Which to Teach First: Capital or Lower-Case Letters?

Once a child has mastered pre-handwriting patterns they are ready to start learning how to form letters, numbers and symbols.

But where do you start?

Our personal view would be to focus on lower-case letters.

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 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/1dqBYFm

Pre-handwriting Patterns – The First Step to Handwriting

Pre-handwriting patterns are the first step in helping a child to learn how to form letters for handwriting. They help the child to learn the shapes and directional pushes and pulls required to form letters. All letters are a combination of these shapes and lines.

Young children can start to learn these patterns through their play, long before they are ready to pick up a pencil, moving toys back and forth across the floor or whirling them around in the air. To a child it is just play and fun, but you are doing something far more powerful and constructive by helping them to develop the motor memory patterns and directional movement skills they will need for handwriting.

Later, as their coordination and gross motor skills develop, they make more controlled and varied movement patterns in their play. Changing directions, speed and size are all prerequisite skills needed for learning pre-handwriting patterns.

These handwriting patterns do not need to be taught as worksheet activities (though they do help to perfect shape and pattern formation), drawing pictures and patterns in sand, paint and with other writing tools are all fun ways to practise.

Teaching the handwriting patterns in groups helps to further develop the specific movements (pushes and pulls) required to form them and help commit them to the motor memory. A child can then recall these motor memories to support them as they begin to form letters.

Once the handwriting patterns have been mastered a child will have the confidence and skills base necessary to start forming letters, numbers and symbols.

Have you got your Free Pre-handwriting Pattern Animations & Worksheets? http://bit.ly/1yibFhm

 

Letter Names & Phonics

Phonics Assessment Pages

On our website, and as part of our Teach Handwriting Scheme, children are taught the letter names. Schools seem to be concerned that this is not consistent with the teaching of phonics.

A myth which seems to have become popular, since the introduction of phonics into schools, is that children should not be taught the alphabet letter names as they find it too confusing. However, there is no evidence to suggest this is true. The Independent review of the teaching of early reading, final report, Jim Rose March 2006 states:

“The teaching of letter names is often left until after the sounds of the letters have been learned, in the belief that it can be confusing for children to have to learn both together. However, research indicates that children often learn letter names earlier than they learn letter sounds and that five year olds who know more letter names also know more letter sounds. The reason for this are not fully understood by researchers’

Given that children will meet many instances outside, as well as within, their settings and schools where letter names are used, it makes sense to teach them within the programme of early phonic work.

It appears that the distinction between a letter name and a letter sound is easily understood by the majority of children.” (Page 26)

Rose, cites Professor Morag Stuart who suggests that:

‘…children expect things to have names and are accustomed to rapidly acquiring the names of things.’ (Independent review of the teaching of early reading’ final report, Jim Rose March 2006, page 27.)

The first thing we want our children to learn to write is their name, however it is impossible to spell many peoples names using a simple phonic code taught to our children. So, how do you teach them to spell their name or common words that do not follow the simple phonics rules? Please do not misunderstand me, I believe that teaching phonics is a very powerful decoding and encoding tool for learning to read and spell, hence our own Teach Phonic website (https://teachphonics.co.uk).

The only logical answer I suggest is to use the letter names until a child has been introduced to the more complex phonics coding system.

Learning the unique letter names of the alphabet is a pre-phonics skill and an early learning goal (Foundation Stage). It has to be remembered that a letter is a shape which only represents a sound when it is placed within a word or sentence.  Also a letter, or combination of letters, can represent more than one sound and so the only unique way of identifying alphabet letters when we talk about them is to use their names.

Learning the correct letter names helps to reinforce that when talking about the letter ‘a’ (ay) for example it has a set shape regardless of the sound that it will be representing in the word. This further supports children’s handwriting development as you unambiguously communicate your requirements.

 

Back to School – Ways to Support Your Child’s Pencil Grip Development

cartoon pencil hold

After the long school summer holiday it is always good to take some time to check your child has not slipped back into some old, poor pencil grip habits.

Here is a recap of the things which may help them if they are still finding it difficult to form and maintain an appropriate pencil grip.

Remember it is important that you do not force a child to use the tripod grip if they are not developmentally ready. Just because they are starting school doesn’t mean they are ready to hold a pencil in the tripod grip for handwriting.

Have they reached the appropriate stage in their pencil grip development?

Every child develops at a different time and pace; find out if your child is ready yet: bit.ly/1s7XjNP

How do they hold a pencil for writing at the moment?

A poor pencil grip can make forming letters difficult and handwriting slow or uncomfortable. Check out our tips on how to correct a poor pencil grip: bit.ly/1qhbqc6

Have they been taught, & do they understand, how to form a Tripod pencil grip?

It may have been explained to them, but that does not mean your child has understood. Our ‘Tommy Thumb’ and ‘Drawbridge Flip’ videos may help them to learn more easily how to form a tripod grip for handwriting: bit.ly/1r6uoDg

Do they have the physical hand and finger strength to form and maintain a tripod pencil grip?

Not all children have the appropriate hand and finger strength to hold a pencil in the tripod grip and need extra support to help them develop this. To find out more check out our hand and finger strength assessment page:  bit.ly/1xDGECK

Are they left or right handed?

If they are of school age and do not have a clear hand dominance this can make it difficult to develop a good pencil grip. Our hand dominance information may help you here: bit.ly/19BPAcK

Do they swap hands when writing or drawing?

This is a normal developmental stage for many toddlers and young children, but it is not ideal for school age children. Check out our tips on tackling hand swapping issues: bit.ly/1By3GMu

If you have any queries or questions you would like to ask us about handwriting or pencil grip feel free to contact us at enquires@teachchildren.co.uk or via this blog or Facebook.

Back to School – What Letter Font is Your Child’s School Teaching?

There is no standardized font style or teaching route stipulated in the National Curriculums for schools in the UK, only that it needs to be a consistent approach throughout the school.  So it is really important that you know which font and teaching route your child’s school is using.

There are a 4 teaching routes a school can choose from when teaching lower-case letters:

  1. Print, then Cursive; finally introduce Continuous Cursive to join the cursive letters.
  2. Print, then Continuous Cursive.
  3. Cursive and then Continuous Cursive for join the cursive letters.
  4. Continuous Cursive.

All the above are good teaching routes, the only difference is how many font styles a child has to learn and how long it takes before they learn how to join their letters.

The Difference between Print, Cursive and Continuous Cursive Handwriting Fonts

Print Font

  • The letters have different start points.
  • There are a number of different letter finish points.

Cursive or Continuous Cursive?

Be aware, some schools will say they are teaching Cursive when in fact they are teaching Continuous Cursive.

They are in fact 2 different handwriting fonts.

Cursive:

  • The letters start at different points (the same as print).
  • 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.

Continuous Cursive:

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.

Check out our Letter Formation section of the website for more information, free animations and worksheets: http://bit.ly/1dqBYFm

Summer Fun – Get Cooking!

Cooking is a great fun way to practise getting both hands to work together. This helps to develop coordination, hand and finger strength and dexterity skills; all skills required for handwriting. However, it is amazing how much talk can come from this as well, not just at the time with you, but when they share the day’s experience with others later on (developing their phonological awareness).

An added benefit at this time of year is that you can do ‘Pick Your Own’. Getting out and about and encouraging your child to pick their own fruit is not only great fun but another sneaky way of working on their hand and finger strength.

There are so many recipes, especially on line, for making quick easy great tasting food.

So, if the sun is shining, or it is just not raining, get out there find your local ‘Pick Your Own’ and get cooking!

Games for the Summer to Develop Listening Skills – Part 2

Musical Bottles

Last week we explained why developing a child’s listening skills is so important and introduced you to sound barrier game ideas. This week’s games are designed to help a child learn about the different levels of sound, pitch, tone and volume.

Music Fun

  • Skittle Band – Use or make a drum stick (wooden spoons are good for this) and explore with your child the different sounds the drum stick makes against different objects made of different materials, such as steel saucepan, another wooden spoon, plastic bottles etc. Choose items that are safe and you are happy for them to play with. You could photograph the object and record the sounds they make or video (on your phone), to play back and talk about later on. Try moving the activity outside for a different sound quality experience.
  • Orchestral Conductor – Once your child is happy and enjoys playing and making sounds, with different objects and instruments, try the conductor game. You can use your hands or a baton to point and encourage them to play certain sounds just like an orchestral conductor does, but make sure you have a clear stop gesture which your child will understand (you may need to say stop at the same time as the gesture to begin with, but they will soon get the idea). Then swap places and you become the musician and they the conductor; it may not be a classic you create but it is great fun. As your child develops their skills you can add new elements and hand gestures to make the sound louder or softer.
  • Musical Bottles – Use plastic bottles with different amounts of water/sand in them and different things as a beater. Talk about how:
    • Low/deep or high pitched a sound is compared with another.
    • Using different beaters can change the quality of the sound when used on the same bottle.
    • Using different amounts of pressure to hit the bottle makes the sound louder (harsher) or quieter (softer).

Try organizing the bottles in order of pitch to create a musical instrument and using this as part of the Orchestral Conductor game. You could number each bottle or use a different picture on the bottle as a way of encouraging your child to play the bottles in different orders (making music).

Enjoy!

Why Listening Skills are Important in Learning to Handwrite

Listening Games Scanning

A child with poor listening skills will find it difficult to complete tasks especially complex ones such as learning to handwrite. This is because they have not taken in all the information and so not understood the full extent of the task, or what was required of them. This can lead to a child flitting from one activity to another and never finishing anything, slowing down their learning. They also miss out on the sense of achievement and feeling of pride when a task is completed. This helps to build a child’s confidence, self-esteem and self-motivation to try again or attempt a more challenging task.

Listening is a complicated skill that requires children to learn how to pay attention – being able to focus on a particular voice or sound by filtering out other voices and ambient noises. They then have to concentrate on the voice or sounds to take in the information, building the stamina needed to listen for extended periods of time. Then they have to interpret that information to gain meaning – comprehension.

Listening is not a set of behaviours but a set of skills that need to be taught and developed, starting from birth.

For many children good listening skills do not develop naturally, they have to be taught!

Great Summer Fun Listening Games

These games are designed to help a child learn how to block out ambient noises so that they focus and concentrate on one particular sound.

Sound Scanning Games

The idea is to identify and talk about different sounds in different locations; in the park or at home in different rooms. Ask the child to listen for a moment (timed activity 30 seconds to start with then increase) and to pick out different sounds they can hear. Some will be close and easier to identify, other sounds may be further away and require more focused concentration to work out what they may be.

  • Sound Scanning Questions to help:
      • What can you hear that is far away?
      • What can you hear that is close by?
      • What can you hear that is loud?
      • What can you hear that is quiet?
      • What can you hear that makes a high pitched sound?
      • What can you hear that makes a low pitched sound?
      • What can you hear that sounds big?
      • What can you hear that sounds small?
  • Listening Walk Activities- You could record some of the sounds heard and talked about on the walk. Try changing the ‘What can you …?’ questions to ‘What did you…?’ Depending on your child’s age they may be able to draw a sound scape picture showing all the things they heard on the walk.
  • Where is the Sound? – The aim of the game is find out where the sound is coming from. Start by using something that makes a good clear sound. Ask your child to cover their eyes (can use a blindfold) and have them sit or stand in the middle of the room. Move around the room, starting not too far away from them and make the sound. Pause between each sound to give your child time to settle and focus on it before you make the next sound. Try to keep an even, slow pace. The aim is for your child to point in the direction they believe the sound is coming from. Gradually move further away, maintaining the same sound level. Swap places with your child, so you have to guess where the sound is coming from.

To make it more challenging:

  • Change the volume of the noise.
  • Change the object that is making the noise.
  • Change the speed (rhythm), as well as the location, at which the sounds are made.

Have Fun!

School Reports – Handwriting Improvements Needed!

So the school report has been received and you have been told that your child needs to improve their handwriting.

CC z Cloud

This is all well and good, but what needs practicing?

What are they finding difficult and how on earth do you write a continuous cursive z?

 

So you eventually get some handwriting practice sheets home or off the web. But no amount of time spent doing them seems to make much difference. It seemed to take longer to get them started than they spent practising handwriting. In fact they seemed worse because they were unhappy and frustrated with their own progress, so the more you try to push them the more resistant they become. Eventually you think there has to be a better way than this?

Doing more of what you are already struggling with is not always the answer. Handwriting is a complex skill to learn, so here is a checklist to help you:

Check their:

Supporting your child’s handwriting development can be fun using physical games and activities. To check if your child needs extra physical strength support or has other specific learning needs check out these areas of our website:

Check their:

  • Physical Strengths, Skills and Dexterity (Assessment): ly/1Aibiie
  • Specific Handwriting Difficulties : ly/1CyFA7k
  • Other Barriers to Learning: ly/1fLavUz

With the summer holidays coming up it is a great time for you to be able to observe and assess your child’s key physical strengths and skills. Armed with this knowledge you can play games and do activities which then help them to develop the strengths and skills which may be holding them back and making handwriting a difficult task to master.

The Quadrupod Grip for Handwriting

IMG_3288.JPG

A few weeks ago, we explained that this grip is classified as an efficient grip for handwriting.

I have to confess that I‘m not totally convinced.

This grip may not put as much stress on the finger joints as other inefficient grips but it does restrict finger movements and therefore the fluidity of the handwriting.

The Quadrupod Grip is where the pencil is held between the top of the thumb, index and middle fingers and rests on the ring finger with the little finger slightly curled in.

I would normally see this as a developmental transitional pencil grip in younger children as they then move on to develop a Dynamic Tripod Grip, considered the most appropriate grip for handwriting.

Older children who have not moved on to develop the tripod grip may require more focused support in developing gross and/or fine motor skills. It is important to check that they are sitting correctly at the table and that the paper is positioned and tilted correctly for them. If they have a poor sitting posture it may be that extra work needs to be done on helping them to develop their gross motor skills. If this area seems fine then it could be that their fine motor skills require additional attention. See our ‘Key Strengths – Fit for Handwriting’ section for more information: http://bit.ly/1LABUGZ

It can be very difficult to get an older child to change their pencil grip especially if the old grip, like the Quadrupod Grip, is very similar to the new grip the Dynamic Tripod Grip. This is when it becomes difficult to know whether to continue to try and make a child change their pencil grip or not.

I think what we have to remember is:

“A pencil hold that provides speed, legibility is comfortable and will not cause harm to the joints of the hand over time. If a hold satisfies these criteria there is no need to change it”

(Benrow 2002, cited A Wagenteld, J Kaldenberg (co-editors), 2005: Foundation of Paediatric Practice for the Occupational Therapy Assistant; Pub: Slack Incorporated, ISBN-10:1-55642-629-1)

So if the child is complaining that their hand or fingers hurt or ache when they use the Quadrupod Grip, or that it is hindering their handwriting fluidity and speed, then we do need to support them in changing their grip. For some it may be more appropriate to introduce them to the Adaptive Tripod Grip (see last week’s blog) rather than trying to force them to use the Dynamic Tripod Grip.

We have to remember that every child is different and try our best to cater to their needs rather than our own preferences.