Early writing skills can be found in a tub of rice

My grandson is 14 months old and already he is developing his writing skills. Oh, to the untrained eye, it can look like he is “just playing” in a tub of rice but building the fine motor strength, eye-hand coordination, and pincer grip needed to write later in life starts with activities as simple as playing in a tub of rice…

This was my grandson’s very first experience in rice play.  I poured just a small scoop of rice in a tub to give him his first experience…

Once I set the tub of rice out if front of Kai, he literally dived right in….

He used his hands to push the rice around the tub…

He used his fingers to try and pick up the rice…

He tilted the tub and all the rice slid from one side to the other side of the tub…

And then he reached out with his hand and worked those fingers to grab up some more rice….

The grasping, pushing, pinching, lifting, dumping, pouring is all a part of building fine motor strength and eye-hand coordination that is ultimately needed to master writing skills when the time is right…

Rice play brings developmental benefits to preschool age children at all stages of growth. Older preschoolers will master the process of scooping and pouring as well as enjoy time with friends having conversations and social interaction….

As my grandson gets older he will be prepared for writing with writing tools but for now, it isn’t a crayon that he needs to explore – it is time to use his fine motor skills through a variety of playful experiences and opportunities….

And yes, he dumped the tray over but we just scooped it back up and started our play again as long as he was interested…

And yes, my grandson did put a fist full of rice in his mouth but then quickly decided to spit it out. I had to help him a bit with that part. Like anything a toddler will play with, you don’t just want to set it out and walk away. Instead, give them some space to explore the materials and be there to help when you’re needed…

So the next time your child is using his fingers to scoop, pinch, push, pull, pour, dump, and explore his environment – look beyond the play and at the development that is taking place and you will see that your toddler is mastering the skills needed to one day write his name, cut with scissors, and all those other fine motor tasks that are used later life. Don’t be in a hurry, development takes time but mostly it takes opportunity!

And the best opportunities come when young children are given time to play with the materials in their world…


By |2012-06-24T15:04:24+00:00June 24th, 2012|

About the Author:

Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. has been working and teaching in the field of early childhood education for over 30 years. Deborah currently owns and teaches in her own part-time, private preschool called The Children’s Studio. Deborah’s deep passion for teaching and working with young children is documented and then graciously shared with millions of readers around the world through her blog and other social networking communities. Deborah believes that young children learn best through play and exploration and embraces this belief in all that she does in her own classroom so that she can effectively and passionately share rewarding, real- life, tried-and-true practices with other teachers, parents, and leaders across the field of early childhood education.


  1. Lucy June 24, 2012 at 3:14 pm - Reply

    I did this with beans and rice previously with our daughter. She loves scooping with a spoon or measuring spoon. The other day I put beans in a planter and she was scooping from one planter to the next. And of course she literally spilled the beans all over the yard. We are amazed at how she will scoop on her own from one container to the next or just simply ask to cook. She is starting to talk lots (almost 18 months) and today she cooked some strawberries and grapes. I have done an exercise with cooked pasta as well, that way she can eat it. The hard pasta, she will give to the dog. There is great information you are providing.

  2. Christine L. June 24, 2012 at 6:51 pm - Reply

    I love the rice table and have been using it in my UPK classroom for years. The kids always love it! I have also found that the rice table works really well with behavioral problems. When I have a child who is upset, or is having trouble playing well with others, it is very soothing for them to come on over and rake the rice, let it fall through their fingers while they talk about what is bothering them. it works like a charm every time!

  3. Debs June 25, 2012 at 1:37 am - Reply

    Aren’t you lucky to have a cute little grandson to play with?! Isn’t he lucky to have you for his grandma!? Indeed!
    Watching them develop that pincer grip and trying to pick up teeny things is so cute! I love how you’ve shared the importance of these early skills and how learning and developing these skills is important to future learning and skills… such as writing! Important for parents to know. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  4. Lynne Carr June 25, 2012 at 6:25 am - Reply

    Love the photos! What a cutie. My kids love to use foam and sand – although they’re slightly older now and practising letter and number shapes. It’s so true that “writing” starts much earlier than school, pens and paper. https://www.lynnecarr.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/getting-letters-dackwarbs.html

  5. [email protected] June 25, 2012 at 8:34 am - Reply

    Great post. You are 100% correct that the muscles needed for writing skills are improved throughout development. I especially like how you did not put too much in the bin. The smaller amount is just enough for a little one to explore for the first time.

  6. Amii June 30, 2012 at 6:00 am - Reply

    I use lentils with my kids. We were talking about capacities of objects. So we used different sized pots and used spoons to fill them up talking about which pots could hold the most lentils and when it was full, half full and empty. It’s a great activity. As you said it works those muscles and also keeps their concentration for a good length of time.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. June 30, 2012 at 11:01 pm - Reply

      I love each of the ways you are extending the learning through their play Amii! Well done!

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