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.
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
Learning to handwrite does not start with pen and paper but through play, as children explore shape and motion (how the body moves) through their senses – touch, sight and body awareness. Play is such an important element of your child’s physical, emotional, social and academic development.
It is through play that you can really engage your child in learning how to correctly form letters (the start points, orientation, directional movements and finish points).
Our non-pencil – ‘Big to Small’ activities are an easy fun way to start developing these skills early on through play: http://bit.ly/1ASjnua
Young children love seeing their name so it is a great way to introduce letter formation; here are some other fun ideas:
- This activity can be done indoors on large sheets of paper or using chalk on a path or patio (the beach is also a great place to do this). Write your child’s name very big and make a mark on each letter that represents a start point (an arrow showing the direction of travel can also help). Remember to use a capital letter for the first letter of their name and we would suggest lower case letters for the remaining letters. Use the letters as a track for racing cars or toys. If you make the letters big enough your child could walk, hop, jump or skip around the letters. To help them remember the letters, once they have finished a letter, encourage them to say that letter‘s alphabet name (NOT a sound the letter can make).
- Collect stones, twigs, leaves, etc… Use them to make the letters of your child’s name. They may only make one or two of the letters, before making a hedgehog house, nest or den for their toys becomes more interesting, but this does not matter, it is all part of the adventure.
- Feely bag games are a fun way to explore shape and form. Try placing the letters of your child’s name into a bag or box they cannot see into. It is useful to talk through the letter shapes beforehand so they can see them as they move them about in their hands; then place them in the bag. For some children it can help to have another set of the letters outside the bag to help them identify the shape they are handling in the bag. Again encourage them to use the alphabet name of the letter.
- Play-dough, clay and Plasticine activities are great for developing hand strength for handwriting and learning how to form letter shapes.
Your child will love these sort of activities as they see it as just playing and they get your undivided attention. You will enjoy it as you are sharing quality time with your child helping them to develop more than just their letter formation ability but also their communication and social skills.
Learning through play is a powerful way of supporting your child’s development. So have fun and play!
Once your 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.
- One reason being 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.
Your 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 your child can develop a speedy, fluid and legible handwriting style.
Free Letter Formation Animations & Worksheets: http://bit.ly/1dqBYFm