Thursday, September 29, 2016

Handwriting tips for the older preschooler

As preschool teachers in the Rainbow Room, Lisa and I often get questions from parents about their child's handwriting. Should my child be able to write his or her name by now? What about handedness- should my child have chosen his or her dominant hand by now? How can I scaffold their fine motor development at home? 

Our signing-in area: one child traces letters already on

the paper with her finger. Name cards and letter pieces
are to the right.

One of the richest ways we encourage hand-writing practice is through our morning sign-in process.* Each day when a child arrives, he or she washes hands, then proceeds to the sign-in area in which to write one's name. Currently we are providing several clipboards on a surface, each containing a sheet of adequately-spaced blank lines. Generally speaking, when our school year begins, children's skill and interest in hand-writing is emerging (appropriately so!) and the teachers are on-hand to scaffold this development.

Opportunities for fine motor practice and self-expression of
one's thinking are abundant in the classroom.

Occasionally a child switches hands, maybe for experimentation, but will lean toward one particular hand more than the other one. All children will eventually establish their dominant hand during their time in the Rainbow Room.

During the sign-in process, we consistently scaffold letter-formation for each child- either through the provision of a name card on which a child can see the letters of his or her name; through the use of letter "pieces" which connect together to create a specific letter; through the tracing of a letter on paper with a finger; through the practice of referring children to each other for letter formation "advice"; and, even by creating the letter shape with our bodies with a child. We have many tools in our "hand-writing tool chest" which can address the many learning styles our children bring with them to the classroom.**
A completed sign-in sheet. Everyone's
handwriting is different!

A child signing in- notice the non-dominant
hand holding the paper for stability. She
is also showing her letters starting at the top.
Another point to keep in mind, too, is that any habits formed now are harder to break later. This requires only a gentle reminder here and there; it's not necessary to have children practice over and over (like a drill). They are natural sponges of information! However, you can help your child by reminding them that letters (and numbers!) start at the top. As your child ages, the hand will be fatigued more easily if they are writing individual letters from the bottom-up. Lisa and I remind children of this point almost daily.

Pencils have attached "grips" to support
a tripod grasp.
  Another piece of the hand-writing process is the development   of a "pencil grasp". We see many ways of holding a pen or pencil in the Rainbow Room. Over time, however, we will start to encourage a more efficient way of holding a pen/pencil. Usually between the ages of 4 and 5, children are ready to hold a pencil in what's called the "tripod posture" or "tripod grasp". Most adults and older children hold pens/pencils this way: pen/pencil held with thumb, index, and
middle fingers. The hand can rest on the page in this grasp, making it a less tiring grip. We have pencil "grips" secured on our pencils, which promote a tripod grasp. This type of grasp is the most efficient one for learning to write print, allowing the greatest amount of finger movement with the least hand exertion/fatigue.

Also, during the development of this complex fine motor activity, the non-dominant hand acts as a stabling element to the paper. Sometimes children need this gentle reminder so their paper stays in place during the writing process.

If you have specific concerns or questions, even after reading this information, please get in touch with us! We are happy to provide you with more insights into your child's developing skills with hand-writing. If we have noticed something that needs more attention, we will certainly get in touch. Occasionally a child needs a little more support in the form of outside expertise from an occupational therapist to help develop fine motor muscle strength, but this recommendation starts with a parent/teacher conversation and lots of monitoring and scaffolding for a period of time. Please keep in mind, too, that we consider the variability of child development and don't hold children's skill acquisition to a strict specific checklist or timeline.

Want to know more? Here are some fine motor "ideas" you can provide at home: lacing, threading activities; stacking, building (legos, k'nex); winding, twisting, and screwing activities (nut and bolts/ construction toys); tongs, tweezers, clothes pins, and chopstick activities; puzzles; chalk, crayons, stencils, finger paints, and felt activities; cutting, tearing, folding activities; page-turning, beading, wrapping/unwrapping activities; etc! I'm sure you can see the many possibilities for naturally embedding fine motor activities into your day.

Have more ideas to share with the community? Share them here!
Like observational drawing shown here, handwriting is learned
in a social context. Children reference each other for advice
about letter formation just as they do with drawing.

*Other opportunities are utilized throughout the day which encourage writing: notes home or to other classrooms; signs or props for narratives, labeling items, and many more.

**It's important to remember that learning is multi-sensory at this age: making letters in the sandbox with a stick, or in the bathtub bubbles are really appropriate ways to encourage letter recognition. It's an entire body learning process!