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:
The warm up exercises can be accessed through a number of ways:
Teachers through the content section for the Key Stage you are teaching:
Young children love drawing on walls due to the stage of their physical development. They draw from the shoulder, rather than the elbow and wrist, using large arm movements. At this stage they prefer vertical drawing and painting surfaces as it allows a free range of movements. This is why they will write on walls (often newly decorated), not because they are meaning to be 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 needed later to hold a pencil correctly for handwriting. Having the freedom to move more instinctively without restrictions means that a child is free to focus on other aspects, such as feeling the movement as they make shapes and gaining the confidence to have a go without fear of getting it wrong.
Esme at the age of 3yrs 9mths was very happy to draw (more scribbling) and colour sitting at the table but Mum was not quite sure how to move her on. So, the following idea was suggested; to tape some large pieces of plain paper up on a suitable wall for her to draw on with appropriately sized pens, crayons or chalks.
This was the response:
Message from Mum was:
“She’s loving this idea. She did a triangle and a ‘s’ all on her own with no encouragement.” As the day went on Esme revisited the drawing wall and later on that day this photo arrived:
Message from Mum: “She just did her name.” This had been the first time she had done this.
An easel was then ordered!
The jump from a vertical to a horizontal writing surface can seem too great for some children; due to their stage of development. If they are still using some large whole arm and/or big elbow movements then they may benefit from the paper being positioned on a sloped board.
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 and dexterity.
There are so many recipes, especially online, for making quick easy great tasting food (make a large batch and freeze the rest).
So, if the sun is shining, or it is just not raining, get out there find your local ‘Pick Your Own’ or check out the bargains at your local shops/market and get cooking!
The last thing you and your child probably want to think about right now is handwriting or phonics and getting ready for next term; and quite right too!
So, don’t think about it in the conventional way of practise, practise and practise.
Think more play, play and play!!!
Children learn so much through just playing; developing physical, mental, communication and vocabulary strengths and skills, which all support them at school and with learning.
Once introduced to a new game or activity children will very often take it and make it their own, making new rules and introducing extra characters or challenges.
The skill as a parent is remembering to let go of your preconceived ideas about how a game should be played and letting your child take the initiative.
If you provide the opportunities, it is amazing how they will take on the challenge of inventing a new game or (in their eyes) improving an existing one.
This does not have to cost a penny; use the toys they already have or make games using empty plastic bottles or cardboard tubes.
The following types of play can support and develop the key strengths and skills your child needs for handwriting and you have not had to mention school or homework.
The local play park is a fantastic free resource; running, jumping, crawling and climbing can all be encouraged. If your child is a little reluctant then it may well be that they are unsure how to do some of these activities. Explain when jumping that they needed to land on their feet and bend their knees as they land. Start small and as their confidence grows so does the height or distance they jump. Climbing can be scary for some children so again explain how to climb, moving one hand or foot at a time so that there are always three other points of contact.
If you are lucky enough to have a garden then mud play is messy but so much fun, it can be contained in a small area and will not only make you a cool adult but, if you join in, it will knock years off you (have a go, it is a great free therapy session).
Skittle games are always fun, extend the activity by decorating the skittles (plastic bottles or cardboard tubes) using anything from crayons, paint or even dress them up as people or animals.
The SUN is meant to be out which makes it time for the water fights and games to begin.
It is August so 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!
How can water fights and games, where you can get wet, be handwriting and phonics homework?
You will be encouraging your child to develop their hand strength, co-ordination and eye tracking skills (all handwriting skills). However, these games are also fantastic for developing sound and word awareness skills.
Try mimicking the sounds that the water makes as it drips on to the floor or hits the targets; use directional language to support your child’s aiming skills; describe how the objects move when hit: bouncing, rolling or flying and talk through the emotions evoked through playing the games.
As well as supporting your child in developing a whole range of physical and language skills you will also increase 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)!
Handwriting with fluidity, speed, accuracy and over longer periods of time requires a complex range of whole body and hand strengths and skills. So, it is not surprising that many children find handwriting challenging.
The summer holidays are the perfect time to start working on supporting your child to develop the physical strength and skill sets they need for handwriting and many other everyday activities.
How do we do this?
Last week we looked at the importance of different types of play. By giving your child the opportunity to experience the different types of play you will also be supporting them to build their physical strength and skill sets.
Handwriting skills development is not all about paper and pencil worksheet activities (though these help later on).
So, it is the perfect time to go out and play or, as is often the case, stay indoors and play.
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.
Hand Swapping is a normal developmental stage in infants and young children and therefore, at this stage, not a sign that a child is uncertain of their dominant hand. However, this is not ideal for a child who has started school.
Hand swapping throughout a task is not necessarily a sign that a child is uncertain of their dominant hand.
There are two routes to tackling the hand swapping issue, the one to use depends on your answers to the following questions.
1. Does the child usually start with the one hand and then swap when that hand gets tired?
You can usually tell if this is the case because they may shake out or rub the tired hand and once it is rested go back to using it again. This is probably because their fine motor skills are weak. Through focused games and activities (https://teachhandwriting.co.uk/gross-and-fine-motor-skills-games.html#hand-finger), the muscle strength and dexterity can be gradually built up in the dominant hand, which in turn will build their stamina so that the hand swapping will reduce until they stop it altogether.
Once you are sure of dominance gently discourage swapping hands by taking a break from the activity and coming back to it a couple of minutes later using the preferred hand.
2. Does the child use their left hand if items are presented on their left-hand side and their right hand if they are presented on the right-hand side?
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 discouraging 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 that flows 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 t 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.