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Ask the Experts

My Kindergartner Refuses to Write or Draw

By Debra Collins, Family therapist

Question:

My child refuses to write his name or make any attempt at drawing pictures. When given a pencil, crayons and paper he just makes small marks in the same place until there is a hole in the paper. He just says, "I can't."

Answer:

The first place to start with any kindergartner is to determine school readiness. Most schools recommend that before starting school a child can:

  • Copy simple shapes
  • Cut with scissors
  • Color pictures
  • Use building toys (like blocks)
  • Draw a person with at least six body parts
  • Lace shoes, tie knots, and button a coat (Thanks to Velcro and zippers, it now takes kids longer to learn these skills.)
  • Pick up and fit objects (like puzzle pieces) together with ease.
  • Hold crayons, markers and pencils properly.
  • Demonstrate age appropriate behavior such as hygiene and toilet skills.
  • Be able to express needs appropriately, follow directions and display social skills.

A child need not be proficient at all these tasks but should show mastery of many. If writing is new for him, he might be feeling overwhelmed. One-on-one time with his teacher might help him develop his fine motor skills. Using markers before moving to a pencil may help because it requires less coordination.

A fun exercise to do at home is the "squiggle game." You and your child each choose a different color marker and then you "chase" him (and his marker) on a piece of paper. When the page is filled with squiggles, ask him if he sees is a shape or object among the squiggles. If he does, have him point to it, then outline the figure in a different color marker. The idea is to have fun and lower his anxiety, before moving on to print letters. There is a learning disability called dysgraphia that affects written expression. Individuals have difficulty organizing letters, numbers and words on a line or page. Some early signs in young children are:

  • Tight, awkward pencil grip and body position
  • Avoiding writing or drawing tasks
  • Difficulty forming letters shapes

If this issue does not resolve itself, the learning specialist at school could test him for dysgraphia.

If your son was able to draw before kindergarten and his reluctance to draw is a new behavior, he might be anxious about his performance. Kindergarten is a hard adjustment for some children, and his teacher or school counselor may be able to help you coordinate a plan to lessen his anxiety. Highlighting a child's strengths is often a good first step.


Debra Collins is a licensed marriage and family therapist and has worked in both primary and middle schools as a school counselor. She gives workshops to teachers and students and offers parenting classes in the San Francisco Bay Area. To learn more, visit her website.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.

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