‘I am gud an fun.’ A perfectly executed sentence written by my four year old son. A proud moment? Well, it could have been if it hadn’t been written in permanent marker along the newly purchased ikea chest of drawers. Unfortunately, at this moment, mum didn’t agree with the statement ‘gud,’ or indeed find the situation very ‘fun.’
Reading the works of your little one can be great – but how do they even get to this stage and what can you do to help? There’s so much that goes into early writing that I’m sure I’d do the whole subject a great disservice if I tried in one small blog post, neither do I think you’d find my works ‘gud an fun,’ so I’ll give you a basic run down of how you can help your little ones develop their fine and gross motor control in order to then be able to concentrate on holding a pencil.
All writing comes from your shoulder – interesting hey! So, in order for you to be able to develop good fine motor control – the ability to be able to hold a pencil and use it to form recognisable letters, you first need to develop the large muscles, those that control your gross motor skills, ie, the muscles you have in your shoulders and arms. In order to do this, encourage your child to climb in the park, use climbing walls in places like climbing hanger, dangle from the monkey bars, push and pull objects, anything that builds muscle and control in their little arms. If all writing comes from the shoulder, its perfectly legitimate to have guided writing lessons that are conducted outdoors too. So as the weather finally becomes a little brighter and warmer, get the chalks out and get your little one to make the biggest pictures they can on the floor! Worried about the mess? Don’t be! Get a mop and bucket or a yard brush and get them to wash away the pictures afterwards. Great for developing those shoulder muscles and trust me, anytime water is involved, your little one will love it! Add some bubbles for an extra fun experience! You can buy blackboard paint relatively cheaply too. Painted on some fence panels, this too can make a great place for developing gross motor skills. Using adult paint rollers and large paint brushes can also help this skill and again, water can be used to get rid of any ‘unwanted creativity,’ later on!
Gross motor development plays a vital part in early writing, and ways to enhance gross motor control e.g. throwing and catching a ball, hitting a swing ball, using a parachute to play games can all help to build strength in the required muscles. Fine motor control focuses on the tiny finger muscles which also need to be developed in order to be able to hold a pencil effectively.
You are not ready to hold a pencil to write until you are able to pick up a single grain of dried rice between your thumb and forefinger. That’s the level of precision it takes for children to be able to write with a pencil. Based on this knowledge, there’s obviously a lot of work to be done before writing flows and becomes something that’s second nature. Luckily, there’s lots of fun ways which we can promote fine motor development which children won’t even realise as ‘work!’ Threading is a great way of improving hand eye co-ordination and fine motor control. You can do this with large beads and thread, with dried pasta on string, with pipe cleaners through a colander to make funny alien hats, with washing line and old hole punched socks. The possibilities are endless. Another way you can promote fine motor muscle development is through the use of playdough or plasticine. Playdough is softer for little fingers but plasticine makes a great, tougher alternative to practice with. If you’re worried about it getting on the carpets, playdough on a tough tray seems to be the best way forward, or outdoors! There’s an amazingly catchy dance called the dough disco which always goes down a treat in our starting school sessions. This focuses on getting hands warmed up for writing and though the song will be stuck in your head for days, it’s a great way of developing those finger muscles! You tube provides a vast array of dough disco classics – choose the one that’s most bearable for you and away you go!
Orbies again provide a great sensory way of developing fine motor control and loom bands can be great for exercising little fingers. Write some numbers to 5 on lolly sticks, children then thread that many loom bands onto each stick. Both maths and writing skills in one activity. Spray bottles filled with water can also be a great activity for strengthening finger or hand muscles dependent upon which size you get and can again be used outdoors to clear off any chalk artwork. Pegs also provide a great way of developing fine motor control. Pop up a small washing line in the garden or their bedroom with some old socks. On the cocks, with marker pen write numbers to 10. Children can learn to order numbers as they develop their fine motor skills. Again, two activities in one.
If your child loves to draw and paint already, then great. Colouring in sheets (hated by many,) provide a good way of developing pencil control. Staying in the lines is a great way to develop this. Looking at pencil control activity sheets too can be really helpful – those that encourage following the lines to reach a certain object requires skill and precision. They also teach different handwriting patterns. In terms of helping your child to write their name, as a teacher, its really difficult to unteach something that’s been taught incorrectly as it quickly becomes habit. Especially name writing. So, if you know what school you are looking to send your child to, I’d suggest getting hold of a copy of their handwriting policy and looking at whether they are teaching print or cursive from nursery or reception. This will impact on your teaching at home. If your chosen school is looking to teach cursive handwriting from nursery or reception it is worthwhile teaching your child to write their name in cursive script. The reason for this is that when teaching print, you teach that all letters start from the top. When teaching cursive, all letters have a lead point and this means they all start from the line. Whatever the style of handwriting taught by the school, it’s also essential that you teach children their name starts with a capital letter but that all other letters are lower case. Sometimes it may be easier to write ElliE for your little one but trying to unteach the capital E at the end for a lower case ‘e,’ is notoriously difficult. Stick with the correct letter formation from the beginning and it’ll be so much easier for your little one!
And the biggest piece of advice regarding writing I can give, is Have Fun. If your little one is into superheroes, make all writing about superheroes. If it’s princesses, then go with that, dinosaurs, cars, animals, babies use what motivates your child. They’ve got to be inspired to write in order to want to! Use their interests and keep any sit down writing activity short and sweet!
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