Teaching students handwriting is quite different to teaching them writing. Writing requires high levels of thinking whereas handwriting is a specific physical skill. All physical skills are best taught in an exciting and fun way. Many students are not taught how to handwrite and this makes it difficult for them as they get older because they are unable to quickly write down their ideas in a legible fashion and they sometimes write letters back to front. The class environment should be rich with print so young students begin to realise that the lines and squiggles they see around them have important meaning.
It is essential to ensure that a range of activities is provided to support fine motor skills and eye-hand co-ordination. Dough is useful in developing pressing, pinching and whole hand movement. Pegs help with pinching. Threading beads and placing small pegs into holes help with eye-hand co-ordination. Painting, drawing and using thick crayons help students develop handling skills. Adults should ensure these implements are placed correctly between index, middle finger and thumb, so bad habits don’t form.
Students often begin writing by putting their ideas down in the form of pictures, random scribbles and later, scribbles that represent the letters they see around them. Young students may then attempt to copy these letter shapes and at this point it is essential to begin teaching correct letter formation. It is not necessary for young students to have a pencil thrust into their hands at this stage. Use the equipment noted below. The most important thing is that they are taught how to shape the letters correctly. Teach lower case letters first and group them into a similar movement. Begin with letters c, o, a, d, g, and q. All of these letters require the same initial movement. Now group the other letters of the alphabet into similar movement such as, r, n, m and so on. Teach one letter at a time and allow students plenty of fun activities to practise the formation.
Allow students to make the letter with dough and trace over their model with their index finger. Use wet or dry sand or shaving foam, to copy the letter formation. Thick paint brushes dipped in water can be used outdoors to practise writing on the ground. Thick, soft crayons or felt pens are useful implements to be used to practise, because students do not have to grip too firmly to make marks. Let them make patterns of different colours forming the letter all around the edge of a sheet of paper. Left-handed students will find it easier if they write on a slope so they can see what they have written. All students benefit from large scale mark-making, so make use of redundant sheets of paper or old newspaper to practise. Students enjoy these fun activities and they are learning at the same time.
Once students become successful in their letter formation and can write the first and second group correctly, they can then begin to write a few words such as dog, man, ran, road etc. Students may then feel that they have become good and confident hand-writers.
Have a range of resources on hand to vary students’ writing activities.
• practice one letter at a time
• teach the letters in sequence that start with the same movement
• use mark makers that do not require a strong grip as this hurts young students arms
• role model writing letters and make the activities fun
• note any problems students may have and support their learning in a fun way
Helen Bromley (2006) “Making my own mark: play and writing” London: Early Education
By: Gianna Ulyatt