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How to Teach Your Children to Write (Handwriting, revisited)

Posted by homeschoolmentormom on July 13, 2011

Note: It has recently come to my attention that one of my most popular posts, “How to Teach Your Children to Write”, has broken links in it. Therefore, I have revised my post, added new links and more information. I hope you enjoy it.

      Are you thinking about teaching your preschooler/Kindergartener how to write?  Before trying to teach writing, make sure your children have had lots of experience with art–felt tipped pens, crayons, colored pencils, cut and paste, play dough, water colors, collage, stencils–all of it.  This helps children develop small muscle strength and control, as well as eye-hand coordination.  They should have had plenty of experience with manipulative toys as well:  Puzzles, Legos, pattern blocks, etc.

     Be sure your children are developmentally ready before you start “formal” lessons.  Most children won’t learn to write until they are 4-5 years of age.  That being said, it is important to remember that age is not always the best indicator of readiness; instead, watch for these signals: Interest (asking to be taught), natural or spontaneous learning (copying letters/numbers spontaneously onto their art), asking you about letters and their meaning, etc.  Additionally, your child should be able to draw a detailed picture of himself, with at least a head, body, arms, fingers, legs, feet, hair, eyes, nose, and mouth (the more detail the better.) Note:  If your child is younger but  has all the readiness signs, you’ll have to decide if s/he is ready or not; after all, you are the “expert” on your own child!  If you think s/he might be ready, start with some “trial” lessons, but watch carefully for frustration and keep lessons short.  If you have any doubts, it’s better to wait.

     Remember—there’s no rule that says you must teach your children to write their letters in alphabetical order; most parents start by teaching their children how to write their names.  A good way to get started is with sandpaper letters.  You can help your child use his/her pointer finger to trace the letter, using correct formation (i.e. to make an ‘h’, start at the top and go down, up on the same line, and then around.)  You can make your own sandpaper letters with medium grade sandpaper, scissors you don’t care about (they’ll be dull when you are done), and Sharpie pens (it might take two or more.) Here is what you do: Cut the sandpaper into 3×5 or smaller rectangles (playing card size is good). Next, use the Sharpies to write the matching upper and lower case letters on each card (Aa; Bb, etc.)  Idea: Cut one longer strip, and write your child’s name on it. That way, your child can learn to trace the letters of his name easily. And remember, your child  should learn to write his/her name with the first letter capitalized all the other letters in lower case!

     More sensory experiences:  For other sensory experiences, you can write letters and numbers in cornmeal, salt, or better yet, Jell-o powder (have your child lick his/her finger, form the letter, and then lick her finger again as a reward.  Obviously, kids with sugar/dye sensitivities or children with dirty hands should skip this one!)

     Before trying to write letters on regular paper, make sure your child knows how to hold a pencil correctly. Ideally, s/he should have already learned proper pencil grip through art experiences. Some kids struggle with this, and benefit from pencil grips (I personally like the “crossover grips” and “Pencil Grips by the Pencil Grip Inc.” best.)  You can also see (and try) various pencil grips at your local school supply store. Learn more about the proper grip (called the “tripod hold”) HERE.  You can read more about holding a pencil, along with suggested activities meant to strengthen fingers and wrists HERE.

Children also need a comfortable chair so they can sit up straight (your child might need a booster seat or child sized table and chairs for this.) For ideal handwriting posture, children’s feet should be supported, not dangling. An office chair that is adjustable also works well for this, too, and will grow along with your child.)

     When it’s time to teach handwriting, it’s a good idea to learn some “tricks of the trade”.  Sing, Spell, Read, and Write, the curriculum we’ve used with all four of our children (with great success), includes scripted lessons that show you how to teach your child to write, letter by letter (in the Off We Go workbook).  If you feel lost and don’t know how to teach writing (and phonics), you really need this curriculum! Alternately, you can order just the Off We Go workbook (which is what we used for Kindergarten–we turned it into an alphabet book).  Call 1 800 321 8322 to  order directly from the publisher, or order in online HERE (publisher) or HERE.

Other Tips: Sit down by your child and watch your children carefully while they are beginning to write, even guiding their hands if necessary.  Say the phrases you learned (or make up your own) while they write. I used to say: “First little ‘c’, then little ‘a’.”  “First little ‘c’, then little ‘d'”, etc.  It’s important to insure that letters are formed correctly.  Bad habits are easy to develop but hard to break.  It might not seem very important right now how your child forms the letters if they are written neatly, but when you begin to teach cursive, you’ll quickly find out otherwise.  Properly formed letters lead quickly and easily into cursive, but bad habits (such as starting an “n” at the bottom instead of the top) mean extra strokes…writing that takes longer than necessary, and re-learning the correct letter formation when learning cursive (third or fourth grade.)

You don’t have to buy a separate  “curriculum” for handwriting unless you want to; if you do, please save it for Kindergarten or even First Grade.  (Note:  Before you purchase a separate handwriting program, take a look at your phonics program and see how much writing it requires.  It might be all you need.) Personal recomendations:   Explode the Code’s Get Ready for the Code(perfect for Kindergarten);  Christian Liberty Press Handwriting or Handwriting Without Tears. For teaching cursive, check out Cheerful Cursive (they also make Happy Handwriting, but I haven’t seen it.)

Once your children have learned how to consistently form their letters correctly, handwriting practice is easy. You can use a handwriting curriculum, or just use spelling and vocabuary words as well as copy work for practice. In fact, any writing they do counts as practice.  Simple Bible verses make wonderful copy work, especially the Psalms and Proverbs.

      About paper:  You might want to head down to your local school supply store and buy some nice, lined, handwriting paper.  I personally hate Kindergarten-sized paper; I think the huge spaces make it harder for little ones.  Imagine, little hands that can barely make straight lines being made to make those super long lines!   We started our children with 2nd grade paper (or thereabouts), and stayed with it for a couple of years.  Also, if you can buy smooth, heavy paper, it’s better than thin, rough paper (see links below).

Finally, remember to keep your first lessons short and fun–no longer than 5 minutes or so.  If your child is resistant, back off for a few months before you try again.  Remember, waiting for readiness makes the difference between months of forced lessons with lots of tears, and fewer lessons done cheerfully.

     Paper resources:  Miller’s Pads and Paper sells quality lined paper; Target and Amazon sells Composition books that contain bright, smooth, lined “story paper” (blank on the top half for drawing pictures; lined on the bottom for writing.)  They also carry”Redi Space” paper to help children space their letters, and “Mead See and Feel Learn to Letter” which has raised  lines.  It’s nice quality paper, especially for the price!

© 2010, 2011 Susan Lemons all rights reserved.


3 Responses to “How to Teach Your Children to Write (Handwriting, revisited)”

  1. Kayla said

    My question is about the child reversing letters and numbers when they write. I have a little boy who will be 6 in October. He is a very stubborn little boy and insisted on teaching himself to write numbers and letters from posters we have up on the wall. Long story short he taught himself to hold the pencil wrong and his letter formation was awful. I purchased Handwriting Without Tears Preschool in January and we have overcome most of his writing problems. He is having a horrible time with numbers. He writes every number reversed and number combinations are written reversed and backwards. For example 911 is 119 and he doesn’t see the difference between my 911 and his written 119. We were writing numbers outside with sidewalk chalk and he saw my written number 3 and he said I can do that too Mommy and wrote 3 backwards and smiled really big. I have a degree in Early Childhood Education and taught pre-k for 4 years but none of my students did this! Did any of your children have trouble with reversals? Should I just give him more time. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks, Kayla

    • Kayla,
      Reversing letters is very common; my youngest often reversed his 3’s, 4’s and 7’s up unitil he turned 7. I wouldn’t worry yet; I’d give him some more time (6 months to a year.) One reason I’m not worried is because you said he has already overcome most of his problems with reversing letters. If he had a “diagnosable” learning problem, I think he’d still be struggling with the letters, lessons or no lessons. Here is what I’d do: Make him sandpaper letters and numbers, and have him trace them with his finger; have him make numbers out of play dough (draw large letters on construction paper, and have him roll ‘snakes” and then lay them over the lines); work on games/finger plays that use right then left hands, so that he can learn his right from his left (if he hasn’t already), and so you can tell him “twos and threes curve towards the right”; have him trace numbers (try writing them with a yellow felt tipped pen for him to trace), have him glue beans onto numbers, and so on. Puzzles and other manipulative activities that require him to recognize shapes and outlines would be helpful, too (Legos and other building toys, tray puzzles, 25-50 piece puzzles, table blocks, etc.).
      To help his struggle with longer numbers/sets of numbers, I’d have him use a finger to follow along the numbers like kids do when they are learning to read–from left to right, of course, having him tell you which number his finger comes to first, then naming the numbers, as he sees/learns them, and then write the numbers. (For example, for 9-1-1: Have him use his fingers while you ask him, “which number does your finger come to first when you read this number? Yes, the nine. So let’s write the nine first,” and so on.) Sit right there with him whenever he writes numbers or letters to make sure he gets in the habit of writing them correctly.
      You could do his math orally and with manipulatives for now, so that he can keep progressing with his learning, OR you could just do his math with him and guide his hands when he writes the answers so that he writes them correctly…OR you write the answers and have him trace over them….whatever works for you both.
      If you try these things for 6+ months and he still reverses his most of numbers most of the time, I’d contact my state-wide Christian support group and see if they can recomend a specialist nearby who can test him. It’s usually best to avoid public school entanglements. S/he would be able to tell you if there might be a learning problem going on or not, as well as give you activities/excercises of various types to do at home that will help him. Oh- and I’d also have his eyes checked right away. This could be a simple vision or eye-tracking problem.
      Let me know how it goes!

  2. Kayla said

    Thanks so much Susan. I will start trying your suggestions this week. I appreciate all your help. Kayla

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