By Holly Britton
My dad knew it was important that I got the basics down pat when it came to car maintenance. He didn’t want me breaking down ever, but if I did, he wanted me to have the skills to take care of the problem. So, I learned to watch the gas gauge, fix a flat tire, and change the oil. From time to time he’d tell me, as I was running out the door, “Remember to check the oil!” What he was really saying is, “You won’t get where you want to go if you neglect the basics.”
I was never once bothered that he made me learn those skills and it never bothered him to teach me. I look back on that season grateful that my dad took the time to show me how and make me do it myself. Because of his guidance I was able to not only take care of my car, but drive with more confidence knowing I was equipped to handle challenges that might come my way.
The school year is well-underway, so I want to throw out a reminder that might boost your students’ confidence in writing and help them power forward in their learning…especially if they are TK, kinder, or first grade kids. If you are requiring them to write (anything…their name, a new word, a sentence, a description…whatever!) and you find them struggling to write with ease, try adding daily letter formation instruction and practice. I realize this could feel like going backwards but look at it this way: you might be trying to drive a stalled car! Your little learners may look and sound busy, but they may not be making the progress you hope they are making.
You can’t steer a parked car
Several of the fundamental skills they will need for their entire lives begin with you in your class this year. (That’s me reminding you to check the oil.) One of those fundamental skills is handwriting. It is the very first, most basic step in a child’s writing journey, and the skill they (and their teachers) will depend on for years to come. Writing their letters efficiently with ease is a necessity. In order to move forward—that is to get to a place where handwriting is like second nature and can be used to learn other things—the basics must be properly tuned. Without that, students will sputter along and may just stall out altogether.
You are in the driver’s seat
Left alone to acquire basic handwriting skills, children will come up with all kinds of ways to make the letter shape, ways that often make letter formation awkward, halting, and illegible. Why not check your students progress in this area right now? Assess for yourself how they are doing and what they need to work on. Look for these common missteps:
- Clockwise circles- Letters such as “a,” “d,” “o” should be written
- Bottom to top- Letters such as “b,” “h,” “l” should start at the top line and go down.
- Picking up pencil unnecessarily- Letters that can be written without lifting the pencil, should.
All of these practices, if left unchecked will make for inefficient, slow writing that may prevent the student from reaching their full writing potential.
Here are 6 teaching tune-ups to help your kids make forward progress in handwriting:
- Practice small motor skill activities every day (i.e. cutting with scissors, activities that require pinching, finger play games, sign language words, etc.).
- Show kids how to properly hold their pencil and monitor them as they learn.
- Use a pencil or crayon on activities other than letter formation (i.e. mazes, dot-to-dots, guided drawing activities, etc.).
- Evaluate their letter formation based on how they form the letter not how the letter looks when they’re done (This is a big one! Neatness will come with control. For now, we want to make sure the letter is formed in a way that will lead to writing fluidity.)
- Practice letter formation every day.
- Enforce correct letter formation across the subjects and especially when writing their name!
Early childhood teachers and parents of young children have the best chance of supplying the young student with the fuel they need to go far and establishing a healthy trajectory for a child’s writing journey. Let’s set them up for success.