The Best Type of Paper for Teaching Handwriting

Just as the writing tool used by children 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.

Before moving to lined paper, to help children to start to appreciate the 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 a 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 a child’s fine motor skills develop so the size of the picture/colour clues can be reduced to match their progress.

As a 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.

Transferring their handwriting skills from worksheets to paper 

The aim is to try and move children off the worksheets as soon as possible by encouraging them to transfer their skills to plain or lined paper which is appropriate for their ability. I realise that it is not possible to buy paper with the appropriate line height in all cases, so would recommend creating your own on the computer.

We realise that printing off our worksheets and coloured lined paper can become costly so, here are our recommendations for helping to reduce the costs:

  • Suggestion 1 – Use a colour version of the appropriate worksheet initially and then try printing in grey scale. Children usually make the adjustment to grey scale well once they are used to how the picture clues and colours work. You could also use the grey scale worksheets and colour the start of each row with the appropriate colour.
  • Suggestion 2 – Use a combination of worksheets and lined paper in each handwriting session with a child:
  1. Use the colour worksheet, or a grey scale version, and complete one or two rows.
  2. Then encourage the child to try the same patterns or letters on appropriately lined paper, again try one or two rows only.

 

Hopefully the worksheet will last over a couple of handwriting sessions and you and the child will see an improvement over the time. The sooner they learn to transfer their skills to paper the better.

For different types of pre-handwriting pattern and letter formation paper go to our resources section: http://bit.ly/1PKXB46

Play Ideas to Support Correct Letter Shape Formation

 

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!

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 sounder investment.

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!