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 Formation Animations & 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.

Stage 1 to #Handwriting Success – Pre-handwriting Patterns

Pre-handwriting patterns are the first stage in supporting a child to handwriting success. They help the child to learn the shapes and directional pushes and pulls required to form letters. All letters are a combination of these shapes and lines.

Young children can start to learn these patterns through their play, long before they are ready to pick up a pencil, moving toys back and forth across the floor or whirling them around in the air. To a child it is just play and fun, but you are doing something far more powerful and constructive by helping them to develop the motor memory patterns and directional movement skills they will need for handwriting.

Later, as their coordination and gross motor skills develop, they make more controlled and varied movement patterns in their play. Changing directions, speed and size are all prerequisite skills needed for learning pre-handwriting patterns.

These handwriting patterns do not need to be taught as worksheet activities (though they do help to perfect shape and pattern formation), drawing pictures and patterns in sand, paint and with other writing tools are all fun ways to practise.

Teaching the handwriting patterns in groups helps to further develop the specific movements (pushes and pulls) required to form them and help commit them to the motor memory. A child can then recall these motor memories to support them as they begin to form letters.

Pre-handwriting patterns that encourage a child to move their pencil from left to right are very important for left-handed writers. They need to be taught this so that they can make the cross motion in the H, T, J, G and I from left to right, as their natural instinct is to go from right to left. If this is not corrected when writing E and F the cross lines will not be “anchored” to the letter.

Once the handwriting patterns have been mastered a child will have the confidence and skills base necessary to start forming letters, numbers and symbols.

Have you got your Free Pre-handwriting Pattern Animations & Worksheets?

For Teachers: https://teachhandwriting.co.uk/pre-handwriting-patterns.html

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

The Three Stages to Learning Handwriting

There are three distinct stages for children to progress through to develop a good handwriting style:

Stage 1 – Pre-handwriting Patterns

Pre-handwriting patterns support a child towards handwriting success. They help the them to learn the shapes and directional pushes and pulls required to form letters. All letters are a combination of these shapes and lines.

Stage 2 – Single Letter Formation

For children to develop a good handwriting style it is important to learn how to form the letters correctly.

Beginning with lower-case letters and only the capital letters for the first letter in a child’s name, examples: Peter Rabbit, Sally Green, George Blue or Mary Shell.

Learning the correct lower-case letter formation also makes the transition from single letter formation to joined letter handwriting much easier.

Stage 3 – Joined Handwriting

Learning to join letters for handwriting enables children to 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

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.  

Correctly Naming the Letters of the Alphabet

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.

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.

One of the first things we like a child to be able to write correctly is their name, however most names are impossible to spell using the simple phonics code taught to young children. A name does not have to be long in length to be phonetically difficult to spell such as Christopher or Charlotte. Shorter names such as Lucy or Liam also cause a problem. 

The only logical answer is to use the letter names (an alphabet coding system) alongside the simple phonics system introduced to young children. 

Jim Rose in his report back in 2006 ‘The Independent review of the teaching of early reading, final report’ highlighted the fact that:

“… 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 reasons for this are not fully understood by researchers’.”

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.

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’!

To use, or not to use, a pencil grip aids? That is the question.

Aids to support good pencil grip can be very useful for some pupils. However, one of the issues with their use is that, when a pupil has not got the pencil grips to hand, they revert back to the original poor grip position.

Pencil grip aids generally do not correct the grip, they just force the hand and fingers into the correct position for writing. To correct the grip permanently the physical factors that have created the incorrect grip need to be addressed.

The use of grips can encourage a pupil to write more fluently, building their self-esteem, whilst you work on correcting the factors that have caused a poor grip to form. The long-term aim must always be to get the pupil to grip the pencil correctly without the use of aids.

Transferring handwriting skills from worksheets to paper 

At Teach Handwriting our aim is to move children off of worksheets as soon as possible. To achieve this, it is important to encourage them to transfer their skills to plain or lined paper whichever is most appropriate to their ability level. We realise that it is not always possible to buy paper with the appropriate line height in all cases, so would recommend creating your own on the computer.

  • Use a combination of worksheets and lined paper in each handwriting session with your 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.

We realise that printing off our worksheets and coloured lined paper can become costly so, to help reduce the costs:

  • 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.

Choosing a Pen for Handwriting

Choosing and using the right pen can help to avoid smudging; make handwriting look smarter and prevent hand strain when writing for extended periods of time. Everyone is different, so the type of pen required is different too.

There are three main points to think about when choosing a pen for handwriting:

  1. The type of ink it uses.
  2. The size and weight of the pen.
  3. The type of point it has.

1. Types of ink used:

  • Oil-based ink
    • The ink is quick drying and so does not smudge easily
    • The ink flows smoothly depending on the point style of the pen
    • Ink can stop and start for no apparent reason
    • Water-based ink
      • The ink does not dry as quickly as oil-based ink so can smudge
      • The ink flows very smoothly

2. Pen sizes and weights

Because pens come in different shapes, sizes and weights it is important for your child to try out a range of pen styles to help them find the best fit for them. Remember one pen style does not suit all, everyone’s hand size and finger length are different.

Things to consider when choosing a pen:

  • Does it feel too short or too long?
  • Does it feel too thin or too thick?
  • Does it feel too heavy or too light?
  • Some children like a smooth round pen shape.
  • Some prefer a textured round pen shape.
  • While others may prefer a hexagon shaped pen.

3. Pen points

Pens come with different point or nib widths and shapes. The size and shape of the point gives different line thicknesses and are usually purchased as point sizes: extra fine, fine, medium or bold (some will have a measurement on as well).

A fine pen point produces thin lines and some children will find this can help to make writing neater.

A medium and bold point give thicker lines which many may find smoother to write with, though the letter size may be slightly larger because of it.

Once again it is important that children try out a range of pen point sizes to help them find the best fit for them.

Remember one pen point style does not suit all, everyone’s fine motor skills and writing pressures are different.