Tracing has been an activity frequently presented to encourage young children to learn how to form letter shapes, especially in early years teaching.
However, current research suggests that encouraging young children to free write is a more powerful way of engaging the brain to learn how to form letters when compared to tracing them.
Learning to handwrite requires a child to remember which shape they want to make (visual memory) and how to make it (motor memory).
Here at Teach Handwriting we feel that traditional pencil tracing activities are not a particularly effective way to teach children pre-handwriting patterns and letter formations. This is because children are often so focused on controlling the writing tool around the shape that they do not fully engage their motor memory storage and visual memory skills.
We believe that finger tracing a pre-handwriting pattern or letter shape is more effective than pencil tracing. The greater resistance provided by finger tracing stimulates a child’s nervous system, instantly making them aware of their actions and helping them to focus on the movement by engaging both the motor memory and visual memory. This information is initially stored in their short-term memory but, with continued practise, moves to their long-term memory. Having to think less about how to form the shape, because they can subconsciously recall how to make it, allows a child to then concentrate on controlling the pencil.
Looking at a few different school websites and queries from parents this week we found that some think that Cursive is just short for Continuous Cursive. In fact, they are two different handwriting font styles:
- The letters start at different points (the same as print letters).
- The finishing points for all the letters is at the writing line (with a small exit stroke); except for, o, r, v and w, which have a top exit stroke.
- The single letter formations are taught with just the exit strokes.
- When cursive is joined the first letter in the word does not have an entry stroke for example:
- 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.
- When continuous cursive is joined the first letter in the word has an entry stroke for example:
Be aware, some schools will say they are teaching a Cursive font when in fact they are teaching a Continuous Cursive font.
Poor bilateral coordination skills not only have an impact on handwriting but also many other day to day tasks such as the ability to get dressed quickly, pick up and carry objects as well as the use of a knife and fork and scissors.
It can also affect a child’s sporting abilities, hindering their ability to run, skip, catch, throw and kick effectively. The consequence being that they are put off playing sport and participating in physical activities, which in turn hinders their bilateral coordination development, a kind of ‘Catch 22’ situation.
The impact of this is becoming more wide spread with the popularity of fun and engaging computer gaming and a greater use of touch screen devices as children may not be getting the opportunities they would have had in the past to fully develop their bilateral coordination skills.
Bilateral coordination refers to the use of the left and right sides of the body, needed for coordination and well-balanced movement, including those that require movements such as the left arm moving across the body to the right-hand side (crossing the mid-line point).
These skills are learnt and developed through everyday play and activities and need to be practised.
Learning to cross the mid-line point is one of the stages to developing handedness (hand dominance): http://bit.ly/2VlGfDH
To check your child’s bilateral skills and development try our quick and simple bilateral coordination assessment activities: http://bit.ly/2C7xYwq
For fun physical activities to help build and encourage your child’s bilateral coordination skills check out this section in our gross and fine motor skills page: http://bit.ly/2FhFkR7
Often good handwriting is associated with how neat and lovely it looks. Beautiful penmanship is not a guarantee of quality. Some children will spend ages forming their letters so that the piece looks great but have not produced a well composed piece of work.
So, what do we consider the important elements to a good handwriting style:
- a fluid hand movement that is comfortable;
- letters are of a consistent and appropriate size and positioned correctly;
- that the writer can produce and maintain a good handwriting speed;
- that it is completely legible to others.
Here at Teach Handwriting we believe that learning to join letters increases the accuracy, fluidity, speed and legibility of handwriting. However, 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).
Copying accurately and quickly from a board at the front of a classroom can be a challenge at the best of times. For young children and those with specific learning difficulties it can be near on impossible. It is amazing how many children lose some, if not all, of a break time because they could not complete the copying task quickly enough in the lesson time.
The practise of taking information off the board has its uses and there are times when there is just no other alternative but it can be made more manageable, here are a few ideas which may help.
- Make sure the child is sitting facing the board.
- That they can see the board clearly.
- That light is not reflecting off the board so that the writing disappears.
- Try using a different colour marker pen for each line of writing (this way a child will be able to quickly locate the line they were copying from).
- Or try numbering the lines so the child can more effectively find their way around the text.
- Leave more of a gap between each line of writing so that each line is clearly visible from the back of the room.
- Ask those children, who struggle copying, to start the first line of writing as you transfer the text to a smaller board which can then be placed at a more appropriate distance and level for them to continue copying from.
- If you know the information that will need to be transferred to the child’s book then pre-prepare a text that can be given to the child to copy from. It may be in a different order or layout to that on the board; but it is the information and the child’s ability to access it, that is important.
- Is a full sentence explanation always required or could the information be presented in another way such as a mind map or diagram which would be equally, or even more, useful to the child.
It can be surprising how frustrating and upsetting being asked to copy from the board can be for many children. So anything that can help to alleviate these emotions and difficulties has got to be worth a try!
In last months Teach Primary’s Teach Reading & Writing magazine Kathryn Priddey, Head of Launde Primary School in Leicestershire, explained why they love the Teach Handwriting Scheme, course options and free Teach Handwriting website (page 51, published 06/05/19 Maze Media (2000) Ltd).
Kathryn’s article focuses on why she loves the Teach Handwriting Scheme and the three key elements that are important to her school and the learning outcomes for her pupils:
“A clear teaching pathway from Foundation through to Year 6”
“An engaging scheme with children at the heart of it”
“Bespoke training opportunities for staff and parents”
Some fun indoor activities may be the order of the day if the half term weather proves not to be so hot.
This is a very simple idea which children love because they can take greater ownership of it. The aim of the activity is to help build up hand and finger strength through using the pegs; however it can have a dual purpose, helping to keep track of the week by using it as a timetable or for learning spellings or maths activities, as well as supporting the development of language skills.
You do not need anything fancy, just some string (for the washing line), clothes pegs and pieces of paper or card to peg onto the washing line. The washing line can be a permanent fixture or you can just pop it up when you need to use it.
The clothes line needs to be at a height suitable for your child to peg things on to (placed against a wall is a safe option so that no-one can walk into it by accident and hurt themselves).
There are a whole range of games that can be played using this simple washing line and pegs concept:
- Memory games – Get your child to peg up 5 to 10 different pictures or items on the line. Then give them 1 minute to remember the items. Once the time is up ask them to look away, or close their eyes, and then you remove one or more of the items. Get them to look back at the line. Can they work out what is missing?
- You could try just moving one or two of the items around. Can they figure out which ones are in the wrong place and put them back in their correct place?
- Try swapping an item for something new, which your child did not hang up on the line. Can they work out which is the new item on the line?
- Odd One Out – Hang pictures on the line that belong together. Can they pick out the odd item on the line and explain why it is the odd one out.
- They could all be pictures of fruit with a picture of some clothing
- They could be shapes with straight sides and one with curves
- They could all be animals but all are wild with only one being domestic
- Sorting – Ask your child to sort all the pictures or items from a selection and to hang all the identical things on the washing line. They could all be the same;
- Pattern Work – Using pictures, different colour and shaped paper or items create different patterns. The patterns can be based on colour, size or type of object. You can create a pattern sequence on the washing line and then ask your child to try and copy the sequence. Can they explain the pattern and create their own for you to copy and explain?
- Pairing or What is the Same? – Hang a range of pictures or items on the line, making sure that some of the items can be paired together because they are exactly the same. They could match because;
- They are exactly the same e.g. a pair of socks
- Match numbers to a picture with the same number of items on
- Match capital to lower-case letters
- Or have items that can be put together because they are both from the same set, for example they are types of fruit or are the same colour.
Next week is half-term for many of us and The SUN should be out which makes it time for the water fights and games to begin.
How can water fights and games, where you can get wet, be handwriting homework?
It will soon be June, the weather should be perfect, so why not set up water squirting games in the garden. The kids are waterproof and everything else will dry out, eventually!
You will be encouraging your child to develop their hand strength, co-ordination and eye tracking skills (all handwriting skills), while increasing 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!
Our ‘Tips on encouraging reluctant writers’ is a step by step guide to support you in identifying possible reasons for your child’s reluctance to handwrite or poor handwriting speed: http://bit.ly/2JHgAmE
Some children have a poor handwriting speed or just don’t want to try handwriting because of sensory pressure related difficulties and struggle to maintain and control the pressure required to handwrite. Our ‘Hand dominance, swapping and pressure’ section offers practical advice to help you support your child’s development: http://bit.ly/2VlGfDH
Some children find it difficult to space their letters in words correctly and to show spacing between words. There can be a number of reasons for this:
- They may not understand the concept or conventions of spacing words and letters and this needs to be explained.
- Other Physical Skills such as poor spatial awareness skills, eye tracking or general eyesight.
- Poor Key Strengths and/or Key Abilities elements, required for handwriting, such as sitting position, paper position, pencil grip, hand position and letter formation knowledge may also be hindering them.
1. ‘Tips to support letter and word spacing’ will help you to identify if your child is having difficulty in understanding the spacing conventions and how to support them: http://bit.ly/2LynVrn
2. Our ‘Other Physical Skills’ assessment will help you to identify if your child’s spatial awareness or eye tracking skills may be affecting their spacing skills: http://bit.ly/2P5jS44
If you are not sure then book an eye test for your child, just to be on the safe side, it could be they need glasses.
3. Our step by step ‘Overcoming Handwriting Difficulties’ guide will support you in identifying other possible reasons for your child’s letter and spacing issues: http://bit.ly/2C7xYwq