The Right Handwriting Tool for the Job!

writing tools 2

As with learning any new skill the right tool at the right time can make a real difference to the whole learning experience as well as the outcome. Learning to handwrite is no different.

Young children due to their gross and fine motor skills ability require chunky shafted tools so that they can grip them effectively. This means they have a greater control over the tool and can achieve a more satisfactory outcome. If they are using a tool that is too thin they will find gripping it difficult and have to keep changing their grip. They will have less control of the tool making the experience disappointing at best and off-putting at worst.

To help young children to store patterns and letter shapes formation into their motor memory it is important that the tools used provide a resistance rather than one flow effortlessly over the writing/drawing surface. The greater the resistance the more the body can neurologically acknowledge (feel) the movement and help to send appropriate information to the brain.

Some of the best tools for young children to begin learning to draw patterns, shapes and correctly write letters:

  • Chalk on boards, walls or paths
  • Flip chart pens or large felt tips on course paper such as sugar paper
  • Using appropriately sized paint brushes on course paper or surfaces
  • Finger painting or finger drawing in sand, paint or cornflour mix
  • Finger tracing and then trying to draw the pattern, shape or letter straight afterwards.
  • Try chalking the shape or letter onto a blackboard and have the child use a damp sponge to wipe it off again (make sure the child starts in the correct place and moves correctly around the shape or letter to the correct finish point).
  • Appropriately sized crayons and pencils on course paper or card (non-shiny side of cereal boxes and corrugated card can be good fun and different to use).

As children begin a more formal approach to learning to form their letters correctly then appropriately sized and lead grade pencils are the best tool for the job. Pencil come in all widths, lengths and shapes. The key is to find the style of pencil which best suits the child and their stage of pencil grip development. Remember one size doesn’t fit all!

When a child has learnt to join their letters and has a good and consistent letter size and places all their letters on the writing line correctly in relation to each other, then it maybe they are ready to be moved to pen. It is important before moving to a child to pen that they are writing with speed (appropriate for their age) and fluidity (comfortable writing all the letters of the alphabet lower and upper case correctly). A child whose handwriting is slow and laboured may need additional support and time before being moved on to pen.

Warm up For Handwriting!

tommy-thumb

Well the festive holidays are over and many of us are back at work and school. So it is time to get back into good habits for the New Year!

So, before you try to encourage your little darlings to sit and write, get them to do a few physical handwriting ‘Warm Up Exercises’.  Not only do they help to prepare the hands and fingers for the task ahead, they also help to release any tension that has built up. They are fun to do, which usually brings a smile and often laughter, an added tonic to any learning experience.

The warm up exercises can be accessed through a number of ways:

  • Teachers through the content section for the Key Stage you are teaching by clicking on the Handwriting warm up activities button.
  • Parents through the getting the most from our website section by clicking on the picture under the Taking the tension out of handwriting title.
  • Resources in the How to Teach Handwriting section by clicking on the Handwriting warm up activities button.
  • Follow this link: https://www.teachhandwriting.co.uk/handwriting-warm-up-exercises.html

Joining Letters – So Much More Than Just Good Handwriting

join sentences

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).

Bibliography

Medwell. J, Wray. D: Handwriting: what do we know and what do we need to know, Literacy Vol. 41, No 1, April 2007.

Why it is Important to Teach Correct Letter Formation

Beginner and sign

It can often be assumed children will pick up how to write letters if they see them often enough (by osmosis). This is just not the case.  Correct letter formation has to be taught. Seeing a completed letter or word or watching it be typed up and appear on a screen does not show children how to form the letters.

For children to develop a good handwriting style it is important to learn how to form letters correctly to begin with as this makes the transition from single letter formation to joined letter handwriting much easier. This enables them to develop a speedy, fluid and legible handwriting style.

Letters are created through joining lines and curve shapes in a particular way. They have a designated start point and set directional pushes and pulls of the pencil to reach the designated finish point. This is why at Teach Handwriting we teach letter formation in groups/families rather than in alphabetical order. Certain groups use the same, or similar, shape and directional push and pulls of the pencil to form the letter, for instance the letter c has the same start point and anti-clockwise directional movement shape that is needed to create the letters a, d, g, o and, though a little more complicated, the letters s and e. Teaching letters in groups and families can also help to limit letter reversals such as b and d.

Due to how handwriting has or hasn’t been taught over the generations we all have our own way of handwriting. When supporting and teaching young children we need to develop a consistent approach so that they do not get confused or frustrated by adults giving them conflicting information.

For parents this means finding out from your child’s school which letter font they are teaching so that you can support them more effectively at home. This may mean that you have to learn a new way of writing some letters. This also applies to teachers and teaching assistants. As the adults in the situation we have to accept that it is for us to make the changes. Just because something is different from the way we were taught, or do it, doesn’t mean it is wrong it is just different!

Our free letter animations are not just to support children with their learning but also to provide parents and teachers (all adults really) with the knowledge and support to help children develop a consistent handwriting style.

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.