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 )

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.

Handwriting Really Starts with Play

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.

Young children learn many of the directional pushes, pulls and changes in direction, required for handwriting, on a much larger scale, long before they pick up a pencil, through playing with cars or pretending to cook. These movements become the drawings/scribbles which young children form once they start mark-making, initially as big uncontrolled movements then becoming more controlled and smaller as their gross and fine motor skills develop.

It is through play that you can really engage your child in learning how to correctly form pre-handwriting patterns and 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: https://teachhandwriting.co.uk/big-to-small.html   

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. Ask them to put their hands in (both hands, if possible, but if not, then use the dominant hand) the bag, picks up a letter, feels it, identifies it and pulls it out to check only AFTER identifying it. If correct, they get to “keep” it, if wrong, you get to “keep” it. The winner is the one with the most letters at the end. 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!

Are you Supporting Handwriting or Phonics?

Supporting your child at home can be a big challenge for so many reasons.

So here is a tip that might just help a little.

When confronted with homework from school think about what it is that they are asking your child to do.

For instance, if it is teaching something about phonics then that is all you and your child should be focused on. Yes, you may have been told that your child needs to work on their handwriting but this is not the time to do that. This is pure phonics time.

When supporting your child with their phonics work they will have to write letters and words. The important thing is for your child to have a go at writing the letters correctly, especially those they have been taught or are learning to how to form.

Remember they may not have been taught how to form the letters correctly yet. So, ask them to just have a go. Now is not the time to teach them handwriting; it is the phonics skill you are supporting. This way your child will not get confused or frustrated with the sudden changes in focus. The phonics homework will then be more appropriately focused, quicker and successful.

If your child has been asked to do handwriting homework then that is all that you and your child should focus on – learning to form their letters correctly or how to join them. Learning phonics skills or spelling is not the important element of the homework. The only thing that should be commented on and discussed is the handwriting.

It is important to remember that handwriting and learning the phonics system of a language are two very different skill sets. They should be taught separately, as trying to combine the two can cause your child to become confused and frustrated.  

Different Types of Play and their Importance

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

To Play is to Learn!

Play is often thought of as a frivolous pastime rather than a practical and meaningful one. However, here at Teach Children Ltd 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.

In our update parent section of the Teach Handwriting website we have a new ‘Learning Through Play’ section. Here you will find games and activities ideas to suit all ages.

If you click on the ‘Games’ button or follow the link (https://teachhandwriting.co.uk/games.html) you will find games split into the five types of play, which will help you encourage your child to experience them all.

This wide range of play opportunities will also support your child in developing their gross and fine motor, communication and turn taking skills.

                                                             So, to play is to learn!

Bibliography

Dr.D. Whitebread, April 2012: ‘The Importance of Play’; Commissioned for the Toy Industries of Europe:  http://www.importanceofplay.eu/IMG/pdf/dr_david_whitebread_-_the_importance_of_play.pdf                            

Half-term Fun – Clothes Peg Games

Some fun indoor activities may be the order of the day for this half term as the weather is not 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;

  • Colour
  • Shape
  • Type

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

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.

Stage 2 to #Handwriting Success – Single Letter Formation

Last week we explained that pre-handwriting patterns are the first stage of learning to handwrite. Once a child has mastered theses, they are ready to start learning how to form letters.

But where do you start?

Our view is to focus on lower-case letters first and only the capital letters for the first letter in a child’s, examples: Peter Rabbit, Sally Green, George Blue or Mary Shell.

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.

Have you got your Free Letter Animations and Worksheets?

For Teachers: https://teachhandwriting.co.uk/key-stage-1-handwriting-routes.html

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

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 for the first letters 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.

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