Why it is Important to Teach Correct Letter Formation


It can often be assumed children will pick up how to write letters if they see them often enough (by osmosis). This is just not the case.  Correct letter formation has to be taught. Seeing a completed letter or word or watching it be typed up and appear on a screen does not show children how to form the letters.

For children to develop a good handwriting style it is important to learn how to form letters correctly to begin with as this makes the transition from single letter formation to joined letter handwriting much easier. This enables them to develop a speedy, fluid and legible handwriting style.

Letters are created through joining lines and curve shapes in a particular way. They have a designated start point and set directional pushes and pulls of the pencil to reach the designated finish point. This is why at Teach Handwriting we teach letter formation in groups/families rather than in alphabetical order. Certain groups use the same, or similar, shape and directional push and pulls of the pencil to form the letter, for instance the letter c has the same start point and anti-clockwise directional movement shape that is needed to create the letters a, d, g, o and, though a little more complicated, the letters s and e. Teaching letters in groups and families can also help to limit letter reversals such as b and d.

Due to how handwriting has or hasn’t been taught over the generations means that we all have our own way of handwriting. When supporting and teaching young children we need to develop a consistent approach so that they do not get confused or frustrated by adults giving them conflicting information.

For parents this means finding out from your child’s school which letter font they are teaching so that you can support them more effectively at home. This may mean that you have to learn a new way of writing some letters. This also applies to teachers and teaching assistants. As the adults in the situation we have to accept that it is for us to make the changes. Just because something is different from the way we were taught, or do it, doesn’t mean it is wrong it is just different!

Our letter animations are not just to support children with their learning but also to provide parents and teachers (all adults really) with the knowledge and support to help children develop a consistent handwriting style.

Does Your Child Have Weak Hands?

mass of handsEarlier this week we highlighted a few of the articles that reported on the fact that children struggle to hold pencils correctly for handwriting and drawing. The reason for this is based on our children’s use of technology and the effect this has on their hand strength and finger dexterity (Fine Motor Skills). Here at Teach Children we have been warning of this for some years now.

Poor fine motor skills and hand strength not only affects a child’s ability to learn and develop a good handwriting style it can make other grip patterns difficult to master as well. Power, precision, stability or a combination of all three are needed by children to compete everyday tasks, such as dressing, picking up and carrying objects (especially small items), using a knife & fork, other tools and scissor skills.

To assess your child’s hand, finger strength and dexterity check out our assessment page: http://bit.ly/1xDGECK

To improve their overall hand and finger strength check out our hand and finger strength and dexterity games:  http://bit.ly/2FejIVy

Learning to hold a pencil in an appropriate grip is not the only grip style your child needs to develop, especially once they have started school. They will need to develop those which enable them to effectively use scissors as well as a knife and fork. If your child struggles with these activities it may be that they need to be taught how to form the grips correctly (as bad habits develop quickly and are difficult to change) or develop the appropriate hand and finger skills.

How to Hold Scissors


The tip of the thumb is in the top hole of the scissor handle while the tip of the middle finger is in the bottom hole. The index finger is on the bottom edge of the lower handle supporting and stabilising the scissors. The ring and little finger are curled into the palm (except if you are using large scissors as then they will fit in the bottom hole of the handle with the middle finger, to help create the cutting action).

The non-cutting hand should support the paper or item being cut; the thumb is on top of the paper and the fingers underneath, steadying and moving the paper.

How to Hold a Knife & Fork

The handle of the knife or fork lies diagonally across the top section of the palm. The ring and little finger wrap around the handle, the thumb sits on the side of the handle, while the index finger sits flat and straight on the back of the handle. The middle finger curls slightly around the handle so that when the wrist twists round, so that the knife blade edge or prongs of the fork are facing down towards the plate, the handle rests on the top middle finger joint area.

The Five Common Stages of Play Development

Kids Playing

Last week we discussed the five types of play necessary to support your children’s physical, intellectual, social and emotional growth and well-being. Here we explain the five common stages of play so that you can better understand your child’s play development and how best to support them through play.

The Five Common Stages of Play:

Watching – A child watches what others are doing but does not join in, they are purely an onlooker.

Solitary Play – They play on their own without regard, or need for others, and enjoy independent activities that do not require others to participate.

Parallel Play– This is when they play near others but do not interact with them, even if they are using the same play materials.

Associative Play – When children play in small groups with no defined rules or assigned roles.

Co-operative Play – Is when children work together in building projects, or pretend play, assigning roles for each member of the group.

Children are all so different and the length of time they spend at each stage varies greatly because of this; but they all find their way in time.

The physical strengths and skills developed through different play experiences build the key strengths, flexibility, co-ordination and dexterity skills that children need as they grow.  All these strengths are required to perform everyday activities such as eating, washing and getting dressed. As your child starts school these skill levels need to be supported and refined even further as they face new challenges such as learning to handwrite.

Through play children continue to develop key communication skills including turn taking. There are a whole new set of facial expressions, body language and spoken vocabulary to be learnt and understood as part of play and learning the social conventions of turn taking. For tips and ideas for developing Turn Taking skills follow this link and then click on the light bulb: bit.ly/1STTKY5

You are your child’s first, and most important, playmate. They just love it when you are silly and play games with them; become a pilot, rally car diver or fairy princess for 10 minutes. Can’t remember how? Then let your child show you!

To Play is to Learn

There has been a lot in the press recently about the changes the Government are looking to make to the Early Years curriculum, such as a greater influence on teaching phonics, reading and maths skills (Ofsted’s Bold Beginnings Report). It feels as if they are pushing quite advanced skill sets down in to the Early Years. This seems to be going against the ethos of other countries that are often quoted to us as having exemplary Early Years curriculums. These are using and developing more play structured curriculum approaches; such as Finland (children start school at 7 years old).

We are always being shown how important play is in the development of young animals’ survival and hunting skills. How many times have you thought how cute or lovely when watching kittens, puppies or polar bears playing.

Humans are also animals which thrive and develop through play; in fact play is so important the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights state it as a right for every child (Ginsburg, 2013).

Here at Teach Children we see play as a vital part of a child’s physical, emotional, social and intellectual growth and well-being.

There has been considerable research over the years on play, which supports our point of view, with the consensus being that children need to experience five different types of play. These five types of play are roughly based on the developmental opportunities they provide, especially if it is child driven rather than adult lead:

Physical Play – active exercise (running, jumping, skipping etc..), rough & tumble and fine motor skills activities to develop whole body and hand and eye co-ordination strength and endurance. The outdoor element of such play develops independence, resourcefulness and self-regulation while the fine motor skills activities support the development of concentration and perseverance.

Play with Objects – starts as soon as a child can grasp and hold an object; mouthing, biting, turning, stroking, hitting and dropping. It’s how we all learn through the exploration of our senses (sensory-motor play). This type of play develops our abilities to; physically manipulate items, think, reason and problem solve, to set challenges and goals as well as to monitor our own progress.

Symbolic Play – refers to the development of spoken language, visual symbols such as letters and numbers, music, painting, drawing and other media used for communication of thought and ideas. This type of play allows children to develop the abilities to express and reflect on experience, ideas and emotions. Sound and language play develops phonological awareness required for literacy, while number play that relates to real life situations supports numeracy skills.

Pretence/socio-dramatic Play – Pretend play provides the opportunity to develop cognitive, social, self-regulatory and academic skills. This kind of play means children have to learn and pick up on unspoken rules of interaction, taking on the role of a character and playing within the expected confines of that role.

Games with Rules – physical games such as chase, hide & seek, sport, board and computer games. Develop social skills and the emotional skills of taking turns, winning and losing as well as other people’s perspectives.

(Dr.D Whitebread, 2012)

Here are some articles from home and around the world I thought you may find interesting that support and highlight the importance of play in learning:


Kenneth R. Ginsburg, MD, MSEd, 25/07/2013; ‘The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds’: THE AMERICAN ACADEMY OF PEDIATRICS: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/119/1/182.full

Dr.D. Whitebread, April 2012: ‘The Importance of Play’; Commissioned for the Toy Industries of Europe:  http://www.importanceofplay.eu/IMG/pdf/dr_david_whitebread_-_the_importance_of_play.pdf


Children need Joined Handwriting to Pass the Key Stage 2 Writing Assessments

Cursive igh join tall

Primary schools preparing their children for this year’s Key Stage 2 writing assessments have to take into account new government changes made to the “Teacher assessment frameworks at the end of key stage 2 For use in the 2017 to 2018”.

Helen Ward’s TES article (05/02/18) “Sats: Most teachers say writing assessment will not produce accurate results” highlights some of the concerns and confusion teacher have following the changes.

For instance,

“The changes mean that some of the elements of writing that children had to show last year are no longer necessary to meet the expected standard.

But, while children could meet the expected standard without neat handwriting last year, now they must “maintain legibility in joined handwriting when writing at speed”.”  H. Ward (05/02/18)


Helen Ward: TES article (05/02/18) “Sats: Most teachers say writing assessment will not produce accurate results”: https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-news/sats-most-teachers-say-writing-assessment-will-not-produce-accurate

Standard & Testing Agency 2017 “Teacher assessment frameworks at the end of key stage 2 For use in the 2017 to 2018”: Electronic version product code: STA/17/7957/e ISBN: 978-1-78644-414-1: download at www.gov.uk/government/publications.

The Advantages of Handwritten Notes


Making NotesBack in December 2014 we wrote about some research by the psychologists Pam A. Mueller and Daniel M. Oppenheimer that investigated the effect of using laptops for taking notes in classrooms.

The findings of the research are interesting, they found that students who handwrote their notes, rather than just typed them into a laptop, in the class learned and retained more information.

Their conclusion was that because handwriting notes was slower, this accelerated the learning process.

There are a number of reasons for this:

  • Because you cannot handwrite every word that is being said in a lesson, you have to decide what notes to take. So you highlight what is important, make links/connections and note anything not really understood (questions). To do this we use critical thinking, engaging the brain with the material. However, if you touch type everything that is being said you do not have to engage or think about what you are typing.
  • Handwriting notes take more effort, this effort is what helps you to commit the material to the memory.
  • These findings are in line with research by other psychologists that state that handwriting engages different parts of the brain which typing doesn’t.

Yesterday I can across this article (http://on.inc.com/2nsDkKu) by Marla Tabaka (Jan 29 2018) which further highlighted the importance of handwritten notes. She writes about Richard Branson’s habit of always using his notebook in meeting and carrying it around with him. This enables him to jot down all the ideas that materialize in a meeting or just random thoughts, whether they are big and complex or small and simple. How often have you forgot what at the time seemed a brilliant idea if you didn’t write it down? It is usually the small ideas that can have the biggest impact.


Marla Tabaka Jan 29th 2018: Richard Branson Says You’ll Be More Successful if You Develop This Daily Habit: https://www.inc.com/marla-tabaka/richard-branson-wont-leave-home-without-this-productivity-tool-and-he-says-you-shouldnt-either.html

Mueller P. A., Oppenheimer D. M.: First Published April 23, 2014: The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking: Phycological Science; http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0956797614524581


Did you miss out on the National Handwriting Day opportunity?

Joins syle sentences

The 23rd January was National Handwriting Day. Looking at our web site visitor numbers and quantity of social media posts there doesn’t seem to have been much support for the day. What a difference to World Book Day!

Was it because we don’t think we can make handwriting exciting and fun? Was it because children, and ourselves for that matter, don’t see the point in handwriting as most communication now involves touching a screen?

Did you know handwriting allows children to do so much more than just record information with paper and pen?

Gentry & Graham (2010) explain in their white paper how handwriting impacts on other important learning processes such as storage and retrieval of information to and from the memory, as well as reinforcing the link between letters and sounds (phonics). The learning of the letters of the alphabet is done through a visual system in the brain which aids letter recognition, the most reliable predictor of future reading success.

Neurological research (Karin James, 2012) has found that young children who learn their letters through visual practice, typing or hearing alone do not show the same benefits in pre-reading skills as those who have handwritten the single letter forms.

Therefore, developing handwriting skills is a key part of learning to read as it helps a child to understand that letters stand for sounds and that sounds are put together to make words. Learning to write letters is an important part of this understanding.

Research has found that those children without an automotive recall (instant, subconscious) of the letter shapes and their formation have their composition restricted (Gathercole, Pickering, Knight & Stegmann 2004, cited Medwell et al. 2007).

There are lots of ways of supporting handwriting, not all of them linked to pen and paper, and so everyday can be a handwriting day if you and the children believe it is important. You don’t have wait until next year!


Gentry.J.R, Graham.S, Fall 2010: Creating Better Readers and Writers: The Importance of Direct Systematic Spelling and Handwriting Instruction in Improving Academic Performance. White Paper-Sapertein Associates.

James T, January 2012, http://homepages.indiana.edu/web/page/normal/20986.html

Medwell. J, Wary. D: Handwriting: what do we know and what do we need to know, Literacy Vol. 41, No 1, April 2007.

The Move from Pencil to Pen

Girl Cartoon Hold Pen

Last week we looked at why pencils, rather than pens, are a good first tool for learning to handwrite.

Children can’t wait however for that magic day when the teacher moves them from pencil to pen. It really is a big moment and means more than just “I can write neatly”, for them it is an acknowledgement of their maturity (growing up) and a status symbol of intellect and ability in their eyes and those of their peers.

Moving from pencil to pen can have a dramatic effect on a child’s confidence and self-esteem.  I have seen how moving a child from pencil to pen can give them a new found confidence and self-belief in their own ability, because I showed my belief in them by making that gesture. They may not have had the perfect font style in pencil but moving to pen did improve their ability to form letters more freely and become more consistent in their formation.

It is difficult to put an age on when a child should move from pencil to pen because every child is different. Schools have different policies on when this should happen, with most tending to make the move at around the age of 8/9 years old. It should really depend on the child’s ability rather than their age, as well as the potential benefits the move may have to confidence and self-esteem.

It does not make sense to keep a child working with pencil until they have a perfect handwriting style because that may never happen. For many a neat, beautiful handwriting style may never be reality.

Advantages of pens:

  • A good quality pen will give an even ink flow.
  • A more consistent hand pressure is required, helping to develop and maintain a fluid handwriting style (reducing hand strain).
  • Fibre tip and roller pens can give the same look and writing experience as a good quality fountain pen, but are far less messy (especially for left handed people).
  • With the right pen everyone’s handwriting can look good, (I love my fountain pen for that reason).


  • Cheap biro pens require a lot of hand pressure and give an inconsistent ink flow (so not very different from pencils).
  • Cheap fountain pens can be scratchy and messy
  • Some schools will insist on using a particular type of pen which is not always good for all.

My tip would be to test a few pen types and weights to find out which ones your child finds the most comfortable and enjoyable to use. I realise this can be an issue if your child’s school insist on one type of pen. But if you can prove your child’s handwriting ability is great with a different style I think it is worth talking to them about it.

Moving from pencil to pen is an important point in a child’s education, affecting their confidence and self-esteem, and like any transition stage it should be approached with thought and care.

Pencil Power

cartoon pencil hold

Why do we use pencils for learning to handwrite?

Modern classrooms use a range of technology, such as interactive white boards, so why are our children still using pencils when learning how to handwrite?

Pencils are a great first tool for learning to handwrite!


  • They come in different widths and lengths.
  • Have different lead thickness and grades (soft to hard) of lead.
  • Provide varying degrees of resistance (depending on lead grade) which slows down the letter formation process enough for young children to have the control required to start to form their letters correctly.
  • As a child develops their handwriting skills to a more fluid handwriting style the pencil type can be easily changed.
  • Cheap and easily accessible.
  • A drawing medium which young children are already comfortable using.


  • Often a one size fits all approach to the pencil type, rather than tailoring to a child’s needs.
  • Difficulty in maintaining a good writing point, results in the child needing to use different levels of pressure, making handwriting hard work.
  • Over use of rubbing out mistakes (wastes time and develops a culture where making a mistake is seen as a failure). Making mistakes is how we learn, it is not failing!

Pencils are practical in School:

  • With pencil, children find it more difficult to write on one another and their clothes.
  • You do not have a whole class of children clicking pens (Velcro is bad enough).
  • Pen lids are not constantly lost or being swallowed.
  • Pencils seem less of a problem when stuck in ears or up the nose.
  • They are cheap.
  • Pencils do not explode, leaving a mess all over the room and any child that happened to be in the room at the time.
  • Time not wasted by trying to suck the ink up out of the pen.

Handwriting is a complicated skill to learn and having the right tools for the job always helps. It is worth spending a little time with children using a range of pencil styles and lead grades to find ones that they find comfortable to use for handwriting. These will be different from those they use for drawing. As their handwriting skills develop so the type and grade of pencil they begin to favour will change.

Warm up For Handwriting!

Front Picture from Hand & finger Assessment  tommy-thumb

Well the festive holidays are over and many of us are back at work and school. So it is time to get back into good habits to set us off right into the New Year!

So, before you try to encourage your little darlings to sit and write, get them to do a few physical handwriting ‘Warm Up Exercises’.  Not only do they help to prepare the hands and fingers for the task ahead, they also help to release any tension that has built up. They are fun to do, which usually brings a smile and often laughter, an added tonic to any learning experience.

The warm up exercises can be accessed through a number of ways:

  • By clicking on the Sun icon on the Letter Formation pages of the website
  • In the Key Strengths section of the website
  • In the Resources section of the website, by clicking on the activities button