Handwriting teaching tips
Non-pencil pre-handwriting patterns & letter formation ideas
Big to Small – to help develop the motor memory for particular directional movements and shapes.
Start big by using the whole body to move around the shape, or letter, a child is trying to learn. Then steadily reduce the size of the activities until you reach the paper and pencil stage.
- Really Big, set up an obstacle course which makes a child move in the same directions as the letter formation would, they could walk, run, scooter or cycle the route.
- Very Big, draw the letter really big on the ground with chalk, make the start point and direction of travel clear and talk them through the walk of the letter, any turns, and which direction to take. Do this several times and then get the child to talk through themselves as they walk the route, perhaps even getting you to do the walk and telling you what to do. Try different ways of moving through the letter but always make sure they are moving in the right direction needed to correctly write the letter on paper.
- Big, by drawing the letter in the air using large arm movements which cross the mid-line (vertical imaginary line that runs through the middle of the chest and belly button). Talk through the actions with them, stand next to them (on their left if they are right-handed or the right if left-handed) when doing this, rather than in front. This means they can watch and copy you easily if they get stuck or confused.
- Getting smaller, with your finger draw the letter on their back while talking through the actions and then get them to repeat the activity on your back.
- Smaller still, try drawing the letter in different media such as sand (wet or dry), finger paints or corn flour mixed in a little water to form a kind of paste. Make sure they are forming the letter correctly; make the start point and direction clear for them. It can be a good idea to let them play freely first before trying the letter or shape formation exercise.
- Even smaller, now look to draw the letter on paper, letting them use whichever writing media they like - paint, crayon, chalk, felt tip or pencil as long as they are holding the writing tool appropriately (age dependant). Make the starting point and direction clear for them to start with then let them do it by themselves. Once they seem confident in forming the letter move to large gapped lined paper and pencil and reduce the line gaps as their skill improves.
Encourage the child with positive comments by saying how you like the way they remembered where to start and moved in the correct direction or to cross a ‘t’ or dot an ‘i’. Elements which are not correct need to be addressed; try more positive and self-assessment style phrases such as, “next time try to…”, “Which do you think is best?”, “Why do you like that one best?”
Tips for teaching pre-handwriting patterns, single letters and numbers
- With young and pre-school children it is best to use plain paper so that they don’t feel restricted in their movements or constrained by size.
- Provide vertical surfaces to paint, write and draw on, as this helps to strengthen and develop the wrist flexibility they will need to grasp and hold a pencil properly.
- In the early stages of learning to form pre-handwriting patterns and letters use a range of media and both vertical and horizontal positions as it helps to engage a child as they will see it more as play. Use paint, chalk or sand to draw with, or in. The important thing is to model and explain how to make the pattern or letter shapes and the correct directional flow of the tool or hand.
- Check how a child holds a pencil against our pencil grip development stages guide. Don’t be tempted to move a child on too quickly as it has been proven to encourage poor pencil grip later on, as well as de-motivating children.
- As the child’s gross and fine motor skills develop so will their ability to control the writing tools, allowing them to move from large to small pattern or letter sizes.
- Teaching the pre-handwriting patterns in groups can make it easier, as the child can concentrate on specific directional pushes and pulls.
- Start with patterns the child is already starting to use as it will build their confidence and encourage them to try harder patterns later. By taking a closer look at the child’s drawings or scribbles you will be able to see which lines or shapes they are beginning to form.
- Being able to write their name is such an important milestone in a child’s life. Why not introduce the patterns that are needed to form the letters of their name? Talk through the shapes being formed and how and where they appear in their name.
- The age at which to start a more formal approach to teaching handwriting patterns varies and is dependent on the child’s fine motor skills ability. Some children can be taught from 4 years old while others may be 5 or 6 years old.
- A child uses their gross motor skills at the early “big” stage of learning to form letters and moves to using their fine motor skills as they start to hold a pencil correctly and reduce the size of their handwriting.
- As a child’s control and fine motor skills improve, so the size and space in which the letters are formed can be reduced (big to small). Remember the early stages are all about forming letters correctly rather than neatness and size.
- We would recommend that you focus on teaching the lower-case letters first and the capital letter of a child’s name.
- Teach the letters in their family groups, as this reinforces the start point and initial pushes and pulls of the pencil, not alphabetically.
- Make handwriting sessions short and sweet. If you try to make them too long a child will become bored and reluctant to do more. As their confidence and skills improve so will the amount of time they are happy to spend learning and practising their handwriting.
- If a child is reluctant to draw or write try our Playtime Draw/Handwriting Session ideas (See further down the page).
- Left-handed writers need to be taught to 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.
- Learning to handwrite is a difficult skill to master and takes time, patience and plenty of praise and encouragement.
- If a child is struggling it might be a good idea to check their pencil grip, how they are sitting at a desk to handwrite and whether they are ‘fit for handwriting’(Key Strengths).
Tips for teaching how to join letters when handwriting
- Some children will find the join strokes a little tricky to start with, so try using the joins section in pre-handwriting patterns to help them learn the additional pencil strokes needed.
- Teach the joins in groups, just as you did for letter formation, and build up their confidence by starting with the easiest joins.
- Begin by joining 2 or 3 letters together at a time rather than long lines of joins that go across the page. It is best to match the number of letters joining to a sensible word length.
- Remind the child that the aim is not to take their pencil off the paper until the number of letters or word has been completed, then they dot the i’s and j’s and cross the t’s.
- Capital letters can cause a bit of a problem as children often know that they do not join, however it can cause a spacing issue with large gaps being left between the capital letter and the rest of the word. Try asking them to place the pencil point next to the capital letter where they think they will start writing the rest of the word. You can then help them learn to adjust their spacing and talk it through.
- A tip that will help when a child is just learning to join and is copying from a text or board is to teach them to take a word or a couple of words at a time rather than looking up for every letter of a word. This may seem obvious to us as adults but you will be surprised how many children do this.
- If the words to be copied or written are known to the child you can start off by say “if you know it then just write it”, if they need the reassurance that they do know the spelling ask them to spell it out loud to you using the letter names not sounds. Correct the spelling if necessary or confirm it, get them to say it again, and then say “now write it”. They may find it helpful to say the letter names as they write, not only does this help the flow of their writing and build their confidence, but also supports their spelling knowledge.
- For new words, which the child cannot spell, say the letter names and get them to repeat them. Then, as they write, get them to say the letter names. If you see them hesitating, or it looks like they have forgotten, prompt them by saying “now go into (whatever the next letter it is)”. What you want is for the child to keep the pencil on the paper and the letters flowing. Remember, you are helping them to learn to join their handwriting not spelling; it is just a happy coincidence that the activity also supports spelling.
- If they make a mistake then don’t rub it out, just try again. If you want to, put a line through it. Remember making mistakes is how we learn, we should not feel ashamed of it. It also allows you and the child to see how much they are improving as time goes on.
Tips for a right-handed person teaching handwriting to a left-handed child
- Talk through with the child the fact that you use a different hand to do tasks, like write, draw and cutting out, making it clear that that is normal and people just do things differently.
- Learning to write is the same for left and right-handed children except for a few minor adjustments in the pencil grip and paper tilt. You could talk through and demonstrate these differences; sitting next to and on the right of the child if they are left-handed and you are right-handed.
- Show them the correct paper position and tilt for you and then set up the correct paper position and tilt for them. Explain that the paper is positioned differently for them so that they can see the paper and their writing as they write, which they could not do if it was positioned like yours.
- Next demonstrate how to sit properly at the table, which is exactly the same position for a left and right-handed writer.
- Because the dynamic/mature tripod grip is considered the best grip for all writers to use it is easy to show and help a child to do. The only difference is that for left-handed writers they hold the shaft a little higher up and they angle the tip of the pencil towards the elbow rather than the shoulder. These small adjustments allow them to see what they are writing without affecting the free flowing movements of the hand.
- When writing the writing hand should be below the writing line for both left and right-handed writer.
- Use a range of pre-handwriting patterns that help a child to practise the left to right pencil pushes and pulls they need for forming letters. These patterns help them to get used to how it feels to move the pencil left to right rather than their natural instinct to want to write right to left (I would do this before introducing a letter family).
- Before teaching a child to hold a pencil it is a good idea to practise and make sure your own pencil grip is up to the task. Children love to copy their parents and teachers so you need to lead by example.