Handwriting, what is it? It is the convenient method by which we record the twenty six complex ciphers of our spoken language. Got that? In other words it's the way we put our words, sentences and stories onto paper.
Think back now to the beautiful flowing copperplate handwriting of our grandparents and great grandparents, many of whom had very little formal schooling. The little they had was outstanding.
Regarding handwriting, children in their first year at school never attempted printing. They spent that first year strengthening little fingers with standard games and exercises.
Hours of wonderful kneading, rolling, pummelling and shaping colourful plasticine.
Songs, such as Incey Wincey, Twinkle-Twinkle, Ten Green Bottles, Dance Thumbkin Dance, 1,2,3,4,5 Once I Caught a Fish Alive and many, many more - all with exuberant finger actions. All adored by children (these songs should be available on the internet).
Drawing circle pictures. Think about it, every one of our twenty six letters is formed from a circle or a stick (bat and ball) or parts thereof.
It makes sense to practice these ad infinitum, while making them fun. Draw a teddy bear, round and round and round for the tummy, round and round for the head and in the same way circles for the ears, the nose, the eyes, arms and legs. Children love teddy bears and they love drawing - what better combination?
Invite the teddy bear to a tea party. Round and round and round for the teapot lid, handle and spout. Round and round for cups.
Sing ‘Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush’ or ‘Here We Go Gathering Nuts in May’ while drawing circles going around and around dozens of times.
Draw cherries, oranges, apples, a train, from circles and sticks. Be creative, keep going round and round to strengthen those wrists and fingers.
The letters of our alphabet are very difficult, producing them in all their complexity into words needs strong trained fingers. In recent years we have adopted the terminally stupid practice of asking pre-schoolers to write their names and four year olds to produce sentences. Tiny, weak fingers opt for the easiest way to write those letters, so setting up lifetime habits and sloppy writing.
Every day I see these children forming letters from the base upward, the letter ‘r’ resembles a crooked upward line, nothing has a thoughtful structure.
To prevent this:
Strengthen your small child's fingers with finger games.
Start your four year old with bats and balls. Make them into colourful beach balls as long as they are so perfectly round they would bounce. Bats can have faces so long as they are straight enough to hit the balls to the sky.
Teach your late four to early five year old to craft each and every letter, praising stamping and stickering effort.
THEN teach you child to write his or her name.
Robyn Dalby-Stockwell is a teacher, writer, reading consultant and Director of Alonah Reading Cambridge http://www.alonahreadingcambridge.com which gives reading support to children and their parents.