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How To Teach Hand-Printing, Literacy In Primary School

How To Teach Hand-Printing

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How to Teach Hand-Printing gives parents and others step by step instructions. I use the term hand-printing to distinguish it from writing in script from Grade 4. This applies to children in Prep to Grade 4. However, many children persist in printing beyond Grade 4, even though they have been taught to write in ‘running writing’ or ‘joined up writing’ or whatever kiddy term is used for script in classrooms. At the end of this post, I give hints on how to help your older child improve his or her script without offending them.

Step By Step Instructions For Parents

Ten Minutes Per Day And Be Consistent.

Are you unhappy about your child’s hand-printing? Maybe your child can write – a bit – and you want to improve it.

The curriculum today is tight and many schools do not explicitly teach how to form letters. There is limited modelling in the classroom beyond Early Primary.

Writing Tools To Use

  1. What we use in Australia are writing books with two bold lines and two broken lines between them. [This is probably common around the English-speaking world anyway.] These come in various sizes.  Usually the greater the space the younger the child. Check with your school what your child should be using. Most children will recognise the spacing of their school writing books by just taking him or her to the stationery shop.
  2. A grip is helpful for young children. Even an older child who is having difficulty holding a pencil can benefit. They come in various designs and sizes. Your child may just have a small hand and need the extra support.
  3. Grey lead pencils also come in different thicknesses. You can buy coloured pencils as well that are thicker. These suit younger children better.
  4. Butchers’ paper is available at stationery stores in rolls. I use this for younger children.

How Hand-Printing Is NOT Taught – What You Can Do

Handwriting today is rarely modelled by a teacher on a board beyond Grade 1. Even then, there is probably not enough. This has consequences for children’s learning.

  • Without explicit modelling in the classroom, many children write their letters to reproduce what the finished letters look like. In fairness to teachers, writing on whiteboards is not easy. And electronic boards are irrelevant to the teaching of writing skills.
  • Close observation of children reveals that they often don’t know where to start writing a letter.
  • For letters that are written in one stroke, children are often writing them in three separate strokes to make it ‘look right’ afterwards.
  • The lack of teaching in this area is now cultivating bad habits in writing that are hard to break. In other words, children don’t know how to form letters unless expressly taught in Early Primary, and taken seriously.
  • In the secondary school classroom, these habits translate into the popular adolescent line, “This is the way I write.” I have replied to such students, “If I can’t read it, your mark will suffer.” [No, I probably said, “You’ll fail the assignment.”] That usually got them thinking. They would try to at least make their writing legible.
  • The parent is tasked, as a consequence, with teaching their own primary school child how to write. It is necessary to teach your child  explicitly and conscientiously to compensate for what is NOT taught at school.  All the hints are here.

The link just below takes you to the EduResearch Matters website and specifically to a discussion about keyboarding and handwriting.

The post is called: “Why Australia Is Falling Behind In Teaching Keyboarding and Handwriting“. This is a very readable post for parents and the general public.


How To Teach Your Pre-Schooler or Prep Child

Read the whole post because some guidance here is repeated, in full, further down.

  1. For young children in pre-school and prep, butchers’ paper is useful. It is available from stationery stores in rolls. Cut a big piece.
  2. Write the chosen letter large with a marker pen. Carry out No. 3 inside the big letter and around it. Take in turns.
  3. Adult and child write the letter with “Around, up and down” or “down, up and around” verse accompanying the writing action.
  4. For the  tail on a ‘g’, ‘j’ and ‘y’ call it a monkey tail. Tell your child to imagine the monkey sitting on a branch. His long tail turns around at the end. Avoid saying “curl” or your child will do curly turns.
  5. For the ‘t’ say, “This is a three-quarter letter. It’s not as high as a ‘d’ or an ‘h’. Start below the top line. Down and monkey tail”. And point to the right. This way the child gets a sense of direction for the letter as well as what we mean by monkey tail. A monkey tail is not a loop or a tick. It applies only to certain letters.
  6. For the letter ‘k’ say, “This is the other three-quarter letter. It’s like ‘t’. Start below the top line. Down to the  bottom line.” Say, “Now we will draw an arrow-head from the middle line.” Use the butchers’ paper to practise writing arrow-heads and then ‘k’ with an arrow-head.  If your child knows the capital ‘K’ already, then show him or her the comparative sizes. Write them next to each other.

How To Pace Your Instruction

When teaching your child writing,

  1. Work on the small letters first, then the capital letters. Many books and classroom methods teach the two together. For any child finding this difficult concentrate on one at a time.
  2. Starting with the lower case, work on letters with only straight lines.
  3. Then work on letters with round shapes, followed by letters with stems and tails. A stem is the stick that goes up, and the tail is the part that hangs down. A ‘d’ has a stem and a ‘g’ has a tail.
  4. Do the same with capitals – straight lines such as capital ‘L’ and follow up with letters with rounded parts.
  5. Say to your child, “All capital letters stand on the line,” meaning none of them has a tail.
  6. Regarding small letters, say “The body of the letter sits on the line.” Explain that the body of the letter is the round part.
  7. Ask your child to write small letters such as ‘a’, ‘e’, ‘u’, ‘o’, ‘p’ ‘q’ etc.
  8. Then ask him to colour in the body of the letter. This reinforces what the body is and where it sits.

When You Encounter A Problem

  • Avoid overloading the child. You will know when you can introduce the next step.
  • If a child feels frustrated when writing then tell him it’s like drawing and it’s a form of art.
  • Write some letters in large, ask your child to copy them and then see if he can turn each letter into a picture.
  • To strengthen a child’s hand muscles, you could set up a potato peeling activity at the kitchen bench on a regular basis. There are other activities you can invent yourself, such as threading buttons.

Problems With Victorian Cursive Script

I don’t encourage children to use Victorian Cursive Script because it claims – through the shapes of the letters – that letters in the alphabet are square. This squarish shape is hard for children to write and it is even harder for them to maintain the slant of stems and tails. It seems to me that this style of writing has never been a success.

One problem I see with classroom instruction on writing is the use of the word ‘loop’. Children now ‘loop’ into the ‘m’ and ‘n’ and then draw a loop on the way out of letters. This approach to writing ‘m’ and ‘n’ goes back to nineteenth century Copperplate. It causes ‘n’ to look like ‘m’ when not part of Copperplate handwriting.

  • Explain to your child that loops are not a part of the letter. The loops are becoming big and make the children’s letters too wide. Ask your child to begin the letter on the line and when finished the letter, say tick. More about this below.

https://www.tutoringprimary.com/debate-cursive-script/ is a link to the debate which is ongoing.

Teaching Children To Write Is Hard Work

Ten minutes out of a day is not a lot but consistency is important for success.

Children will find it much easier to learn to write using rounded tops and bottoms on the body of the letters.

I say to children, “Around, up and down, tick”. [eg. d, a]

The other line I say is, “Down, up and around, tick.” [eg. p]

I accompany this refrain with an upward inflection in my voice on the word ‘up’ and I usually do it in the air with my finger. The gestures and vocalisations reinforce the child’s learning.

Tidying Up Your Child’s Hand-Printing – One Step At A Time

What I say here may apply also to other scripts taught in other jurisdictions. The words we use when teaching children are important so choose vocabulary carefully.

  • At this point, with rounded tops and bottoms on letters, instruct your child to write stems and tails straight up or down and disregard any slant in Victorian Script. The slant is also an extra problem for left-handed children.
  • When a child has the rounded top and bottom, then encourage him to make the sides of the letters straighter. This produces an oval shape in the body of the letter.
  • Explain that you want the letter to begin on the line, eg ‘m’ and finish with a tick not a loop. Children love to write ticks and it means there is a harder corner at the end of the letter, leading later to linking letters in script.
  • Teachers will notice writing improvements but in my experience they never complain that a child is not writing in Victorian Script or other script. I think the same would apply wherever you live and whatever writing style your child’s school teaches.

A Point About Children Writing in Script (Grade 4)

What I mean by writing in script is ‘joined up writing’, ‘running writing’ and the like. Kids usually feel insulted if you want to teach them the basics again so stick to a simple principle: If your child’s writing is not good and you want it to improve, say

“All downstrokes are straight, all upstrokes slant to the right.”

The slant to the right enables the child to join the letters. The downstroke is the way the actual letter is formed.

Ten minutes of explicit writing instruction should see improvements within a few weeks. And this is the only way to get the desired result. If you are not doing this, and the school is not doing this, why be surprised or worried that your child is not mastering the skills of writing.

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