How to teach writing? I am often asked this question and as a therapist working with children in the Early Intervention Group…. I quote Julie Andrews from the movie, “The Sound of Music” , “Let’s start at the very beginning a very good place to start…”
Writing is a complex task; it is an amalgamation of your brain, your hands, your visual perception skills, auditory perception skills, your muscles, attention and concentration. Phew!, and we thought it’s just picking up a pencil and writing ABC.
So where do we start, the first step towards writing is exposing your child to what is called a lot of pre writing skills and this starts with things like giving your children a lot of stuff to explore with, and use their hands. We need to develop the child’s inclination to write. So don’t start directly on paper it will take a long time and will be frustrating for both of you.
Start with simple blocks let them fix and take them apart, give them lots of play dough to fiddle with, lots of textures like sand, flour, talcum powder, water colours, crayons to simply mess around and scribble. For writing the development of fine motors is a must along with sitting behaviour. So let’s make it a lot of fun for our kids. Give them bottles with caps of different sizes to screw and unscrew. Let them trace standing and sleeping lines on these varieties of medium. I usually start with squishy yellow smiley balls, I give them play dough to roll and pinch, or to make shapes like circle, triangle or use the shape cutters to make a flower or bunny rabbit, or stick tooth picks on a play dough ball. Next I put vertical dots on my tables with talcum powder or water colours and ask them to join the dots with their fingers. At times it will be a powder race track and children have to race their cars through those tracks.
Slowly imitations of block patterns are also given, i.e. if I stack blocks of red, yellow and green, the same three colours are given to the child and he has to observe and stack his blocks in the same sequence. Putting beads in a thread is one of the most frequent activities given to a child to develop his focus as well as fine motors. Let’s give it a twist put different coloured beads in front of the child and then tell him to pick blue and red, or green or yellow. This will develop his listening skills, as he will require it when the teacher is dictating something and he (child) will need to write it down. He/she can also put the beads in a sequence like red, yellow, green then again red, yellow and now ask the child which colour would come next. This is develops his thinking and analysis skills. While developing the child’s auditory skills you can also develop his fine motors by asking him to stick bindis or stickers on a sheet of paper with different shapes or nouns etc. call out each object and let the child paste a sticker on that a natural and fun way to develop the pincer grip as well auditory skills.
Remember to always increase the level once the child achieves one level, it will give him/her newer challenges or they will otherwise get bored soon.
Remember slates, get them and different coloured chalks. Let the child trace lines on a slate with different colours, they are excellent to develop the right pressure. What I do is if the child is making say standing lines or even an alphabet I keep an array of coloured chalks in front of the child and ask him after each line or alphabet is drawn which colour would he like to use next. Believe me the children love to name the colour loudly and then pick it up and draw or trace. It gives them a sense of independence, when the teacher is asking them to pick and choose. I also make the child write on the same alphabet again and again with different colours. So when the child is over writing on something you hardly have to hold his hand, he can do it independently.
The next step is to introduce scribbling with colours on an A3 or A4 sheets. Again your imagination is the limit here let the child scribble on known nouns, verbs etc. with different colour mediums like crayons, water colours, pencil colours. Make sure the pictures are small and the child’s hand movement is restricted to that small picture not the whole sheet. Encourage him to restrict his wrist movement. To develop border perception, i.e. colouring inside a border, raise the border by using bangles, ice cream sticks or thick jute threads.
Posture or body position is an important aspect of writing. It helps in developing the concentration and focus of the child too. The child should be comfortably seated on a chair, feet should not be dangling. If that is the case place, a stool under his feet, because if they are left dangling he would keep on moving it, thus would not be focussing on writing. The wrist should be stable on the table. The supporting hand (i.e. the hand the child is not using for writing) should be holding the paper. This again is very important, many a times the child leaves it hanging and the notebook keeps on moving thus affecting the writing. The paper should be kept at an angle or slant. Experts differ in their opinion about this; I would say try different angles till you find the most comfortable position for your child. If the child finds difficulty in writing on a flat surface then use a slanting board. A slanting board naturally brings the wrist, hand in a writing position. If you feel your child doesn’t focus on paper still, then use a table lamp for some time. A table lamp focuses the light only on the table or sheet the child is working on and cuts off all other distractions. This has been effectively used by me for many children.
Now slowly introduce vertical lines (standing lines), again make it interesting like drawing some clouds on the paper, (just half way as initially the child will not be able to draw a very long line) and draw dotted lines, simultaneously say when the child is drawing the lines the rain fell down, down, down,( or the spider went down )….. Similarly for horizontal lines( sleeping lines) I draw a car on both ends and say the car went vroom, vroom..( or balls on both end and say ball rolled, rolled). Use anything that comes into your mind, children love the sounds and happily imitate and write.
Move on to diagonal lines, curves, in fact you can find the sequence in any writing practice books. Later make the children trace shapes and convert these shapes into something meaningful like a circle becomes a sun, or ball, a square becomes a table. Encourage the child also to think of something with the shapes, you are sowing the seeds towards developing his imagination skills. This is required later a lot, when he will have to imagine scenarios for his creative writing in higher classes.
Move on to the alphabets usually we start with the capitals and that two ones which are made with standing and sleeping lines like L, E,F, and then D, P,C these letters are basically left aligned also, so gives the idea to a child to keep left and start from left. Always give the child a box initially to write or lines little big ones. This would later ensure that the child writes the alphabets later in the same size and maintains proper space. Another thing to be kept in mind is how a letter is written, like “L” is written top to bottom vertical stoke and then the horizontal line. Do not let the child start from bottom to top. Many websites/books can guide you in this.
Having the correct letter image imprinted in their mind is very important to avoid any confusion later (between similar letters b, p, d, s, z etc.) in reading. So use ice creams sticks and play dough to form alphabets and letters, similarly writing them in air, sand or different textures. Write the alphabets or numbers on the child’s back or arms and ask them to guess what you have written. To make letter image more vivid describe the letters that gives an auditory input to. Like “L” would be standing line and sleeping line at the bottom “L”, “C” is half circle and so on, again there are material available online for this or use your imagination. Make sure you use the same description every time.
Slowly let the child move from tracing to copying of the shapes, alphabets, and numbers initially from on the same notebook or paper, i.e. copying something written just above. Next step is to copy from the board. This step has to be followed religiously otherwise the child will not get into the habit of looking at the board in the classroom. So make sure as soon as copying skills are introduced the child is given something daily to copy from the board. It can also be abstract shapes and designs or smileys or drawings. This also develops visual scanning in a child.
Slowly you will see your child’s confidence growing. All the actives I have mentioned when followed step by step, I have seen, requires hardly any hand holding or physical prompt. As we have slowly got the child to paper generating his interest. Still you may face certain bad days, when the child will not do anything. Leave him at that time and come back later. Believe me a child who writes willingly and happily will pick up faster compared to a child who is crying and you are literally holding the hand to write each alphabet.
So make writing a pleasure, there are lots of youtube videos, interesting worksheets and thousands of creative ideas on the net to make the whole process fun.
Some helpful sites..
So let’s write, as someone has rightly said, “the pen is mightier than the sword”…..