Let’s Write…

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..
1. www.schoolsparks.com
2. www.education.com.
3. www.worksheetfun.com
4. www.guruparents.com
5. www.eyecanlearn.com
6. www.do2learn.com
7. www.havefunteaching.com
8. www.printactivities.com
So let’s write, as someone has rightly said, “the pen is mightier than the sword”…..

Let’s Play…

What is the occupation of a child? … To play..Yes! It’s as simple as that, and there is tremendous potential in play. The truth though is somewhere while teaching A,B,C, 1,2,3 we have forgotten to let our children play.

Remember our childhood, when we came back from school, without even waiting to change our uniform or to finish lunch we would just run out to play with our friends. In each of these games, be it hide and seek, running and catching each other or pretend playing teacher – student, doctor – patient, etc. we never realised that we were developing so many vital skills which were going to help us later to become physically strong, mentally agile, emotionally stable and problem solvers. But, are our children playing enough?

Play develops all our skills, gross motor, fine motors, cognitive, imaginative thinking (required later when the child is asked to write about, “A visit to the Zoo” or “How I spent my summer vacations” in creative writing). It also develops body balance, environmental awareness (essential for children to be actively involved rather than be lost in their own world), eye hand coordination. It plays a crucial part in developing a sense of spatial awareness ( a child who has a concept of space in gross motor level is able to transfer it better on the paper and able to maintain the correct size of words and letters or maintain adequate space between them while writing.), and last but not the least it develops focus, sitting, attention and concentration. Research also shows that children when playing freely are totally of guard and at times project what they are going through in life through play. Personally, I am a big fan of play and try to incorporate it as much as possible in my sessions too. Well, you can say I relive my childhood when I am playing with children.

Play also does not mean buying expensive toys, things around in your house are excellent play material so let’s start.

For sensory needs (I start with Tactile or the touch sense) collect all varieties of grains, sand, scotch brite, plastic scrubbers and loofas, different types or textures of door mats, dough kneaded in different colours (you can use food colours for this), coloured water (which child doesn’t like water play? )

While using these always observe your child if he ( I am using he for convenience sake )  doesn’t like a particular texture don’t force him. Let the child learn his shapes, animals, vehicles etc. through these different textured materials. Hide them in these textures, e.g. dal or sand let the child find them. Concepts like wet & dry, hot & cold, or splashing, etc can be done through water play. Simply splashing water at each other connects you with your child; he enjoys it tremendously and is totally in synchronisation with you, giving you all his attention.

Plain four, sand, sooji, powder etc., can be used to teach pre writing skills, it’s the most effective tactile input too. Let the child trace his standing, sleeping lines or shapes in these. Let them race their small cars in tracks you have made in them. It will also ensure a lot of mid line crossing activities helping further in brain development. I have also used these to develop concepts like matching. By placing two dots each of different colours on a table I would ask the child to join dots across the table which are in same colours. This is developing his matching skills as well as tactile input, eye hand coordination.

To develop eye contact use dough or powder, put it on your nose, cheeks, forehead basically on your face, making funny faces and sounds. Let the child remove it from your face. Put bindis or stickers on your face naturally guide the child to remove it from your face. Bubbles are my trump card and the moment I start blowing them I have seen each crying child stop crying immediately and look at bubbles and me, with so much fascination. Use them in hundreds of ways, make the child catch the bubbles, pop them. If he is expecting you to blow more bubbles just wait for him to say “more” or give you some sort of indication. You are encouraging the child here to communicate with you or create avenues for interaction.

Similarly hang a balloon or soft toy and give your child a small toy tennis racket or let him use his hands now slowly push the toy or balloon toward the child  and let him hit the target with his hand or racket. This improves the attention and reflexes of your child. As your child’s confidence increases push the toy from different angles and with increasing speed. Hitting a balloon also is an excellent activity to develop focus, eye tracking (a skill required for your child to read from a book or black board) and eye hand coordination.

Free play also gives you a ground to develop natural conversation.  E.g. “I am putting powder on your nose, cheeks, and tummy” or “put the circle on the yellow car or oh look at the train it’s going under the tunnel or is on the bridge”. Building train tracks with bridges or tunnels on the way are excellent avenues for great natural conversation. While sitting across the room keep vehicles of different sizes and send it across to the child using adjectives like big , small, colours etc. use phrases like the “car goes broom –  broom” , or the “cow says moo” while showing animals to the child. Children love to imitate such sounds.

Another fun activity I do is, sitting across the child at his eye level and making him press my nose or cheeks or chin, and each time the child does that I produce sounds like the pig says “oink oink” (while the child is pressing my nose), or meow of a cat (while pressing my cheeks) etc. The squeal of delight and the natural eye contact I get from the child during these moments are priceless and worth all the efforts. You can use this later to press the child’s nose, cheeks and encourage him to produce the same sounds.

Spread different textured door mats on the floor one after the other. Make fun activities like transferring objects (which could be nouns) from a box, on one end to the bucket in the other end. The child here is getting his sensory input as well as actively learning concepts.

You can use hoopla rings to teach concepts like, jump into the ring, let’s jump out, spin it to show how it spins and then falls. I am yet to see a child, who doesn’t giggle in delight when he sees the hoopla spin.

You can create an obstacle course like keeping a small chair, a table some cushions on the floor and now instruct the child to crawl under the table, on to the chair, crash on to the cushions, the list being endless. This simple activity develops each and every aspect of your child, be it his gross motors, instruction following, midline crossing, planning his body movements thus increasing his spatial awareness

Play is active learning in contrast to flash cards or most table top activities. Since the learning is happening through child’s interest it is more permanent. A child whose sitting has been developed through play, in my experience I have seen takes naturally to table top activities I have seen the child taking interest then in books or writing too.

Play is actually so much fun and so much active learning and language development in a natural way. The learning here is active not passive. You just have to put on your thinking caps and let’s get started …

So happy playing and have fun…