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:

Bibliography

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

 

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.

Bibliography

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!

Bibliography

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).

Limitations:

  • 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!

Why?

  • 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.

Limitations:

  • 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

Tips for Teaching Left Handed Writers

Left hand tips

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

Vertical to Horizontal Surfaces for Handwriting

Artist with easel

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.

Handwriting is a Physical Activity

Girl Cartoon Hold PenDated 14/09/17

Handwriting with fluidity, speed, accuracy and over longer periods of time requires a complex range of whole body and hand strengths and skills. So it is not surprising that many children find handwriting challenging.

For a good handwriting style children need to develop their:

  • Gross Motor Skills – so they can sit correctly for periods of time
  • Fine Motor Skills – so that they can hold and control the pencil as well as move the paper up the table as they write.
  • Motor Memory Skills – so they can recall how to form the letters.
  • Visual Memory Skills – so they recall what a particular letter looks like.
  • Spatial Awareness Skills– so they can place the letters correctly on the paper and in relation to one another.
  • Eye Tracking Skills– scanning from left to right so that the letters are formed and placed correctly.

If a child is struggling with handwriting it is important to take a closer look at their physical abilities. Getting them to do more of the paper and pencil activities is not the answer if they do not have all the appropriate key physical strengths to support their handwriting development.

Our assessment is simple to complete and does not need any specialist equipment. The important elements are; your knowledge of your own child and your observations of them at play and while they are engaged in normal day to day task.

Link to our Assessment page: bit.ly/1Aibiie

A better understanding of your child’s key skills abilities enables you to focus more effectively, through targeted physical games and activities, to help them build and develop their skills.

Link to our Physical Games page:  bit.ly/1yfbrHU

Handwriting is such an important skill as it engages the neurological pathways and working memory in a way that pressing a keyboard just doesn’t; so once mastered it helps to open up the doorways to other literacy skills such as phonics, reading, spelling and composition.