Right from the start, babies are developing skills they'll later need for writing. Writing is a complex process with many different facets and developmental stages, it encompasses both physical and mental dexterity and its development is directly related to a child's development level.
Learning to write is closely linked to a child's physical development. Before children can control the muscles in their hands, they need to develop their gross motor skills (those that need large or whole body movements). For babies this means the freedom and space to kick, roll and crawd and for older children this also means the chance to run, climb, balance, throw, push, pull and swing their arms.
Gross motor skills activity ideas:
As soon as a baby starts to show that they're beginning to control their movements, you can encourage fine motor skills (precise, small muscle movements). Hand eye coordination is a key part of this so provide babies with a range of interesting objects to grasp, squeeze, pat and poke. By handling objects, children are strengthening their hands and fingers, so that they can grip a pencil.
Fine motor skills and hand strength activity ideas:
Before children are able to form letters, they need to learn how to make marks. These marks can be with their finger in yoghurt on their high chair tray or pictures they've drawn or painted. They're working out how writing works, how to hold their pencil, what pressure to put on the paper and how to control the marks they make.
Children need space to explore making marks and boys in particular may enjoy making large scale marks on the floor where they can stretch out. You could use the backs of rolls of wallpaper for this or use chalk or water on the floor outside.
Children also enjoy making marks in time with music, this could be with coloured pencils, felt-tip pens, chalk or if you're feeling courageous, paint. Ask them to draw a picture that depicts the music being played.
When babies and young children first start to scribble, it's simply a physical activity. But through interactions with adults, they'll learn that these marks have meaning and can convey thoughts and feelings. It's helpful to talk to children about what they've produced as it gives them confidence to experiment more with mark making and extends their understanding of how writing works.
Model writing as often as you can so that children can see writing for a purpose. Whilst you're making a shopping list ask them to write one too, encourage them to make a mark in a birthday card for a relative and write their name when they are able.