Monday, July 30, 2012

Learning to Write the Alphabet

Before kids can really learn to write, letter recognition lessons must be a thing of the past.  Is your child able to recognize all the letters of the alphabet - in most fonts?  Does your child recognize his or her own name?  Once you know he or she knows all of the letters, begin looking for letter shapes in everyday things.  Can your child find those letters too?  Transition, by tracing those "everyday things" that are letters with your fingers.  Here are some more materials you can "play with" to make sure they really know their letters while also introducing your kid to the idea that he or she can make letters too.

Beginner's Activities:

Coil any of these materials around to turn them into letter shapes.

  • Clay rolled into long "snakes" or "noodles". 
  • Jump Ropes.
  • String, yarn, rope, etc.
  • Bendaroos.
  • Pipe Cleaners.
  • Many Capitals can be made with sticks.
  • Shoe Laces.
  • "Walk the Letter" - can they make it in footsteps?  Use footprints in the sand, footprints made with paint on a large surface, or just the imagination.
  • The whole body (You might want to check out this site together too)
  • Bread or pretzel Dough rolled into ropes (Then Bake and you have letter-shaped rolls or pretzels)
  • Glow Necklaces (The really long ones, they are not as flexible as the other materials listed, so you may need to help hold the "corners")
  • Use "Things".  For example spread out a whole bunch of buttons to form letters.  You could also use rocks, Popsicle sticks, paper clips, flowers, flower petals. . .
It is also key that your child has mastered "scribbling" first.  I know, I know - yes I hear you chuckling over how ridiculous that sounds.  I chuckled too, but when I taught in the preschool we worked with the kids on "scribbling skills" and it really did help them when they hit the "fours" classroom and started to learn their letter writing skills.  The fours teachers could always tell who had been at the school and had this part of our curriculum and who had not.  In the beginning, let them scribble whatever they want.  As their scribbles become more and more "intentioned", start giving them challenges like various shapes (especially circles), spirals, straight lines, wavy lines and zig zag lines.  Can they trace these things?  Can they make their own within their artworks?  These are the precursors to writing.

Make sure they see you writing too.  Let them try to imitate you.  When you write a grocery list, hand them a small tablet and encourage you child to "write a list".  Yes, it will most likely really just be scribbles, but are they writing left to right?  Starting at the top and working their way down, do their scribbles look like wiggly lines going across the page and having beginning and ending margins?  Write love letters to them.  It will mean a lot to them and show them how useful writing can be (something I wish I had done more of with Alice earlier).

Now You're Starting to "Get Serious" (Late Preschool/Kindergarten)

A Note on Handwriting Programs:  

There are a ton of options from which to choose when deciding to start doing handwriting with your child.  They all extol their own virtues (of course), but in reality they are all pretty similar in terms of how handwriting gets taught - through lots and lots of practice.  The trouble with having all these different options is it means that between our own individual flourishes in our handwriting AND the different styles for teaching handwriting, we further complicate matters by giving kids multiple ways to write the same letters.  I learned d'nealian style letters, but taught
Alice using Handwriting Without Tears and had to work to make sure I formed my letters the HWT way.  Anyone who will be working with your child on their writing needs to use the same style with which you choose to teach at first.  If there is a second guardian also working on school work with your child, he or she needs to learn the handwriting style being used too.  If your child is in a mortar and brick setting, learn and use the school's preferred style when you are helping your child.  It just makes things less confusing for them.  It is important even to make your circles for your "a's", "o's", "p's" and all the "magic c" letters go the same way (counterclockwise in every teaching style I've seen), because this increases speed later on.  So, whatever program you choose, I recommend choosing one program, studying that program and its letters carefully and then Stick With The One Program.  That way you don't get confused and neither does your child.  

We are using Handwriting Without Tears, because that is what her virtual school uses.  In regard to Handwriting Without Tears (which is super popular right now), it is a good program in that it offers up tools for the preschool child to further aid in letter recognition and the precursors to writing.  In this way the program truly distinguishes itself by ensuring the child is getting the pre-writing skills needed when you start with the very beginning of the program.  It also offers up songs, lessons on proper writing posture (which helps avoid bad backs and carpal tunnel down the road), and "fun" ways to think of letters beyond just looking at their shape on the page.  The program has helps for the visual, kinesthetic and auditory/verbal child, as well as pages specifically designed for use with right AND left handed children (which I can't say for others).  The program also prescribes a unique order to learning the letters that is based on how easy it is to write each letter, rather than alphabetical order - which I like a lot.  However, it is not really a guarantee there will never be any frustrations and it is quite expensive to purchase the whole program.  A lot can be done without all the expense of the whole program.

Don't Start on Paper Too Soon:
Another mistake I made with Alice.  Since I taught preschool, I knew other kids were learning to write their letters when they turned four, and because she had already learned to read, I mistakenly thought Alice was ready.  She wasn't though and I should have known that reading skills and hand writing skills are two very distinct things.  Sometimes I just don't transfer that wealth of knowledge I got in my teaching courses to my own kid.

Alice was experimenting with letters and she was close.  She could already write her own name.  She had chosen a few favorite letters and was very proud of herself for writing those, but she was still "writing large".  Her hands simply weren't ready for completing letters in a defined space or on a line.  I tried to have her write smaller too soon and I wish I had spent more time with large motor activities first.  

Here are some ways to get your kids forming letters using larger Motor Skills as a start before expecting writing on a page, or as a review when everyone just needs a fun break from regular handwriting practice.  I used to do these activities with my "3's" class frequently, but really did largely skip over them with my own little one.  It is okay to do both - especially when writing on paper is directed by the child while you encourage rather than correct (trust me, I'm speaking from the experience of a few mistakes here).

Writing Without Boundaries:

  • Trace it or Draw it in the Sand with large sticks or shovels.
  • Trace it with your Toe (you can also draw it in sand with toes).
  • Write it in the sky (imagine the lines).
  • Write it in the sky with Glo Sticks at night.
  • Use Sidewalk Chalk.
  • Paint it on a cement block wall (or other large, relatively flat surface) with a large paintbrush (like for painting walls in your house) and bucket of water.  The water marks will fade away as they dry, but it is an especially fun way to cool off during "lessons" on a hot day.

Boundaries that are "Big"
For these activities, movement should mostly come from the shoulder - sometimes the elbow, rarely the wrist or fingers.
  • Use large chalkboards or white boards.
  • Big Tablets (one letter per page or very short words).
  • One Square in the Sidewalk.
  • A Portion of a Fence.

To Make the Mundane "Gourmet", they can also "squirt" their letters big with:

  • A can of pressurized whip cream.
  • Shaving Cream.
  • Silly String (make the space REALLY big for success).
  • Water in a spray bottle.
  • Glue.

To encourage your child to begin fitting their letters into a slightly smaller space you can have them "carve" their letters into these materials with their index finger:

  • Shaving Cream.
  • Moon sand.
  • Sand.
  • Jello or pudding.
  • Finger paint rolled onto a page thickly (or let them apply the paint with a finger)
  • Hair Gel

Getting Even Smaller (and more "serious"):

Once you start writing on paper, you can still go back and revisit any of the above activities in order to have a refresher, or if things are getting frustrating and you need to find some joy in handwriting again. Mazes and Dot to Dots are a wonderful way for kids to practice "defined lines" where the lines must go a certain direction and stop at specific places.  Coloring books where they "stay inside the lines" also make for good practice in pencil, crayon, marker, etc. control.  So do many art lessons where a child is drawing or painting a specific object.

Here are some fun things to write on besides paper:

  • Magnadoodle
  • Glodoodle
  • Aquadoodle
  • Old Carbon Paper
  • Scratch Paper
  • White board
  • Chalk board

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