Christmas Fun That Develops Handwriting Skills and No Pencil!

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 https://teachhandwriting.co.uk/more-activities.html for a salt dough recipe, that I have found good to use with children, and just download the ‘Salt Dough Modelling’ pdf (https://teachhandwriting.co.uk/assets/pdfs/Salt%20Dough%20Modelling.pdf )

The Best Type of Paper for Teaching Handwriting

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 (Remember, Big is Beautiful).

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.

Tips for Supporting #Left-handed Writers

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.

Check out our Left-handed Writers Page for more information and tips on how to support them: https://teachhandwriting.co.uk/left-handed.html

When to Introduce Joined Handwriting

Here at Teach Children 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 (UK). 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.

Teaching Letter Joins – A Systematic Approach

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.

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.

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).

It is important to remember that 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.

Have you got your Free Join Animations & Worksheets?

For Teachers: https://teachhandwriting.co.uk/key-stage-2-handwriting-routes.html

For Parents: https://teachhandwriting.co.uk/parents.html

Why it is Important to Teach Correct Letter Formation!

It can often be assumed children will pick up how to write letters if they see them often enough (by osmosis). This is just not the case.  Correct letter formation has to be taught. Seeing a completed letter or word or watching it being typed up and appear on a screen does not show children how to form the letters.

For children to develop a good handwriting style it is important to learn how to form letters correctly to begin with as this makes the transition from single letter formation to joined letter handwriting much easier. This enables them to develop a speedy, fluid and legible handwriting style.

Letters are created through joining lines and curve shapes in a particular way. They have a designated start point and set directional pushes and pulls of the pencil to reach the designated finish point. This is why at Teach Handwriting we teach letter formation in groups/families rather than in alphabetical order. Certain groups use the same, or similar, shape and directional push and pulls of the pencil to form the letter, for instance the letter c has the same start point and anti-clockwise directional movement shape that is needed to create the letters a, d, g, o and, though a little more complicated, the letters s and e. Teaching letters in groups and families can also help to limit letter reversals such as b and d.

Due to how handwriting has or hasn’t been taught over the generations we all have our own way of handwriting. When supporting and teaching young children we need to develop a consistent approach so that they do not get confused or frustrated by adults giving them conflicting information.

For parents this means finding out from your child’s school which letter font they are teaching so that you can support them more effectively at home. This may mean that you have to learn a new way of writing some letters. This also applies to teachers and teaching assistants. As the adults in the situation, we have to accept that it is for us to make the changes. Just because something is different from the way we were taught, or do it, doesn’t mean it is wrong, it is just different! 

Our free letter animations are not just to support children with their learning but also to provide parents and teachers (all adults really) with the knowledge and support to help children develop a consistent handwriting style.

Parent animation link: https://teachhandwriting.co.uk/parents.html

Teacher animation link – click through on the Key Stage you are teaching: https://teachhandwriting.co.uk/teach-handwriting-teachers.html

Stage 1 to #Handwriting Success – Pre-handwriting Patterns

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?

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

For Parents: https://teachhandwriting.co.uk/patterns.html

The Three Stages to Learning Handwriting

There are three distinct stages for children to progress through to develop a good handwriting style:

Stage 1 – Pre-handwriting Patterns

Pre-handwriting patterns support a child towards handwriting success. They help the them to learn the shapes and directional pushes and pulls required to form letters. All letters are a combination of these shapes and lines.

Stage 2 – Single Letter Formation

For children to develop a good handwriting style it is important to learn how to form the letters correctly.

Beginning with lower-case letters and only the capital letters for the first letter in a child’s name, examples: Peter Rabbit, Sally Green, George Blue or Mary Shell.

Learning the correct lower-case letter formation also makes the transition from single letter formation to joined letter handwriting much easier.

Stage 3 – Joined Handwriting

Learning to join letters for handwriting enables children to develop a speedy, fluid and legible handwriting style.

The Importance of Using Letter Names for Developing Handwriting, Phonics and Reading Skills

Here at Teach Children we have always promoted the importance and power of teaching the correct letter names to begin with; through our Teach Handwriting website, Schemes and Teach Phonics website. Unfortunately, some schools, teacher and parents still seem to be concerned that this is not consistent with the teaching of phonics, which is just not correct.

A myth which became popular, in the early years of introducing synthetic phonics into schools, is that children should not be taught the alphabet letter names as they find it too confusing. However, in recent years this has started to change as phonics schemes have adjusted some of their approaches to teaching phonics to include the use of letter names.

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 (has a context). 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.

It is important to remember that just because a child can correctly recite the ‘Alphabet’ song it does not mean they know the letters of the alphabet. It is surprising how many children can do this but when shown letters from the alphabet cannot name them at all. They may be able to tell you the sound the letter makes but have no idea of the letters name.

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.

Teaching the correct letter names is important when supporting handwriting as this can in turn affect a child’s phonics understanding later on. For example, it can seem very easy when explaining to a child which letter to write when they ask which one is making a ‘kuh’ sound in a word such as cat to say a ‘curly kuh’. There is no such letter in the alphabet called ‘curly kuh’ it is the letter ‘c’ (cee). By adding the ‘kuh’ sound to the letter it reinforces incorrect phonics knowledge. The letter ‘c’ does not make a ‘kuh’ sound in words such as: city, circle, cycle and centre.

Some children will then only ever refer to the letter ‘c’ as ‘curly kuh’ and the letter ‘k’ as’ kicking kuh’. As I say these are not letter names of the alphabet and also devalue the power of phonics at the same time.

How can the education establishment get hot under the collar about not using the correct terminology in the teaching of English in schools such as: phonemes, graphemes, digraphs, modal verbs etc… yet still refer to the letter’s ‘c’ and ‘k’ as ‘curly or kicking kuh’!

Phonics is a powerful decoding and encoding tool. However, so is the alphabet letter naming system. Both need to working side by side to support our children, especially in those early years of their educational journey.

The English phonic system is very complex but this is why our language is so rich. Young children need to use letter names as an additional tool, as it takes many years for them to be introduced to the more complex phonics coding system.

Alphabet Name animation (scroll to the bottom of the page): https://www.teachphonics.co.uk/phonics-graphemes.html

Drawing – a Pre-skill for Handwriting

Drawing pictures is a great way to help your child develop their pre-handwriting strokes and shape forming skills. It is amazing how, by using these simple shapes, you and your child can create fantastic picture.

Try using basic shapes such as circles, rectangles and triangles to begin with and then add some swirls, curves and spiral to give extra detail.