Helping Children Learn How to Print Why Correct Letter Formation is Important Learning proper letter formation is extremely important, particularly for any child with a learning difficulty. When children try to write, they have to cope with many skills at the same time: - sound/letter association (What letter will make the
sound I need?)
how to form the letter (I know I need a d, but which way round does it go?) - visual/perceptual skills and visual/perceptual memory (What does a b look like? Did I make a u or an n?) - auditory sequencing and visual/perceptual sequencing (What series of sounds do I hear in the word I want to write? Did I put the letters in the right places?) - spatial skills (What part of the letter sits on the line?) -
If letter formation is automatic, memory and thinking is “freed up” to cope with the other skills needed, the auditory/visual/spatial aspects of writing. To give an analogy, think of learning how to drive a car for the first time, particularly a standard shift. Initially one has to worry about the movements of the stick shift, steering, learning how to work the clutch and brake pedals, remembering to check rear and side mirrors, road rules, etc. Once the stick shift movements become automatic, as they do with repetitive practice, one is free to concentrate on the other aspects of driving. Children with automatic letter formation can concentrate on the other aspects of writing.
IT IS IMPORTANT TO LEARN THE CORRECT MOVEMENTS FROM THE START AS IT IS HARDER TO BREAK BAD HABITS THAN IT IS TO CREATE CORRECT LETTER FORMATION PATTERNS. The ideal time to begin is during the pre-school years, when the letter formation movements can be learned through drawing play, with no pressure to form accurate letters. Movement is the Message to the Brain Repetitive movements used in letter formation help to give the brain an accurate image of the letter shape. Letter formation basically is composed of straight lines and circle shapes. All letter shapes are formed from the top down, rather than from the bottom up. By using exaggerated whole arm movements and the sense of touch (writing with the palm of the hand or a finger on a large flat surface ) and by encouraging these movements to be made, at times, with the eyes closed (to reduce visual confusion), the motor movements, or patterns of letter formation can be learned. Because the correct movements have to be repeated frequently to be learned, it is important to have a variety of methods up your sleeve. The following are some examples: - “ride my hand”: the adult forms the letter shape correctly using the palm of the hand. The child places
the palm of the hand on top of the adult’s hand as the letter is formed on a flat surface. standing up with the arm fully extended, making a huge letter in the air, bending where necessary (it will look a little like doing Tai Chi) writing with the palm of the hand (large movements) on a wall, a table-top, a counter writing with a finger in a pan of soft white sand, or in flour on the counter writing with bath crayons on the bath tiles writing with a large child’s paint brush and water on a blackboard writing with a fat marker on a brown grocery bag writing with a china marker on a piece of paper placed over a 8”x11” piece of window screen (frame it with wood or strong tape to prevent cuts) writing with a stick or a long icicle in the snow, or with a stick in the sand at the beach
It helps to “talk through” the movements as you do them. For example, when making b: “Here comes b: top down, then up and around, with a big belly towards the door” (or whatever is appropriate in the room in which you are practicing). The auditory input coupled with the kinesthetic input helps the brain to learn the motions.
The Basic Movements First group: straight lines (ALWAYS start at the top) l, L, i, I, t, T, H, k, K, J, j, f, F, E
All there letters are formed from the top down as straight lines (with the exception of J j and U u which curve at the bottom, and f, which curves just before starting down). After making the straight stick of the k first, the other lines are added top to middle, and middle down. F and E start with the first line left to right at the top, then the stick down. Second group: straight slanted lines V, v, W, w, A, Y, y, X, x These letters are formed with a slanted line, starting from the top down. V and W then have the line go up to form the second part of the letter. X and Y have both lines starting from the top down. Capital M is formed as a straight line down, the V movement, then the last line down. Z is formed with a straight line along the top (left to right), a slanting line down, then a straight line across the bottom (left to right). (You can refer to it as a diver walking along to the end of the diving board, diving down, then swimming back.)
Third group: down, retrace up and around r, n, m, h, b, p All these letters are formed in a similar way. The straight line is formed first, top down. It is then retraced up, and the curved line formed. If these movements are practiced consistently, b and p will not be reversed. Fourth group: curved letters starting with a ”c” C, c, a, d, G, g, O, o, Q, q, S, s, e
THIS CAN BE THE HARDEST MOVEMENT TO GET CORRECT Start the c shape by thinking of a clock face: start at 2 o’clock, go up past 12 o’clock (to the left) and finish at 4 o’clock. With the letter o, just finish where you start. With s, start like the c, then keep the line curving the other way. With e, start with the straight line in the middle (left to right), then continue into the c shape. Children’s biggest mistake is to start at 12 o’clock, then they cannot achieve the rounded shape. This is important, as the letters a, d, g, q need the rounded shape before the stick is added. As the rounded shape is closed, the stick is added straight down for a, up, then straight down for d, straight down then curved for g, straight down then a straight partial line up for q. If pre-school children are taught to make circles the correct way, always starting at 2 o’clock then circling around to the left, they will have the basic movements learned before having to worry about letter formation. REMEMBER, REPEAT, REPEAT, REPEAT! Several little incidental practice sessions daily are better then a prolonged boring paper-pencil task. Tanya MacLeod Resource Teacher
***If your child is left-handed, it may be necessary for YOU to model using your left hand (this may be difficult to do on paper, but using chalk, sand etc, it really isn’t as challenging as you might think!). Some left-handed writers are confused when trying to imitate a right-handed example.