The Best Type of Paper for Teaching Handwriting

paper types 1

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.

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.

Joins A & W 2

To download different line heights of our picture and coloured coded paper, scroll to the bottom of our ‘Handwriting Animations and Worksheets Page’: http://bit.ly/2F9P7cI

Handwriting Really Starts with Play

Messy paly 1

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 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: http://bit.ly/2AaX8sk

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!

The Second Stage to Handwriting Success – Single Letter Formation

Letter Formation 2

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.

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.

Free Letter Formation Animations & Worksheets: http://bit.ly/2F9P7cI

The First Stage to Handwriting Success – Pre-handwriting Patterns

Pre-handwriting Patterns 1

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? http://bit.ly/1yibFhm

The Importance of Using Letter Names

Letter 1

On our Teach Handwriting website and Scheme, as well as on our Teach Phonics website, children are taught the letter names to begin with. Some schools, teacher and parents still 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 reasons 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.)

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. 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 I suggest is to use the letter names until a child has been introduced to the more complex phonics coding system.

How to improve your child’s handwriting

School Reports – Handwriting Improvements Needed!

So, the school report has been received and you have been told that your child needs to improve their handwriting.

This is all well and good, but what exactly needs improving?

CC Z 1

 

What are they finding difficult and how on earth do you write a continuous cursive z?

 

So, you eventually get some handwriting practice sheets home or off the web. But no amount of time spent doing them seems to make much difference. It seemed to take longer to get them started than they spent practising handwriting. In fact they seemed worse because they were unhappy and frustrated with their own progress, so the more you try to push them the more resistant they become. Eventually you think there has to be a better way than this?

Doing more of what you are already struggling with is not always the answer. Handwriting is a complex skill to learn and there are a number of reasons why a child may be struggling.

To check that your child’s handwriting skill base is appropriate for their age, and/or to find where you are best focusing support at home, check out the parent section of our website, I would suggest looking at the following section first:

Supporting your child’s handwriting development can be fun using physical games and activities. To check if your child needs extra physical strength support or has other specific learning needs check out these areas in the parent section of our website:

With the summer holidays coming up it is a great time for you to be able to observe and assess your child’s key physical strengths and skills. Armed with this knowledge you can play games and do activities which then help them to develop the strengths and skills which may be holding them back and making handwriting a difficult task to master.

warning signIt is important to check and know which letter formations are being taught in school and that this is what you teach at home. Otherwise you will only be causing more frustration and stress for your child.

To Trace or Not to Trace, that is the Question?

 

Trace 1Tracing has been an activity frequently presented to encourage young children to learn how to form letter shapes, especially in early years teaching.

However, current research suggests that encouraging young children to free write is a more powerful way of engaging the brain to learn how to form letters when compared to tracing them.

Learning to handwrite requires a child to remember which shape they want to make (visual memory) and how to make it (motor memory).

Here at Teach Handwriting we feel that traditional pencil tracing activities are not a particularly effective way to teach children pre-handwriting patterns and letter formations. This is because children are often so focused on controlling the writing tool around the shape that they do not fully engage their motor memory storage and visual memory skills.

We believe that finger tracing a pre-handwriting pattern or letter shape is more effective than pencil tracing. The greater resistance provided by finger tracing stimulates a child’s nervous system, instantly making them aware of their actions and helping them to focus on the movement by engaging both the motor memory and visual memory. This information is initially stored in their short-term memory but, with continued practise, moves to their long-term memory. Having to think less about how to form the shape, because they can subconsciously recall how to make it, allows a child to then concentrate on controlling the pencil.

Good Handwriting is …

join sentences

Often good handwriting is associated with how neat and lovely it looks. Beautiful penmanship is not a guarantee of quality. Some children will spend ages forming their letters so that the piece looks great but have not produced a well composed piece of work.

So, what do we consider the important elements to a good handwriting style:

  • a fluid hand movement that is comfortable;
  • letters are of a consistent and appropriate size and positioned correctly;
  • that the writer can produce and maintain a good handwriting speed;
  • that it is completely legible to others.

Here at Teach Handwriting we believe that learning to join letters increases the accuracy, fluidity, speed and legibility of handwriting. However, 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).

When to Introduce Joined Handwriting

single to joined

Here at Teach Handwriting 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. 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.

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.