Christmas Fun That Develops Handwriting Skills and No Pencil!

Salt Dough 1

Handwriting skills don’t start with pencil and paper they begin with earlier play opportunities. Using play-dough type modelling materials is great for developing hand and finger strength, bilateral coordination, sensory perception and for learning and perfecting different grips for using tools.

Salt Dough

So, why not make some great salt dough Christmas gifts and tree decorations with your child. Not only will they melt the hearts of those who receive them but you will be developing your child’s fine motor skills (needed for good handwriting) while having fun, can’t be bad!

Go to our ‘More fun handwriting activities’ page (http://bit.ly/2kyeo3w ) in our Resources section for a salt dough recipe, that I have found good to use with children, and just download the ‘Salt Dough Modelling’ pdf (http://bit.ly/2Y9pVcn ).

Paper Position & Tilt are Important for Good Handwriting

paper position 1

The correct paper position and tilt enables your child to handwrite comfortably while being able to see what they are writing. It also allows the non-writing hand to move the paper up the table so that the writing hand elbow can stay in the same position. The aim is to have the paper move up the table, rather than the writing hand moving down and eventually off the table.

As a class teacher I noticed that by the time children were about 8 or 9 years old it was very difficult to encourage them to move the paper up the table as they wrote. They would very often move their writing hand down the table, keeping the paper still, struggling to write properly as their hand hung over the edge of the table. Bad habits start early and can be difficult to change; good paper position and paper movement training at an early age can make such a difference to a child’s handwriting ability.

So why is paper position and tilt often ignored when teaching handwriting?

Maybe it is because experts disagree on what is the most appropriate paper tilt for right and left-handed writers. As there is no clear guidance people become uncomfortable about giving advice and so brush over the value of angling the paper for handwriting.

The most appropriate paper tilt angle is generally suggested as anywhere between 20 to 45 degrees anti-clockwise for right-handed writers and 30 to 45 degrees clockwise for left-handed writers.

For more tips and advice on developing a good paper tilt angle checkout this section of our website: http://bit.ly/2QSssWQ

Why do Children Fidget or Appear Bored When Handwriting?

Boy writng head leaning on handBoy writing with head on table

There are two key elements that can cause a child to fidget or appear bored when handwriting, both relate to being able to sit correctly:

  1. The height of the table and chair (http://bit.ly/2Oq29nP)
  2. The child’s physical core strength (http://bit.ly/2D1RKKs)

Table and Chair Height

A poor and uncomfortable sitting position that causes a child to fidget and wriggle about affects their ability to concentrate and pay attention; for example, when listening to a teacher, as well as distracting them from the task and breaking their train of thought. It also puts unnecessary strain on the body, making sitting tasks such as handwriting more tiring.

When a child is sitting on a chair too high for them they may sit swinging their legs, causing the body to rock slightly. They might wrap their legs around the legs of the chair to stop them aching, which is not good for their circulation and can cause them to lean back away from the table top. Some children will sit with their legs underneath their bottom which often causes them to lean too far over the table due to being off balance, once again not good for their circulation or for handwriting and other fine motor skill activities such as eating or drawing.

If a table is too high for a child they will have their arms raised too high, causing tension in the upper arms and shoulders or they may rest their head on the table. Both have a profound effect on a child’s ability to handwrite with fluidity, comfort and for any period of time. Another result of this is a child fidgets as they try to readjust their position to get comfortable, which in turn distracts them from the task at hand.

For tips and ideas on how to help a child develop a good sitting posture and position for handwriting check out our ‘Sitting’ section on the website.

Sitting and Core Strength

We often see children slouched over a desk, laying their head on the table or with their head propped up by their hand and arm, or fidgeting about while they are sitting at the desk writing. This can look as if they are bored and disinterested in what they are doing. However this is not generally the case.

A poor posture position is not always due to boredom or incorrect chair and table height. For some children it is a lack of body strength or core muscle tone (the large muscle groups that control shoulder stability and the trunk of the body) that work to enable us to sit and stand upright for sustained periods of time.

We expect our children to sit at a desk for long periods of time at school. To be able to maintain a good sitting position for writing over any length of time requires good core strength. Those who lack strong core strength tend to slouch over the desk, lay their head on the desk, hold their head in their hand or pull their chair in so far that they can rest their tummy on the edge of the table to help them keep a more upright position.

This is bad for them, as it puts unnecessary strain on the body, causing neck or backache and discomfort, which in turn make them fidget as they try to get comfortable. All this can distract them from the task in hand and limit their handwriting ability as it reduces their hand and fingers movements to handwrite freely.

For more information, games and activities on developing a child’s core strengths check out the Key Strengths section of our website.

The Five Stages of Pencil Grip Development

There are 5 developmental stages, that a child needs to go through, before they can successfully use a mature tripod grip. They need to work through each stage and as their hand, shoulder and arm strength and mobility increases so does the ability to move to the next developmental stage of the grip.

Stage 1. Palmer-supinate grasp

Stage 1

Holds the crayon/pencil in fist (whole hand) like a dagger. They use whole arm movements from the shoulder to mark-make. Due to this whole arm movement they prefer to work on a vertical surface.

 

 

Stage 2. Palmer or digital-pronate grasp

Stage 2

Holds a crayon/pencil with the palm of the hand facing down towards the paper. The crayon/pencil is held by all finger and the thumb. The movement comes from the shoulder and elbow. Again, due to the way the arm moves a vertical surface is preferred.

 

 

Stage 3. Four finger and thumb grip

Stage 3

Holds the crayon/pencil between the thumb and four fingers with the crayon/pencil nearly vertical up right position. Movement comes from the elbow and wrist.

 

 

Stage 4. Static Quadruped or tripod grip

Stage 4

Holds the pencil in very nearly in the correct position however the web space is narrower than it would be if held in a mature tripod grip. This means that the movement is coming from the wrist and large finger movements.

 

 

Stage 5. Mature/Dynamic tripod grip

This is traditionally considered the most appropriate pencil grip for handwriting. Holding the pencil between the thumb and index finger with pencil supported on the middle finger. The ring and little fingers are gently curled inwards. This give an open wide web space which means the movement comes from the fingers.

 

For more information on the five stage of pencil grip development click on the following link: http://bit.ly/2YFfqMp

Transferring handwriting skills from worksheets to paper

Worksheet Colours 2

At Teach Handwriting our aim is to move children off of worksheets as soon as possible. To achieve this, it is important to encourage them to transfer their skills to plain or lined paper whichever is most appropriate to their ability level. We realise that it is not always possible to buy paper with the appropriate line height in all cases, so would recommend creating your own on the computer.

  • Use a combination of worksheets and lined paper in each handwriting session with your child:
  1. Use the colour worksheet, or a grey scale version, and complete one or two rows.
  2. Then encourage the child to try the same patterns or letters on appropriately lined paper, again try one or two rows only.

Hopefully the worksheet will last over a couple of handwriting sessions and you and the child will see an improvement over the time. The sooner they learn to transfer their skills to paper the better.

We realise that printing off our worksheets and coloured lined paper can become costly so, to help reduce the costs:

  • Use a colour version of the appropriate worksheet initially and then try printing in grey scale. Children usually make the adjustment to grey scale well once they are used to how the picture clues and colours work.
  • You could also use the grey scale worksheets and colour the start of each row with the appropriate colour.

The Best Type of Paper for Teaching Handwriting

paper types 1

Just as the writing tool used by your child changes as they develop, so does the paper they write on.

Informal Pre-handwriting Pattern and Initial Letter Development

If your child is just starting out on the handwriting adventure then any type of plain paper (no ruled lines) is considered the best option, as many children find it less restrictive.

Young children, due to the stage of their physical development, use large movements to draw (from the shoulder rather than the wrist) which often creates larger shapes and lines; you don’t want to restrict this movement as it can cause handwriting difficulties later. As their gross and fine motor skills develop so does their pencil grip and ability to draw and write at a smaller scale, moving more from the shoulder to elbow and wrist.

Formal Pre-handwriting Pattern and Letter Development

When your child is ready to refine their pre-handwriting pattern skills, or move on to forming letters, it is a good idea to use plain paper. The aim at this stage is to learn how to form the letters correctly, not size or neatness as that comes later.

Before moving to lined paper, to help your child begin to appreciate letter proportions and positioning, paper with picture clues can be used.

On our website the free writing paper and animations reinforce the idea of letter proportions and positioning by splitting the backgrounds into three colour zones to represent the sky, grass and earth. There are a number of reasons why this can be beneficial:

  • It can create a sub-conscious memory in your child’s mind of where particular letters sit in relation to others without the constraints of lines or obvious boundaries, especially as the picture can be any size. Children remember where to place the sun, grass or worms in their drawings; so why not letters?
  • It can be easier to talk through the formation of how a shape or letter is formed with pictorial and colour clues to guide and inform the direction of the movements required.
  • As your child’s fine motor skills develop so the size of the picture/colour clues can be reduced to match their progress.

As your child’s fine motor skills develop it enables them to form smaller more refined versions of the letters and this is when it is more appropriate to use lined paper.

Joins A & W 2

To download different line heights of our picture and coloured coded paper, scroll to the bottom of our ‘Handwriting Animations and Worksheets Page’: http://bit.ly/2F9P7cI

Why do young children love to draw on walls?

Artist with easel

Young children love drawing on walls due to the stage of their physical development. They draw from the shoulder, rather than the elbow and wrist, using large arm movements. At this stage they prefer vertical drawing and painting surfaces as it allows a free range of movements. This is why they will write on walls (often newly decorated), not because they are meaning to be naughty but because it just feels comfortable and so more enjoyable.

Drawing and writing on a vertical surface is important at this stage as it helps young children develop the wrist strength and flexibility they will need later on to hold a pencil correctly for handwriting.

The jump from a vertical to a horizontal writing surface can seem too great for some children; due to their stage of development. If they are still using some large whole arm and/or big elbow movements then they may benefit from the paper being positioned on a sloped board.

If you are not sure whether a child needs a sloped board for handwriting, instead of buying a specialist board, you could make one. Try using a ring binder or lever arch file stuffed with magazines and newspaper to make a sloped board. Tape the edges to stop the papers falling out; you could cover it in sticky back plastic to give a smoother finish to the board. The advantage of this is that you can make them to any angle of slope. Try a few to see which, if any, your child prefers.

A homemade sloped board is just as effective as a bought one. Often a child only requires one for a short amount of time and quickly moves to writing on a horizontal surface. For a few children a sloped surface may be required for a few years, or indefinitely, in which case a purpose bought sloped writing board is a sounder investment.

Handwriting Really Starts with Play

Messy paly 1

Learning to handwrite does not start with pen and paper but through play, as children explore shape and motion (how the body moves) through their senses – touch, sight and body awareness. Play is such an important element of your child’s physical, emotional, social and academic development.

It is through play that you can really engage your child in learning how to correctly form pre-handwriting patterns and letters (the start points, orientation, directional movements and finish points).

Our non-pencil – ‘Big to Small’ activities are an easy fun way to start developing these skills early on through play: http://bit.ly/2AaX8sk

Young children love seeing their name so it is a great way to introduce letter formation; here are some other fun ideas:

  • This activity can be done indoors on large sheets of paper or using chalk on a path or patio (the beach is also a great place to do this). Write your child’s name very big and make a mark on each letter that represents a start point (an arrow showing the direction of travel can also help). Remember to use a capital letter for the first letter of their name and we would suggest lower case letters for the remaining letters. Use the letters as a track for racing cars or toys. If you make the letters big enough your child could walk, hop, jump or skip around the letters. To help them remember the letters, once they have finished a letter, encourage them to say that letter‘s alphabet name (NOT a sound the letter can make).
  • Collect stones, twigs, leaves, etc… Use them to make the letters of your child’s name. They may only make one or two of the letters, before making a hedgehog house, nest or den for their toys becomes more interesting, but this does not matter, it is all part of the adventure.
  • Feely bag games are a fun way to explore shape and form. Try placing the letters of your child’s name into a bag or box they cannot see into. It is useful to talk through the letter shapes beforehand so they can see them as they move them about in their hands; then place them in the bag. Ask them to put their hands in (both hands if possible, but if not, then use the dominant hand) the bag, picks up a letter, feels it, identifies it and pulls it out to check only AFTER identifying it. If correct, they get to “keep” it, if wrong, you get to “keep” it. The winner is the one with the most letters at the end. For some children it can help to have another set of the letters outside the bag to help them identify the shape they are handling in the bag. Again encourage them to use the alphabet name of the letter.
  • Play-dough, clay and Plasticine activities are great for developing hand strength for handwriting and learning how to form letter shapes.

Your child will love these sort of activities as they see it as just playing and they get your undivided attention. You will enjoy it as you are sharing quality time with your child helping them to develop more than just their letter formation ability but also their communication and social skills.

Learning through play is a powerful way of supporting your child’s development. So have fun and play!

The Third Stage to Handwriting Success – Joining

Joins A & W 2

Here at Teach Handwriting we believe that a child is only ready to start learning to join their handwriting when:

  • They have learnt to form all 26 lower case letters correctly
  • Letters are of a consistent and suitable size (not necessarily the perfect size, remember big is beautiful)
  • Letters are positioned appropriately on the writing line as well as in relation to one another.

Children generally begin to join letters between the ages of 6 to 7 years old, depending on the handwriting font style being taught. Those taught a continuous cursive font style from the beginning tend to join much earlier due to the nature of this font (for some by the end of their Reception Year).

Children do not need to be able to remember how to correctly form all their capital letters before they are taught how to join their letters. This is because capital letters never join to the lower case letters in a word. However, for these children correct capital letter formation needs to be taught alongside the introduction of letter joins.

We would recommend teaching joins in join type groups, whether your child has learnt cursive or continuous cursive single letter fonts.

Teaching the join types in their groups helps a child to understand the directional pushes and pulls required to successfully join the different letter combinations.

We would recommend teaching the bottom joins first, then the top exit to ‘e’ join and finally the top exit letter joins.

For our free join animations and worksheets: http://bit.ly/2F9P7cI

For tips to support the teaching of joins check out our Teaching Tips section:  http://bit.ly/2AaX8sk

The Second Stage to Handwriting Success – Single Letter Formation

Letter Formation 2

Last week we explained that pre-handwriting patterns are the first stage of learning to handwrite. Once a child has mastered theses, they are ready to start learning how to form letters.

But where do you start?

Our view is to focus on lower-case letters first and only the capital letters for the first letter in a child’s, examples: Peter Rabbit, Sally Green, George Blue or Mary Shell.

Why?

  • One reason is that about 95% of what children write, and are exposed to, is in a lower-case form and only 5% in capital.
  • Lower-case letters are far less complicated, requiring fewer pencil lifts to complete the letters.
  • As both lower-case and capital letters require a child to form curved lines, a skill which most children have to practise, writing lower-case letters is no more difficult than writing capitals.
  • In a young child’s writing all the letters are initially the same size, whether they are capitals or lower case; it is part of the normal developmental path of handwriting. So, the view that teaching capitals letters is easier because they are bigger is not true.
  • Young children who have learnt mostly capital letters first find it difficult to stop, as it is so ingrained into the memory, often using them half way through words and sentences. Even when they are older this inappropriate use of capitals creeps back into their work especially if they are tired or concentrating hard on composing their work.

A child’s first major achievement, in their eyes, is to write their name. So, although concentrating on lower-case letters, teach them how to form the capital letter for the first letters of their name to get them excited about handwriting.

As they master the lower-case letters introduce the remainder of the capital letters. It is important that both are taught so that a child can develop a speedy, fluid and legible handwriting style.

Free Letter Formation Animations & Worksheets: http://bit.ly/2F9P7cI