|Letter tracing doesn't always involve a|
pencil and connecting dots. In this activity,
the boys use tape to trace the letter Tt. S tears/cuts
his own strips. I pre-cut strips for Y to pull off the
side of the table and S decided to help him, too!
Early writing is such an exciting phase. I can actually remember learning to write my own name. Like so many other aspects of my childhood, this was something I did on my own terms, in my own time, with the support and encouragement of my teachers and parents, but in my own way. I remember making "Es" with a bazillion extra lines, because if three are good, certainly 839 are better. I held my writing instrument my own way, and while I was given grips and cushions to support it, I never had this corrected. That is an area that as a teacher and now as I parent, I utilize the good ol' fashioned do as I say/demonstrate, not as I do. Long periods of handwriting are physically very painful for me in the way that I hold my pen or pencil.
I now have a son who is eager and motivated now to write, but does not yet hold his pencil correctly. Both boys have low muscle tone and motor activities can take some extra time and TLC to coordinate. S has always been quite strong in terms of fine motor skills. He was always drawn to activities like hammering, using screw drivers, stringing tiny beads onto beading twine, using scissors to cut, hole punches, squeezing glue from the bottle, working with doughs and clays and more. Drawing and writing were not activities he necessarily sought. We've done a lot of artwork and pre-writing activities here, for sure! He's had access and exposure to a variety of writing mediums. Yet, I've never pushed him to sit and write or work on letters or even his own name. With this, I did take a cue from my own parents and teachers, and let it be something that he came to naturally. Additionally, in times that I did offer to correct his hand position, he would often flee the scene altogether and I took his cue and backed off. I knew that when he was ready and more likely than not, it would be in his classroom, that he would approach the task with the same zeal and enthusiasm with which he approaches everything else in his life. And that time rolled around this school year for him.
Over the summer, S's pictures had transformed from scribbles to representative shapes that occurred on the page, taking him by surprise and morphing into story lines. From there, he discovered he could control the writing utensil (albeit with a significant level of challenge and difficulty) and create shapes and images to support his story rather than vise versa. From there, I happily passed the reigns to his very competent and supportive teachers to encourage and support him in correcting his hand position to use writing instruments and art supplies more efficiently. In the world of early childhood and occupational therapy, there are many pedagogues surrounding writing. Heated debates emerge about introducing uppercase versus lowercase letters. Arguments persist over whether children should be given crayons first or markers. Pencils that are wide or pencils that are standard size. Should children be given grips and supportive devices or be taught and made to hold their writing instruments correctly from the get go and refused the opportunity until they are able to do so?
As in so many areas, I am not an expert and I am eclectic in my approach. As a teacher and as a parent, for me personally it boils down to best supporting the individual. Children are going to write for the remainder of their lives. Given that fact, my opinion is that we must do whatever we can to encourage them early on and support them in the lifelong process. I certainly advocate for ruling out extenuating circumstances that may make writing difficult including motor challenges (like my own boys' low tone), muscle weakness in the hands, core and/or upper body, visual impairments that have an affect (my younger one would fall into this category), and other learning differences or difficulties. Adequate support in these instances is so helpful! And then, we get creative. We find ways at home and in the classroom to make writing accessible, exciting and maybe, just a little bit sneaky...
on the Montessori approach to encouraging early writers in the home, and we continue to do a lot of these things at home for both boys now. In addition, last year we transformed the desk in the boys' room from a catch-all-the-junk-I-can't-get-around-to-putting-away location to an actual writing center for S. It was amazing. At first. And then Y became very mobile around the room and busy "redesigning" and, let's say, our beloved desk has returned to its sad original function. I hope to tackle this one over the weeks to come because S has actually requested to use his "Writing Desk" and although we tend not to spend so much time in the boys' room other than bedtimes, I think it would also be a source of encouragement for Y (who then might hopefully be less inclined to utterly trash the place during nap time...hey, a mommy can dream). But even if you do not have a designated desk or space for writing, a home or classroom Writing Center can be as simple and transportable as a plastic caddie, set of drawers or plastic storage box stocked with supplies.
Supplies? What supplies? Well, I take an approach similar to stocking any other area of our home. Less is more, and rotation is key. Perhaps you offer pencils and lined paper or notepads. Perhaps sticky notes and skinny markers. Letter stamps and stickers are fabulous. Dry erase markers and a cloth are a great writing tool for little hands and you can provide a white board or tablet or make your own dry erase sheets using laminated paper or sheet protectors. Lined paper, white paper and notebooks are certainly standards in the world of writing and age specific options with wider lines and spaces are available. That said, sometimes these are overwhelming or unappealing to more "reluctant" writers. Colored paper or paper without lines (that can be both intimidating and restricting to early writers struggling with size and spacing) are a great addition. Paper in smaller sizes (like index cards or even standard size letter paper cut in half) can also feel more approachable. Beyond the obvious things to write with and things to write on, I also encourage you to stock your writing center and living space with printed language. Naturally print rich environments include books, labels, signs and plenty of opportunity to see written language. You might also consider writing or printing off words children frequently want to write/spell, including their names, family members' names, theme or season relevant language, etc.
Pencils are also a writing standard. I love golf size pencils for little hands and Ticonderoga even makes them with erasers (a huge benefit to early writers who may get frustrated by mistakes). You can also break a standard pencil and sharpen it and add your own pencil top erasers. Speaking of sharpening pencils--this is a great (and sneaky) fine motor activity for developing hands! So grab an old fashioned sharpener, a small container to collect the shavings and let them have at it! I've had students more interested in sharpening all the colored pencils than using them, and I go with it. When it comes to choosing whether to use a standard pencil, a fat pencil, a triangular pencil or only offering markers/crayons until grip with those are mastered, I still feel it's most important to do what supports the individual. If a child is drawn toward pencils, allow them. If she wants to use a marker, allow that. Markers are infinitely easier to get a bold and clear stroke from than most crayons or pencils and pens for that matter. If you want to work toward efficient grip, choose a skinny marker as opposed to the larger Crayola standards.
To Grip or Not to Grip? That is the question. I'm sure I will please some OTs and offend others, but I am going to go ahead and say that if a child is helped by the use of a pencil grip and wants to use it, go for it! S just recently got a set of grips in his classroom and came home eager to use one that we had on his pencil. I saw how encouraged he felt and how much more confident it made him and ordered more. He needed a quick correction in holding the pencil in the write direction and not turning his hand upside down, but then he took off! I would never force him to use it all of the time nor would I refuse him the option of using one if he wants to.
journals here for both boys and although S and Y are at very different stages of writing, they both love the activities. I offer the same setup to both boys with tools and expectations that are custom fit to their developmental level. S might have a squeeze bottle of glue in his caddie and a pair of scissors with a pre-traced shape on some paper to cut and glue. Y might have a pre-cut shape and a glue stick or a jar of glue with a paintbrush. The aim is for both of them to feel supported and not frustrated by expectations out of their range on either end of the spectrum.
Letter tracing definitely looks different for S than for Y. S can connect the dots and "accurately" trace the letters. Y can take caps off of markers and is working toward snapping them back on. He can also make lines, scribbles and swirls--sometimes even on the paper only! I offer tracing activities both in paper/pencil (or marker/crayon/pen/etc.) form and in dry erase/marker form. I especially like dry erase markers for their ease of strokes and re-usability. Chalk and chalkboard/chalkboard slates are another great alternative.
|Gingerbread Letter Tracing and other amazing reading and writing resources available at Letters of Literacy|
Sneaky Writing Practice: When writing and tracing letters is not so appealing for children, I sneak in the motion itself. A squiggly line drawn from a treat to the table helps S practice his first letter without the typical activity of tracing and copying it that he sometimes feels averse to. Practicing those curvy, boxy and zig zaggy strokes are so vital to correctly and efficiently forming letters later on. Drawing their own mazes, lines and playful strokes in pictures are great ways to sneak that in.
Additionally, I sneak writing and pre-writing opportunities into our play areas. Whether it's laminated party invitations, order forms and dry erase markers in our Birthday Bakery Shop, or graph paper and colored pencils for making blueprints in our block area, writing opportunities are at the ready in every room. I even keep a memo pad and pen inside a zipper pouch in my purse so that an item can be added by print or picture to my preschooler's ever growing wish-list. This has helped us simultaneously dodge a tantrum and practice writing!
What's In a Name? A child's name is often one of the first words he learns to recognize and write. I have always encouraged my students to write their own names on their work in whatever way they know how. I've had students come through my pre-K classes at all levels and stages of writing their name and leave at varying levels and stages as well. I always aim to meet the children where they are at and support them in reaching that next step. With more reluctant writers (and my own preschooler is in this category), it can be a little daunting. The tendency to plateau at having an adult write their name for them (and the ease and time saving factor with which we often jump to the rescue) can cause the process to seemingly stall. And yet, every child I've worked with has someday, somehow, written his/her name independently. I, for one, sat with a pocket sized memo pad writing again and again and again in my babysitter's basement. One student I had sat in his cubby one afternoon for a good long while and emerged writing his whole name. Another sat next to a few friends who taught him how and was so proud!
My own son is most encouraged by having help from his teacher. He came home eager to show me a worksheet she'd sent home with his name to trace. He held it in the car and put it in a safe spot for after his nap and couldn't wait to trace it! I, being the neurotic mommy-teacher I am, sneaked a peek at the website on the corner of the page and printed off a dozen more with his name and Y's as well (because all younger brothers must have what older brothers do). I laminated one for each of them to use and reuse with dry erase markers and set out a stack of both boys' names printed on colored paper. S decided to trace Y's name this morning! You can create and print your own name practice sheets at createprintables.com. You can also take a peek at some of our other favorite writing and pre-writing activities for more ideas.
There are many ways beyond what fits in this post to support and encourage early writers through all stages of development. My very favorite and most forgotten one is to let them see you do it. Whether it's writing a shopping list, keeping a journal, handwriting a birthday greeting or holiday card, it's so important for children to see adults writing and to intuit the importance of printed language. I realized that one reason S was likely more drawn to scissors and needles with thread than pencils and pens was that he sees me use them. He was likely drawn to hammers and nails and screw drivers seeing his Tatty use them. Most often, however, both his Tatty and I accomplish our written tasks over the phone or computer. He has not seen us writing. So if you can't beat 'em, join 'em! Get out a pen and some paper and start writing yourself. You might be surprised to see your little ones join right in the fun.