Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Teaching Penmanship

I do not begin with writing instruction until right before a child leaves for kindergarten. Usually it is a late spring/summer thing. I'm starting it earlier with this group, in February, because they want to learn it. Actually, they are DEMANDING to learn it. The whole purpose of writing is to convey meaning, and these boys have a lot to say, the ability to compose it, and now they require the means to do so.

Forcing penmanship early and often does nothing more than make it a chore. Working on a letter a day/week with complete disconnection to reading and writing, is one of the things I believe is wrong with our school, and pre-school, system. 

Forcing it early also breeds frustration, feelings of failure, and a dislike for education over all. Why? Because in order for a child to be able to properly form letters, stay within lines, etc., he must have a ton of other things in place first:
  • Advanced fine motor skills
  • Tripod grasp
  • Hand strength
  • Crossing-the-midline
  • Core strength
  • Ability to focus and pay attention
  • Depth perception
  • Eye tracking
  • One-to-one correspondence
Children under the age of 5 have better ways of developing these necessary skills and competencies than forced writing they probably don't have the ability to do with success.

As with all the things I teach, I look for that pivotal moment when the learning is developmentally appropriate, and DESIRED.

There are keys to determining if a child is ready to put in the tedious time and attention to learn correct penmanship.

  • Can color in an entire coloring page without prompting
  • Is drawing independently for fun
  • Is telling stories about their drawings
  • Is attempting writing on their own
  • Is doing inventive spelling
  • Is asking how to spell
  • Is asking how to write letters and numbers
All of these must be in place. FIRST.

These worksheets 1-8 are what I use for my pre-k’s Penmanship Boot Camp that we do before kindergarten. This is the order we do them. They do the same one each day for 2-3 days, or until they get down proper formation of all letters on the worksheet. Only then do they move to the next one. 

Each worksheet works specific movements and shapes that coordinate. It makes it easier to get down muscle memory. I watch them carefully as they make the first letter. If they need to, I simply have them repeat OVER the first one as many times as necessary to get the formation down, talking through the movements. Then I have them fill in the rest of the line on their own.

A bootcamp is not a whole-class experience. It is very individualized attention to target key movements in an intensive, short period of time. When we do the penmanship boot camp, we are working on very little else at that time. I do not want their minds going in any other direction. Outside of worksheet practice, I encourage them to be writing lists, stories, plays, letters, creating cards, etc. 

ONLY DURING THIS TIME do I begin to correct their handwriting. Until this 2-3 week boot camp, I have let them write inventively to encourage that desire and not squash it. Only now, when they truly WANT to learn to write and spell well do I intervene and we learn how to do it properly. 

It is truly a once and done thing. It doesn’t take a letter a week, or a year of schooling, or starting too young when their fine motor skills are not fully up to the task. It is EASY to get penmanship down when a child truly not only wants, but NEEDS to learn it for himself, and is fully developmentally ready. As with most things.

The order we practice is:
l h i j
b p d o
r n m u
c a g q
e t f z
w x k y
s 8 6 9
2 3 5 4
Number 1 is the same as letter l, letter v is in letter w, and letter o is the same as number 0, so I leave those out. No need for repetition.

File is FREE on TPT!  8 worksheets and letter and number practice sheets. The letter and number practice sheets are FREE CHOICE. We do not do those as "lesson" worksheets. They also have their name worksheets, with first and last name, as free-choice practice as well.

Oh, these are only lowercase letters? YEP! Uppercase letters are easy. 95% of what they write should be in lowercase letters like normal writing. Seriously. Look at this paragraph and how many letters are uppercase and how many lowercase? It's another thing that goes REALLY sideways - teaching children penmanship of uppercase letters and having them WRITE in all uppercase. This creates a VERY bad habit that is hard to break. 

Here, we learn uppercase, lowercase and phonics simultaneously, and these children have had those down for a loooong time. These children are reading. Yes, BEFORE they learn penmanship. So lowercase penmanship is appropriate. As it should be. Any uppercase issues we either have already addressed or will in writing sessions. There is no reason to spend a lot of time or effort on it.

Why this works is because I provide each child several minutes of direct instruction, moving their hand myself for each letter if necessary. Then, they make a TON of copies. 

First time through!
If they don't get it pretty much perfectly the first day, we will do it again the next. There is no forcing them to sit and practice, they WANT to do it.  

So after that, Mr. R did this for FUN. Often, they will continue to practice on their own. 


Then he evidently went home and chose to do even MORE writing. Chose being the operative word. His parents don't ask him to do anything there, they just facilitate his interest. 
As do I.

You might be interested in my earlier [2013] blog post on this subject that has over 10,000 views.

preschool, pre-k, kindergarten, childcare, child care, daycare, writing, handwriting, penmanship, worksheets, language, language arts, fine motor, 

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