The Best and Quickest Handwriting Warm Up Exercises

Fine Motor Exercise for Writing

Handwriting warm up exercises help improve fine motor skills.  This quick series addresses postural, shoulder, hand and finger muscles.  No special equipment, tools, or toys are needed! You just need kids who are ready to write with a pencil. 

These writing warm ups prepare the small muscles for use, increase strength and awareness, and improve hand dexterity needed for printing with good control.   

If you’re reading my posts and gathering my free handouts, you know I like to keep life as simple and as easy as possible for you!  Kids’ bodies need extra input throughout the day, but the daily learning schedule can be busy… I get it as a wife, mom and occupational therapist!

Why Should You Use Handwriting Warm Up Exercises with Kids?

Getting children ready to write is important in order for them to perform their best.  They need good posture, correctly sized furniture, and they need their muscles “woken up” and ready for use.  Kids need warm up activities in order to help with fine motor development.

Simple hand and finger exercises and fine motor activities can stretch and wake up the muscles in the arms and hands.  Stretching the muscles, activating the muscles, and giving pressure input (proprioceptive sensory messages) improves hand strength and sensory awareness.

It helps the brain improve body awareness and motor control of the small muscles.  

Additional simple fine motor exercises help improve hand dexterity.  This helps increase finger movements when controlling a pencil.  

First, I’m sharing a quick list of arm and hand exercises that are helpful to use before printing and writing.  This may take up to 90 seconds until you and your kids get used to the series.  The entire thing can be done in about a minute.  Help get kids into the habit of performing these at least once or twice a day.  

Second, there is a list of quick fine motor writing exercises just using a pencil.  So many of my occupational therapy kids love these.  They actually practice them as they fidget with their pencil and listen to the teacher!

Finally, I’ve listed additional handwriting warm up exercises that use paper and pencil.  You can try them out one at a time and rotate through them.  

The best part about all of the fine motor activities and exercises listed – no fancy tools or toys are needed.  It makes it easier for you to plug them into your fun writing activities.

Occupational Therapy Handwriting Warm Up Exercises

The Best and Quickest Handwriting Warm Up Exercises, 90 Seconds or Less

This first list of handwriting warm up exercises is a great sequence that’s nice and quick to go through with your kids.  It’s important to start with the large muscles in the core and the shoulders, then move to the smaller muscles.

Some of the stretching exercises also provide proprioceptive sensory input to the arms and hands.  This is a great way to provide motor feedback and increase awareness in young children.  

You can also reinforce proper pencil grip during the last exercise (pencil walks) on the list below.  

Quick Handwriting Warm Up Exercises:  

  • Place Feet Flat on the Floor
  • Sit Tall (on Front Edge of Chair if Needed)
  • Stretch Arms High Above Head – 5 seconds
  • Place Arms Out to the Sides for Slow Arm Circles – 10 forward, 10 backward
  • Squeeze Hands into Fists – 5 seconds
  • Push Palms Together – 5 seconds
  • Touch Thumb to Each Fingertip (index to pinky, then pinky to index)
  • Pencil Walks- 4 to 6
    • Hold pencil in the air above the desk or table in a ready to write position
    • Walk or shift the pads of the thumb, index finger and middle finger up the pencil all the way to the eraser and then back down to the tip

Practice this sequence at school before a writing task or at home before completing homework.

Fine Motor Exercises Using Just a Pencil

If you like the Pencil Walks described above and have a little extra time, here are some more to add to them. 

Pencils are such an easy and convenient way to practice dexterity and in-hand manipulation skills.  They’re always handy and they’re a great warm-up exercise for writing.  

I’ll often have kids practice quick pencil exercises to get the fingers moving during our occupational therapy sessions.  I’ve had a few tell me that they practice these on their own when listening to the teacher in the classroom! 

It’s important to have kids hold the pencil out in the air above the top of the desk or table so that they’re not tempted to use the table to help with the exercises.  Sometimes I also have them hold their other hand behind their back so it’s not tempted to help move the pencil.  

They practice these three movements with the pencil in one hand (check out the image for visual directions):

  • Pencil Walks – hold the pencil at the bottom near the tip in a “ready to write position.”  Fingers shift all the way up to the eraser and then straight back down the pencil.  The wrist should remain in the same position as the pencil moves down and up.
  • Pencil Walkovers – kids walk the fingers up to the eraser, flip it upside down so that the eraser is now at the bottom.  Then, they shift their fingers and walk back up to the lead end.  Continue walking up, turning and walking up.  Up to the eraser, turn, up to the tip, turn, up to the eraser, turn, up to the tip, etc!
    • (Note: these are also called pencil flips, but I’ve had a handful of students who try to literally flip the pencil into the air.  Renaming it “walkovers” has eliminated the flying, airborne pencils!)
  • Pencil Cartwheels (Pencil Twirls) – the fingers hold the pencil in the middle and flip it end over end to make it spin.  Have kids try clockwise and counterclockwise movements.

Encourage kids to take their time.  It’s better to move slowly with control so they don’t drop the pencil.  Once they gain control, THEN they can try to go faster or even race each other!

Pencil Handwriting Warm Up Exercises

Fine Motor Exercises Using Pencil & Paper

The three previous exercises are quick and easy to practice in the air with just the pencil.  

If you have scrap paper or room on a worksheet that can have extra doodling on it, try any or all of these next exercises.  They will help improve hand dexterity and fine motor control for printing and writing.  

Many of these can also be used with older students to help decrease the size of writing if it’s still too large for their age.  

  • Pencil Push-Ups – student holds a pencil with the pencil tip on the paper.  The hand and wrist are still and only the fingers move. (It sometimes helps to have them use their helper hand to hold their wrist still.)  They straighten and bend their fingers to make straight lines, as LONG in length as they can without moving their wrist. 
  • Pencil Infinity Loops – similar to push-ups but follow a Lazy 8 / infinity loop pattern.  (Click the link for more directions.)  Kids keep the hand and wrist still and only move the fingers as far as they can to make the infinity loop.  
  • Circle & Erase Dots – students make 10-20 small dots in a straight line across scrap paper.  They circle the first dot, then perform a Pencil Walkover to erase the second dot.  Then another Pencil Walkover to circle, walkover to erase.  They continue to circle and erase the line of dots to functionally practice the Walkovers. 
    • *Make sure kids only use their writing hand to hold and turn the pencil.  And don’t let them press on the top of the table to help push their fingers to the end of the pencil. Encourage kids to make small circles around the dots.
  • Counterclockwise Bubble Fill-Ins – students draw 5-10 counterclockwise circles the size of the pencil eraser.  They use a continuous counterclockwise swirling motion inside the circle to fill it in.
  • Mini-Shapes and Patterns – students draw 10-20 small squares the size of the eraser.  To keep it simple, they can draw an X inside each square.  Make it a direction-following game by adding patterns with other shapes or letters.  For example, have them draw “X, triangle, Z” in a continuous pattern inside each drawn squares. Or try a different pattern such as “circle, X, S.”
  • Trace Pictures – students use their provided learning worksheet and trace the pictures, designs, or borders on the page.  This is great for visual motor skills and pencil control. 

Occupational Therapy Writing Warm Ups

Additional Fine Motor Skill Exercises & Writing Activities

Did you enjoy these helpful exercises?   Would you like a little more OT in your kids’ learning day?  Check out…

Dexterity in the Hands – 43 In-Hand Manipulation Activities and Games to Improve Handwriting 

Pencil Pressure During Writing Tasks: Are There Force Modulation Problems?

Form Letters Properly with These 9 Helpful Tips

School-Based OT

Amy Hathaway MOT, OTR/L, CIMI-2 is a licensed and registered occupational therapist.  She is the founder of Develop Learn Grow. 

Amy has 22 years of experience as a pediatric occupational therapist.   She enjoys collaborating with teachers, parents, therapists, administrators, and support staff in preschools & schools, as well as coaching and guiding parents of infants and toddlers in their homes.

She is married and has three children.  Click to read Amy’s bio.  

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