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Moving to mark making

Young children, due to the stage of their physical development, draw from the shoulder rather than the elbow and wrist using large arm movements. At this stage they often prefer vertical drawing and painting surfaces as it allows a free range of movements. This is often why young children will write on walls, not because they are being naughty but because it just feels comfortable and so more enjoyable.

Drawing and writing on a vertical surface is important at this stage as it helps young children develop the wrist strength and flexibility they will need later on to hold a pencil correctly for handwriting.

The jump from a vertical to a horizontal writing surface can seem too great for some children; due to their stage of development. These children may benefit from the paper being positioned on a sloped board.

If you are not sure whether a child needs a sloped board for handwriting, instead of buying a specialist board, you could make one. Try using a ring binder or lever arch file stuffed with magazines and newspaper to make a sloped board. Tape the edges to stop the papers falling out; you could cover it in sticky back plastic to give a smoother finish to the board. The advantage of this is that you can make them to any angle of slope. Try a few to see which, if any, the child prefers.

A homemade sloped board is just as effective as a bought one. Often a child only requires one for a short amount of time and quickly moves to writing on a horizontal surface. For a few children a sloped surface may be required for a few years, or indefinitely, in which case a purpose bought sloped writing board is a sounder investment.

Vertical to horizontal writing surfaces

Mark making and writing tools

Young children's first experience on the handwriting route involves mark making and simple drawings, whether it is with finger paints, writing in sand or with pencils and crayons. From about the age of 2, children start to move from a simple grasping (primitive) grip to one that secures the writing tool between the fingers and the thumb. In the early stages of writing young children will try different holds, which is part of their normal grip development for handwriting and drawing.

It has been widely acknowledged that a child who is forced to hold a writing tool using the correct grip, before they are developmentally ready, can be turned off engaging in the writing/drawing process as well as developing a poor pencil grip later on. Remember some children do not develop the ability to use the tripod grip until the age of 5/6 years old.

As young children's body's (gross motor skills), hand strength and dexterity (fine motor skills) are developing they need a range of pencil, crayon and paint brush thickness. Young children tend to prefer the thicker drawing tools as they can grip them more easily, helping them to make marks. If the pencil is too thin they find it difficult to grasp and control, making the drawing experience unsuccessful, which can lead to frustration and discourage them from trying again.