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.
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
Handwriting skills don’t start with pencil and paper they begin with earlier play opportunities. Play-dough type modelling, finger painting or printing activities are great for developing hand and finger strength, bi-lateral coordination and sensory perception. They are also useful activities for learning and perfecting different grips for using tools.
So why not make some great 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!
On our Free Activities page in our Resources section you will find a number of fun ideas for crafty gift ideas.
Research in recent years by psychologists, educationalists and neuroscientists has found that older children, with better handwriting skills showed greater neural activity in areas associated with working memory (used for planning, ideas generation and composition skills for written work).
Due to the way that our working memory functions the handwriting process can impact on the quality of the work. For instance, those who have poor handwriting ability use a disproportionate amount of their working memory capacity in recalling and forming the letters, effectively blocking the higher level composition process (Gathercole, Pickering, Knight & Stegmann 2004, cited Medwell et al. 2007).
This is because children with fluent handwriting skills have developed an automotive (instant, subconscious) ability to recall and reproduce letter patterns, making handwriting a lower level process within their working memory.
This would suggest that learning to handwrite with accuracy, fluidity, speed and legibility is a vital goal if we want our children to reach their true potential. Learning to join letters is therefore an important step to achieving this. Once handwriting has been mastered a child can focus more effectively on the composition and structure of the piece, which requires planning and logical thought processes, so that the plot or argument can be fully explored and presented.
Here at Teach Handwriting we also recognise that for some SEND children learning to join their handwriting may not be a logical option. However this does not mean that using a single letter font style stops them from handwriting with accuracy, fluidity, speed and legibility (though it may never be as fast as a joined font).
Medwell. J, Wray. D: Handwriting: what do we know and what do we need to know, Literacy Vol. 41, No 1, April 2007.
We would recommend the same approach to joining letters whether your child has learnt cursive or continuous cursive single letter fonts; teaching the joins in join type groups.
Teaching the join types in their groups helps a child to understand the directional push and pulls required to successfully join the different letter combinations.
There are 4 main groups of letter joins; bottom joins, bottom to “c” shape joins, “e” joins (top and bottom join strokes) and top joins.
Moving from Cursive Single Letters to Joining
There are seven join strokes to be taught Most children will find the bottom joins the easiest to achieve, as it only requires the extension of the exit stroke they already put on the letters. The bottom to “c” shape joins can be tricky at first but soon mastered. The joins that tend to cause the most confusion and difficulty are the “e” joiners and top exit joiners.
I would recommend teaching the bottom joins first, then the ‘e’ joins and finally the top exit letter joins.
Moving from Continuous Cursive Single Letters to Joining
There are three join strokes to be taught. The easiest is the bottom exit letters (the majority of the letters), all a child has to do is write the letters closer together without lifting their pencil off the paper. Only the top to “e” and top joiners need to be taught for continuous cursive, as the nature of the font style means that the lead-in and exit strokes needed to join the majority of letter combinations have already been taught.
I would recommend teaching the bottom joins first, then the top exit to ‘e’ join and finally the top exit letter joins.
For more information about the letter join type groups and links to supporting animations check out our ‘How to Join Letters of the Alphabet’: http://bit.ly/1y0Haf7
and ‘Tips For Teaching How to Join Letters When Handwriting’: http://bit.ly/1Iv1g5Q
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.
The ultimate aim is for a child to develop a good handwriting style; which means;
- They can produce and maintain a good speed
- Have a fluid hand movement that is comfortable
- Letters are of a consistent and appropriate size, positioned correctly
- Handwriting is legible (so others can read it easily).
For some children (mainly SEND pupils) this may mean that they will always print or use a single letter form of writing as learning to join is just not appropriate. But that does not mean they will not comply with the bullet points above.
Surprisingly there are few differences when teaching left and right handed children to handwrite. A left handed child needs a slightly different pencil grip, and needs to hold the pencil slightly higher up the shaft, as well as a different paper position and tilt. Some left handed children do find handwriting challenging to start with because they naturally want to draw straight lines right to left rather than left to right.
If you find your left handed writers are struggling with learning to handwriting I would recommend you try the following:
You may also find our ‘Teaching Handwriting to a Left Handed Child: Tips for Right Handed People’ useful: https://www.teachhandwriting.co.uk/teaching-left-handed-writers-tips.html
Many people think that Cursive is just short for Continuous Cursive. In fact they are two different handwriting fonts.
- The letters start at different points.
- The finishing points for all the letters is the writing line; except for, o, r, v and w, which have a top exit stroke.
- The single letter formations are taught with just the exit strokes.
- The starting point for all the letters is the same; on the writing line.
- The finishing points for all the letters is also at the writing line; except for, o, r, v and w, which have a top exit stroke.
- The single letter formations are taught with the entry and exit strokes, this makes the transition from single letter formation to joined handwriting very straightforward and allows it to occur sooner.
Get free animations and worksheets for all our fonts letters and numbers by clicking through to the Letters page on our website: http://bit.ly/2yJf27x
The swirls, curves and spiral movements of fireworks are a great way to practise the curve shapes and patterns needed for forming letters.
Try using black paper and chalks to create vivid firework pictures and, to give them extra sparkle, add a little glitter.
Chalk provides a little more resistance than pencil or pen, giving your child slightly more control over their movements. This is because it can slow down the drawing and so help them focus more intently on the movements needed to create the shape and pattern. The benefit of the greater resistance and a slower pace is that it helps to commit the shape formation to memory, making it easier to form the same shapes again at a later stage, such as when handwriting.
Look at pictures, photos and video clips of fireworks to help inspire the drawing, talk through how the fireworks sound and move through the sky.
For a list of words to help describe the sounds of Bonfire Night check out this week’s Teach Phonics Blog.
Have fun and enjoy!
Young children, due to the stage of their physical development, draw from the shoulder rather than the elbow and wrist using large arm movements. At this stage they often prefer vertical drawing and painting surfaces as it allows a free range of movements. This is often why young children will write on walls, not because they are being 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. These children 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, the 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 more sound investment.