The First Stage to #Handwriting Success – Pre-handwriting Patterns

https://teachhandwriting.co.uk/pre-handwriting-patterns.html

Pre-handwriting patterns are the first stage in supporting a child to handwriting success. 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.

Pre-handwriting patterns that encourage a child to move their pencil from left to right are very important for left-handed writers. They need to be taught this so that they can make the cross motion in the H, T, J, G and I from left to right, as their natural instinct is to go from right to left. If this is not corrected when writing E and F the cross lines will not be “anchored” to the letter.

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

The Importance of Using Letter Names

On our Teach Handwriting website and Scheme, as well as on our Teach Phonics website, children are taught the letter names to begin with. Some schools, teacher and parents still 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 reasons 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.)

Learning the unique letter names of the alphabet is a pre-phonics skill; as well as an early learning goal. 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 the communication of your requirements is unambiguous.

One of the first things we like a child to be able to write correctly is their name, however most names are impossible to spell using the simple phonics code taught to young children. A name does not have to be long in length to be phonetically difficult to spell such as Christopher or Charlotte. Shorter names such as Lucy or Liam also cause a problem. 

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. 

Summer Fun – Part 4 – Get Cooking!

Cooking 1

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 and dexterity.

There are so many recipes, especially online, for making quick easy great tasting food (make a large batch and freeze the rest).

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

Summer Fun Part 2 – Water, water everywhere!

Water fun 2

The SUN is out which makes it time for the water fights and games to begin.

It is August and for once, the weather is perfect, so why not set up water squirting games in the garden. The kids are waterproof and everything else will dry out, eventually!

How can water fights and games, where you can get wet, be handwriting and phonics homework?

You will be encouraging your child to develop their hand strength, co-ordination and eye tracking skills (all handwriting skills). However, these games are also fantastic for developing sound and word awareness skills.

Try mimicking the sounds that the water makes as it drips on to the floor or hits the targets; use directional language to support your child’s aiming skills; describe how the objects move when hit: bouncing, rolling or flying and talk through the emotions evoked through playing the games.

As well as supporting your child in developing a whole range of physical and language skills you will also increase your cool adult status.

Some fun water games:

  • Try setting up a target wall, using chalk to draw the targets.
    • How many of the targets can you hit with water squirted from a water pistol or squeeze bottle in a set time.
    • How many targets can be washed off.
  • Set up a skittles range.
    • Each skittle hit with water can be worth a certain number of points, or the distance of the skittles may affect their value.
    • A time trial game to hit all the skittles. If you are using plastic bottles as skittles try making some of them a little heavier by putting sand or dirt in them to make it a bit harder to knock them over.
  • Move the object race games.
    • A light toy/ball has to be moved by squirts of water over a distance.
    • A range of objects moved in to target areas to gain points.

The only limitation is you and your child’s imagination and trust me kids never tire of finding new ways to play with water (but then again neither do many adults)!

Homework has never been so much FUN!

The Five Common Stages of Play Development

Stage of play 1

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:

  1. Watching – A child watches what others are doing but does not join in, they are purely an onlooker.
  2. Solitary Play – They play on their own without regard, or need for others, and enjoy independent activities that do not require others to participate.
  3. Parallel Play– This is when they play near others but do not interact with them, even if they are using the same play materials.
  4. Associative Play – When children play in small groups with no defined rules or assigned roles.
  5. 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 because of this the length of time they spend at each stage varies greatly; but they all find their way in time.

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

To Play 2

The summer holidays are here!

So, it is the perfect time to go out and play or, as is often the case, stay indoors and play.

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).

We often think of play as a frivolous pastime rather than a practical and meaningful one. However, 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 (Dr.D Whitebread, 2012). 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 experiences, 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.

                                                             So, to play is to learn!

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:  originally sourced from: http://www.importanceofplay.eu/IMG/pdf/dr_david_whitebread_-_the_importance_of_play.pdf

Does Your Child Have Weak Hands?

scissor & knife grip 1There have been many articles over the last few years reporting the fact that children are struggling to hold pencils correctly for handwriting and drawing. The reasoning for this is more often than not based on our children’s use of technology and the effect this has on their hand strength and finger dexterity (Fine Motor Skills).

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/2C7xYwq

To improve their overall hand and finger strength check out our hand and finger strength and dexterity games:  http://bit.ly/2FhFkR7

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

IMG_9147The 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

IMG_9160

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.

Choosing a Pen for Handwriting

Pen Types 2

Choosing and using the right pen can help to avoid smudging; make handwriting look smarter and prevent hand strain when writing for extended periods of time. Everyone is different, so the type of pen required is different too.

There are three main points to think about when choosing a pen for handwriting:

  1. The type of ink it uses.
  2. The size and weight of the pen.
  3. The type of point it has.

1. Types of ink used:

    • Oil-based ink
      • The ink is quick drying and so does not smudge easily
      • The ink flows smoothly depending on the point style of the pen
      • Ink can stop and start for no apparent reason
    • Water-based ink
      • The ink does not dry as quickly as oil-based ink so can smudge
      • The ink flows very smoothly

2. Pen sizes and weights

Because pens come in different shapes, sizes and weights it is important for your child to try out a range of pen styles to help them find the best fit for them. Remember one pen style does not suit all, everyone’s hand size and finger length are different.

Things to consider when choosing a pen:

  • Does it feel too short or too long?
  • Does it feel too thin or too thick?
  • Does it feel too heavy or too light?
  • Some children like a smooth round pen shape.
  • Some prefer a textured round pen shape.
  • While others may prefer a hexagon shaped pen.

3. Pen points

Pens come with different point or nib widths and shapes. The size and shape of the point gives different line thicknesses and are usually purchased as point sizes: extra fine, fine, medium or bold (some will have a measurement on as well).

  • A fine pen point produces thin lines and some children will find this can help to make writing neater.
  • A medium and bold point give thicker lines which many may find smoother to write with, though the letter size may be slightly larger because of it.

Once again it is important that children try out a range of pen point sizes to help them find the best fit for them.

Remember one pen point style does not suit all, everyone’s fine motor skills and writing pressures are different.

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 a 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

pencil power 1

Why do we use pencils when we start to teach handwriting?

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 (to cater for the different gross and fine motor skills of the children).
  • 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. The greater the resistance the more the body can neurologically acknowledge (feel) the movement and help to send appropriate information to the brain.
  • 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.