When we think of handwriting many questions come to mind:
1- Is my child's pencil grasp adequate?
2- Am I using the correctly sized paper?
3- Should I teach upper case letters first or lower case?
These are all valid questions and definitely topics for future blog posts. But most likely, the first question you think of is not this one: "Does my child have the language concepts he needs for writing?"
Let's stop. Let's think about language and handwriting.
Language Describes Spatial Concepts:
Often, with handwriting, we assume (without thinking about it) that a child understands spatial concepts, like top, middle, bottom, beside, below, underneath etc. In giving directions to form a letter, we may say, "Draw a horizontal line in the middle of the letter." (As with A or H or E.) But this can be confusing.
Language Describes Movement:
One way we teach letters is to group letters according to similar formation. In my handwriting program for instance, I grouped upper case D, B, P, and R together and called them the "Kangaroo Hops". These letters are taught to children by saying the following: "Draw down. Hop to the Top."
When phrases like these are repeated often enough, children will learn that the words they hear represent the movements they are making. Repetition of action words in this way will help a child associate the phrases with writing movements. That is a step in the right direction! This helps children learn letters.
Language Describes Direction:
"Draw a line down"
"Move your pencil to the right."
"Make a diagonal line."
What if a young child confuses up and down. And few kindergarteners know their left and right. And diagonal? What's that?
So, how do we help children not be muddled down with language concepts as they are learning to write?
The answer is the following . . .
Whichever handwriting program you adopt, decide ahead of time on your TEACHING language for handwriting. Whatever you decide doesn't matter too much. What matters is that you are consistent!
Be ready with answers to these questions:
1- How will you describe a line that goes from side to side?
Do you say horizontal? Side to side? Do you ask kids to walk their pencils from A to B?
2- What about a line you draw that goes down?
Will you say Drop Down? Fall? Sink to the bottom of the page.
3- What should you do to help kids understand spatial concepts such as Top, Middle, Bottom?
Try practicing side to side letters by drawing side to side lines in a box. Give children directions to practice Top, Middle, and Bottom lines in the box. Have them listen carefully for your directions!
Choose language that feels comfortable to you and be consistent.
And remember to use those action words and repetitive phrases mentioned above! Don't simply ask a child to draw a line along the bottom of a letter, as when finishing the letter '2'. Ask him to WALK along the floor - if that's the language that works for you! The imagery and movement in these words will mimic the pencil movement.
Click HERE to download, "LANGUAGE TIPS FOR HANDWRITING" a sheet with language suggestions for common handwriting strokes!
Are you following me on Facebook? Please do! In the fall and summer of 2018 I will be posting more and more ideas to help with handwriting, scissors skills, and fine motor development!
Lisa Marnell MS, OTR/L