How to teach your child handwriting (BeginBrilliantly.com.au)
Key topics: pencil grip, motor skills, posture, toddler, pre-school child, handwriting, grasp, dotted thirds, hand muscles, poor handwriting, multi-media, Jo-Anne Lee, left-handed vs right-handed.
Are we losing the art of handwriting? Is there more emphasis the days, placed on using electronic devices? Yes and Yes. However, handwriting is still a necessary skill that children need in many aspects of their early transition into primary school and beyond. What we do (and don’t do) in their early years can set them up for a life time of ease around handwriting, where they can focus on getting their learning onto paper, rather than the struggle of handwriting adding to their stress.
Handwriting begins from a very early age. We see toddlers placing marks on paper, and whilst we may not know what they have written, toddlers will often have a very lengthy, entertaining narrative for these marks. And this is where we can begin to nurture their exploration. Pencil grip, posture, motor skills, modelling and of course, encouragement are all aspects of early handwriting development.
Encouragement. One word; but so intrinsically important. Handwriting is a complex task with many sub-set skills. Let’s start with a thought, this thought needs to travel from the brain to our tiny fingers, from there, we need to get our fingers moving, whilst holding an object and then trying to remember what we were going to write in the first place. This is a cyclic set of skills, as we then attempt to relay our thoughts and make sure what we have written represent these thoughts. This cycle can become ‘automatic’ or a painful process as children age and travel through school. We must encourage every, single step of the way.
Pencil grip: Ultimately, we are aiming for the tripod grip. This has the thumb and index fingers working together, the middle finger on the side of the pencil and the last two fingers tucked under.
Problem: Toddlers starting out may grip the crayon with their entire fist. Demonstrate a modified tri-pod grip. This is where the middle finger also sits on top of the pencil, as children develop their fine motor skills. As a school teacher for many years, I have started seeing a lot of children with their index finger crouched all the way up the pencil, or their thumb not even partaking in the process, making the wrist very tired from having to do all the work. Early intervention, to prevent poor handwriting, is a must.
Solution: When children are griping the entire pencil or engaging other fingers, have them hold a tissue in their pinky and next finger in the palm of their hands.
Fine motor skills development: The skill of handwriting requires fine motor-skills and development of hand muscles for strength and endurance.
Problem: If you are finding that your child has a good pencil grip but is struggling, you will see light, fine, often straight strokes.
Solution: Try using textas or felt tip pens, as they colour the paper with less pressure whilst children develop hand muscle strength. Once this is successful, graduate to crayons or ‘zoomz;’ from there, move onto pencils. Download our 8 activities (hyperlink to BB sheet) that you can do at home to increase hand muscle strength, dexterity and endurance.
Posture: Setting up for success includes a child’s posture. Incorrect table and chair height can interfere with handwriting and cause extra stress.
Problem: Poor posture leads to poor handwriting. Sometimes we see children almost climbing onto the table and resting their body onto their elbows.
Solution: Children should have their own learning area in the home with a chair and table set at appropriate heights, just as adults do with their desks and chairs. Adjustable tables are ideal to grow with the growing child. Feet flat on the floor and their tummy needs to touch the table, with elbows sitting ‘softly on top of the table.’ Our other hand should be used to hold the paper still and not for holding a felt-tip lid! Download our handwriting crocodile song to sing along with your children as they learn the steps of pencil grip, build hand muscle and identify correct posture. (hyperlink to BB sheet)
Size and formation: As we are aware, letters come in different sizes, and have different entry and exit points. The transition from print to cursive to joined writing are all significant and rely on the previous set of handwriting skills.
Problem: Children struggle joining writing or can’t distinguish between upper and lower case letters, this makes writing difficult or illegible. It should be reinforced that writing is for the reader to make sense from and therefore our writing should be clear and purposeful.
Solution: Teach family letters; where all letters with the same entry point are taught together eg c, d, o. Use dotted thirds to show the starting points and size and use directional arrows to demonstrate which way the pencil travels to create the letter. Our ABC mastery of handwriting booklet has practise sheets of upper and lower case letters and family letters (attach link for payment– we have in ABC )
Modelling from different media: Children will see many different representations of letter (graphemes). It is important to expose children to the different styles of letters and fonts, so they have greater success with reading and writing.
Problem: Teaching only upper or only lower case, or a particular style doesn’t allow children to explore what they feel comfortable with; they may lose interest if handwriting is too hard.
Solution: Identifying letters written by left and right-handed writers, typewriters, computers, advertisements in leaflets etc. Allow children to explore these different representations and not limited to print and cursive, upper and lower case, so that they may choose which style that represents their identity as a writer. Cutting out letters from newspapers, books, magazine and create an alphabet book. Our ABC mastery of handwriting booklet has practise sheets of upper and lower case letters and family letters (attach link for payment– we have in ABC )
Right-handed vs left-handed: Schools and school supplies now cater for left-handed students. Allow children to explore what feels more comfortable for them. Children will naturally interchange between the two hands, sometimes gripping crayons in both hands. Eventually the hand they feel more comfortable with, will over-ride.
Left-handed children will need consideration of paper placement, seating placement and equipment. The slant of their paper should be set on a slope, so that the lines are sloping downwards to approximately 4 o’clock. When seated next to other children, it is important to give the left elbow space and therefore, left-handed children’s seating placement should be given priority in a classroom or their working environment. Finally, children writing on a chalkboard or whiteboard need further consideration because their left hand will be wiping out their writing as they travel across the page.
Always encourage and celebrate the success of handwriting. The set of skills required for your child to commence making marks on paper is enormous and is one task they will need to practise consistently to prevent poor handwriting. Our PDF’s, once downloaded, are yours to re-use over and over, because we don’t want you to just begin school, we want you to Begin Brilliantly! (beginbrilliantly.com.au)
B.Ed, M.Ed; Specialising in Literacy Studies