The goal for handwriting is to develop fluency, to be able to write legibly at age-appropriate speed. It is a skill that we need until such time that technology proves it is no longer useful. That may or may not happen because of a human desire to put communicative marks on a surface.
Handwriting is a physical skill as well as a mental one. Fluency, writing clearly at satisfactory speed, requires a relaxed hand.
The first pre-writing activities are designed to develop the muscles in fingers and hands so that they can hold writing tools productively. The index finger controls the writing tool for maximum fluency. Use the term, “writing finger” as a reminder.
1) Plant a garden. For flowers choose nasturtium seeds, sweet peas, or any flower seeds of about that size. For vegetables, beans and squash seeds are the right size. Use the writing finger to poke a hole in the ground. Pick up a seed with the writing finger and thumb and put it in its hole. Cover the seed with a little dirt.
2) Use tweezers to pick up small objects, scraps of paper, beads, kernels of corn, etc. The tweezers are squeezed with writing finger and thumb. Place the objects in a jar or box, or arrange them in a design on a table.
3) Pin up pictures with clothespins, the kind that opens with a squeeze of writing finger and thumb. Just string a line between two chairs or in any convenient space.
4) Tear up paper into about two inches squares (colored tissue is nice). Then create a collage: You will need a small saucer for glue and a base for the collage such as construction paper. Twist a square of paper around the eraser end of a pencil, remove it from the pencil, dip it in a little glue and place it on the base. Repeat until you have the image you want. Of course, the young artist can add some drawing, pictures he or she has cut out, or torn, colored paper.
5) Make little sculptures with play doh. Or try Floam, a great product. It is clean and colorful, and can be used over and over.
6) Scatter small objects around, beads, pebbles, pennies, even chocolate kisses. Pick up each one with writing finger and thumb, and place it in a jar or box.
7) Finger exercises:
Press the tips of fingers together. Release pressure and repeat.
Press the tips of fingers on a table, release the pressure and press again.
Touch the thumbs to the index finger, the middle finger, the ring finger, the pinkie, and then go back: The thumb touches pinkie, ring finger, middle finger and index finger. Repeat.
The next pre-writing activities build rhythmic movement, and can be practiced along with the first.
1) Let a child dance to a favorite tune(s).
2) Play with a toy drum, or allow a child to bang on a bare surface with an old spoon.
3) Play background music while a child scribbles on a large piece of paper. If the child is sitting at a table, provide smaller paper. The hand and fingers control the scribbles when sitting. When a child stands the hand and fingers are stationery, and whole arm movement is more natural.
Remember, tiny hands need tools that fit them. Cut or break crayons in half. Cut pencils into short pieces, or use golf pencils if you can find them. Break chalk. Balance of the tool is critical to a good, relaxed pen hold.
4) This one is for a chalkboard if you have one. Use broken chalk. The short tool is best suited for small hands. Cut a small square from an old sponge; dampen it. Place the sponge in the palm of the child’s hand. It’s held there with the ring finger and pinkie. The writing finger and thumb hold the chalk. The middle finger is a helper. Now the child can scribble, draw, erase and draw again.
A relaxed writing hand has an open palm. Short chalk is far easier for a little hand to manage than full sized pieces.
The third pre-writing activity leads the way to lowercase letter and numeral formation. The focus is on lowercase letters because we use them most, and because the shapes are simpler and easier to form.
We start with patterns because they are easier to form than letters. Encourage children to play with the patterns, making drawings out of them. Samples follow the patterns, but let child imaginations run free.
1) This is the first pattern:
The focus is on the downstroke: pull the line down and let it drift up. This pattern develops consistent letter size, slant and spacing. Talk or sing while you practice, and down and down and down and down; it helps to keep the rhythmic movement.
Does the pattern remind you of anything? Can you draw a face and put spiky hair on its head?
2) This is the next pattern:The movement is counterclockwise. It is same as half of the lowercase alphabet, rearranged here so you can better see the movement relationship to the letters. Of course, the letters you see here are italic, but you will find the same general stroke directions in print-script and some conventional cursive, so all three patterns shown here will help other alphabet models.
3) This is the third pattern:It moves clockwise, the same as these letters:Just six letters are left. Practice them with the first pattern.
When learning a new letter,start with a pattern as a warmup. The child should talk as the pencil moves through the letter. It helps to implant the shape into motor memory. For example, write the second pattern saying, “down, bounce up, down, bounce up, down, bounce up and down.” Write an ‘a’ saying, “over, down, bounce up and down and.
Here are some ways to play with the shapes. Children can use the shapes to make their own images.
Speaking, chanting, singing, all implant letter formations into motor memory.
2) Stand and pretend there is a plane or bird in your hand. Pick a spot on your left. Start there and swoop down and over and down, moving to the right. Adapt this to learning letters.
3) Practice writing patterns and letters in sand, rice, finger paint, and for a special treat use chocolate pudding. Shaving cream is nice because clean-up is easy. Write on anything. Write in the steam on a bathroom mirror. Use a stick or writing finger to write in beach sand or in mud.
4) Practice writing with the eyes closed. It’s fun and a great way to feel the all-important movement.
Be inspired! Think of new ways to have fun with pre-writing play.