and craft activities that involve creative stimulation and help children become thoughtful, inquisitive and confident learners.

When a one-year-old child grabs colourful crayons and tries to create an impression, it tunes his/her creativity and imagination. As they grow older each month, they develop more control and complexity in their strokes. Useless scribbling becomes purpose driven and children begin to feel excited. Realisation dawns that there is an outcome of the movement they create with crayons. With motor development, they begin to hold crayons comfortably in their fist. Sensory information which is passed on to their brains through the touch and feel of the crayons, their squishiness and the smell of the paint stimulates children and their excitement further. Their strokes are large and uncontrolled. They start to colour a piece of paper and end up colouring the entire table!

By the time children cross 2 years of age and head towards their third birthday, their fine muscles develop and the strokes become smaller and controlled. They are now able to make circles, diagonal lines, curves, sleeping lines and standing lines as well. This is when it is time to introduce similar patterns. During the same period children also advance from holding crayons in their fist to holding them between their thumb and pointer finger, but the tripod or the pincer grip is still not developed. However, they now start to use a variety of colours to draw something and then name it later.

It is important that every child has access to art – easy to grip crayons, washable paints, glue, child-safe scissors, apron or clothes which he/she can easily spoil with colours and old newspapers to cover the floor. Join the child as he/she experiments with cotton balls, sponge, pencil top, chalk, balloons etc. Believe me you will end up having more fun than the child!

Remember, refrain from giving instructions of how to make or how to colour. Allow children to take independent decisions when using colours and resources to create their own masterpieces. Be around to watch out for health hazards but never ask ‘what is this?’ ‘Name the colour’ etc. Do not try to correct the child if his/her tree is not green in colour. Children may or may not be willing to share their thoughts, but never interfere. What you must do however, is shower them with compliments. A child’s artwork is his/her closest expression, so always display it so that he / she knows that his/her work is valued and appreciated.

Over time you will find that when colouring, not only does the child understand that he/she needs to colour within the outline, but his/her strokes too are much firmer and darker. By now the pincer grip would have developed and he/she can hold a pencil in a tripod. Also, as the child becomes familiar with patterns it is time to introduce alphabets. The child now tries to imitate them in his/her own writing. At this stage, the child is able to draw a picture and scribble a name under it. By now the child understands that there is a meaning attached to the strokes he/she is writing. Since the child moves towards finding meaning through something as abstract as his strokes, he/she feels more interested in writing further. Gradually he /she becomes confident about his writing skills and thus a new journey in learning starts!