Handwriting: ‘we write not with the fingers but with the whole person’.
What does the title quote tell us about handwriting and the act of writing?
The quote, from Orlando (Virginia Woolf), goes on:
‘The nerve which controls the pen winds itself about every fibre of our being, threads the heart, pierces the liver’.
The act of writing is both emotional and physical and is THE most complex skill of coordination we will learn. If children are to feel comfortable writing about their emotions, they have to feel physically comfortable writing. If not, the physical act of writing is itself a barrier.
What to do:
- Work on pencil grip and fine motor control with programmes such as Teodorescu (Write from the Start) and simple stencilling activities (be aware that handwriting also requires core strength).
- Reinforce and model the correct pencil grip from the start. Use pencil grips or this DIY version:
- Work on the pincer grip and finger strength with Duplo, Lego, pipettes and tweezers, or homemade salt dough.
- Ensure that children have automatic letter formation before you ask them to write words and sentences. Otherwise, you are simply reinforcing the wrong motor pattern which will be hard to correct later and impede fluency, sometimes causing discomfort.
- NB Some children will take longer before letter shape becomes automatic and may need to write letters BIG, using gross motor muscles because they are not getting enough sensory feedback from writing them small. If letter shape is not automatic, working memory is overburdened.
NB From Day-to-Day Dyslexia in the Classroom, Rody Politt, Joy Pollack, Elisabeth Waller (can also be done on a piece of paper in front of the child on the desk.)
see tutorial here
- Teach letter formation WITH an entry stroke: this leads readily to cursive writing and means that letter reversals are less common.
*cursive is from courir – to run – letters and words should literally ‘run’ across the page in a fluent fashion.
- Keep children that need it on wider lines until they are ready.
- There are a limited number of strokes required to form letters – work on these – e.g. perfecting ‘c’.
- Diagonal strokes can be very challenging for some children, try using a traditional, cursive form eg a looped k.
- Praise the small detail and ensure you praise boys. All too often, girls are praised for neat and well-presented handwriting, boys develop low self-esteem. This is self-perpetuating. It is particularly difficult for ‘unconventional’ girls who struggle to develop neat handwriting too.
*I’ve heard many children say they ‘hate’ their handwriting.
- Take time during the school day to practice handwriting, put on relaxing music and enjoy the artistry – letters are pictures of sounds!
- Use highlighters as a guide: for consistency in letter size, for ascenders and descenders.
This post from @RobertsNiomi caused a huge response:
- Try apps such as Hairy Letters (Nessy) and programmes such as Letter Join.
- Use salt trays, write on backs and hands, in the air, with a magic wand, trace sandpaper letters with the finger;
- chalkboards create a great kinaesthetic drag!
- Use handwriting to teach spelling and vice versa; interleaving.
- Handwriting is a motor skills activity and one of the earliest studies into interleaving was done in 1986, involving teaching 3 badminton serves.
Interleaving and motor skills: sports
My piece on Handwriting on Teachwire
Read Caroline Ash’s fab post about boys’ writing here