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

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.

Why Listening Skills are Important in Learning to Handwrite

Listening Games Scanning

A child with poor listening skills will find it difficult to complete tasks especially complex ones such as learning to handwrite. This is because they have not taken in all the information and so not understood the full extent of the task, or what was required of them. This can lead to a child flitting from one activity to another and never finishing anything, slowing down their learning. They also miss out on the sense of achievement and feeling of pride when a task is completed. This helps to build a child’s confidence, self-esteem and self-motivation to try again or attempt a more challenging task.

Listening is a complicated skill that requires children to learn how to pay attention – being able to focus on a particular voice or sound by filtering out other voices and ambient noises. They then have to concentrate on the voice or sounds to take in the information, building the stamina needed to listen for extended periods of time. Then they have to interpret that information to gain meaning – comprehension.

Listening is not a set of behaviours but a set of skills that need to be taught and developed, starting from birth.

For many children good listening skills do not develop naturally, they have to be taught!

Great Summer Fun Listening Games

These games are designed to help a child learn how to block out ambient noises so that they focus and concentrate on one particular sound.

Sound Scanning Games

The idea is to identify and talk about different sounds in different locations; in the park or at home in different rooms. Ask the child to listen for a moment (timed activity 30 seconds to start with then increase) and to pick out different sounds they can hear. Some will be close and easier to identify, other sounds may be further away and require more focused concentration to work out what they may be.

  • Sound Scanning Questions to help:
      • What can you hear that is far away?
      • What can you hear that is close by?
      • What can you hear that is loud?
      • What can you hear that is quiet?
      • What can you hear that makes a high pitched sound?
      • What can you hear that makes a low pitched sound?
      • What can you hear that sounds big?
      • What can you hear that sounds small?
  • Listening Walk Activities- You could record some of the sounds heard and talked about on the walk. Try changing the ‘What can you …?’ questions to ‘What did you…?’ Depending on your child’s age they may be able to draw a sound scape picture showing all the things they heard on the walk.
  • Where is the Sound? – The aim of the game is find out where the sound is coming from. Start by using something that makes a good clear sound. Ask your child to cover their eyes (can use a blindfold) and have them sit or stand in the middle of the room. Move around the room, starting not too far away from them and make the sound. Pause between each sound to give your child time to settle and focus on it before you make the next sound. Try to keep an even, slow pace. The aim is for your child to point in the direction they believe the sound is coming from. Gradually move further away, maintaining the same sound level. Swap places with your child, so you have to guess where the sound is coming from.

To make it more challenging:

  • Change the volume of the noise.
  • Change the object that is making the noise.
  • Change the speed (rhythm), as well as the location, at which the sounds are made.

Have Fun!

The Quadrupod Grip for Handwriting

IMG_3288.JPG

A few weeks ago, we explained that this grip is classified as an efficient grip for handwriting.

I have to confess that I‘m not totally convinced.

This grip may not put as much stress on the finger joints as other inefficient grips but it does restrict finger movements and therefore the fluidity of the handwriting.

The Quadrupod Grip is where the pencil is held between the top of the thumb, index and middle fingers and rests on the ring finger with the little finger slightly curled in.

I would normally see this as a developmental transitional pencil grip in younger children as they then move on to develop a Dynamic Tripod Grip, considered the most appropriate grip for handwriting.

Older children who have not moved on to develop the tripod grip may require more focused support in developing gross and/or fine motor skills. It is important to check that they are sitting correctly at the table and that the paper is positioned and tilted correctly for them. If they have a poor sitting posture it may be that extra work needs to be done on helping them to develop their gross motor skills. If this area seems fine then it could be that their fine motor skills require additional attention. See our ‘Key Strengths – Fit for Handwriting’ section for more information: http://bit.ly/1LABUGZ

It can be very difficult to get an older child to change their pencil grip especially if the old grip, like the Quadrupod Grip, is very similar to the new grip the Dynamic Tripod Grip. This is when it becomes difficult to know whether to continue to try and make a child change their pencil grip or not.

I think what we have to remember is:

“A pencil hold that provides speed, legibility is comfortable and will not cause harm to the joints of the hand over time. If a hold satisfies these criteria there is no need to change it”

(Benrow 2002, cited A Wagenteld, J Kaldenberg (co-editors), 2005: Foundation of Paediatric Practice for the Occupational Therapy Assistant; Pub: Slack Incorporated, ISBN-10:1-55642-629-1)

So if the child is complaining that their hand or fingers hurt or ache when they use the Quadrupod Grip, or that it is hindering their handwriting fluidity and speed, then we do need to support them in changing their grip. For some it may be more appropriate to introduce them to the Adaptive Tripod Grip (see last week’s blog) rather than trying to force them to use the Dynamic Tripod Grip.

We have to remember that every child is different and try our best to cater to their needs rather than our own preferences.

The Sun is Out!

I know last week we said we would start to look at alternative pencil grip, but the sun is out! (Promise we will start the pencil grip series next week.)

The SUN is out and it is time for the water fights and games to begin.

How can water fights and games, where you can get wet, be handwriting homework?

It’s June, the weather is 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!

 

Identifying Poor Eye Tracking and Spatial Awareness Skills in Handwriting

Eyes

Eye tracking and spatial awareness difficulties can have a dramatic effect on a child’s handwriting ability.  Weak skills in these key areas make it difficult for children to form letters correctly (curves and lines often not joining to complete the letter shape), as well as being unable to appropriately space letters in words and words in sentences. Other poor presentation skills include being unable to write on lines and often missing lines out when following on with a sentence.

For more information on how to identify eye tracking and spatial awareness difficulties as well as activities to help support and develop these skills use these links: