By Mary Winfield
When teaching your child to form letters, it is important to use a variety of different methods and to keep their personal interests and sensory profile in mind. There are endless ways to teach letters, but here are some good ways to get you started.
Step 1: Building Letters
Before your child starts writing, it might be helpful to learn to build the letters. This helps a child to learn what the letters are and how to form shapes without the pressure of actually writing. This step is also great for kids who struggle with the fine motor skills needed to write. You can build letters in many different ways.
One way is to cut straight and curved foam pieces to be used to form letters. We have also just used building blocks and strips of paper too. But, be aware when using blocks the formed letters look a little crooked sometimes!
Another way you can build letters is to do polka dot painting. You can use the polka dot markers or you can just use a clothespin, pom pom, and paint. Sometimes “writing” the letters this way is also more fun since your child doesn’t have to have completely steady hands. Polka dot painting can also be used to fill in an outline of a letter as a way for your child to become more familiar with letter shapes. You can also use small stickers to do the same thing.
One more way to build letters is to use playdoh. Have your child roll the playdough out and then use the snake-like roll to form a letter. Wikki sticks or pipe cleaners are more great options for building letters this way.
All of these t activities will help your child learn how to form letters and develop fine motor skills more independently.
Step 2: Tracing Letters
Once your child grasps how to build letters, it is time to start practice in writing them. Most kids will still need some prompts to form letters at this stage, yet they are still ready to move beyond building them. This is where tracing comes into play. And once again, if you get creative, there are many ways to practice writing through tracing.
One tip I picked up working in schools was teaching children to write using a yellow highlighter and then having them trace over it with a pencil. The highlighter is visible enough to have them trace, but not bold enough that it gets in the way. It is also wide enough for them to follow without getting frustrated. Teachers love this method also because copies of the highlighted writing come out a light grey, which is also good for tracing.
Another fun way to trace is to write the letters on a chalkboard, and then have a child “erase” the letters with a wet Q-tip. This gives the illusion of writing while erasing since the letter will then be darker on the chalkboard than the surrounding areas. Bonus points for this activity is that it is easy to clean up!
Step 3: Writing Letters
Once a child has learned the shape of letters and has the fine motor skills, it is time to start writing! I have found the best way to keep a child interested in the task of writing is to decrease boredom by writing in as many creative ways as possible.
Sensory writing is my favorite! Writing letters in sand, dirt, pudding, shaving cream, whipped cream, or anything else you can find is awesome for grabbing attention! A Ziploc bag of paint (Pro tip: don’t forget to tape the bag shut!) will allow them to do this over and over again with a minimal mess.
Use a variety of writing tools and surfaces. Use markers, paint, chalk, pens, and pencils! Write outside on the sidewalk or on a wooden fence. Write on paper taped to the wall. Tape paper under a table so they can write laying down. Write on colored paper, dry erase boards or a blank journal that is all their own. Use dry erase markers to write on windows or mirrors. Write on fogged up windows in the car. Write everywhere!
Writing allows us to leave our mark on the world. It is how we pass down knowledge and ideas. It is how we communicate with others (especially if the social aspect of communicating is hard for us). I mean, when someone finds wet cement or a dirty car, what do they do? They have to write in it! Don’t give up teaching your child to write because in the end it has the ability to open up a whole new world of communication.
An all-inclusive guide to writing is Handwriting Without Tears that many families find helpful. The app Letter School is also great. You can download free printables for a Hands-on Handwriting Binder that walks a child who is learning to write through building letters, tracing letters, and writing independently here. You can also check out our Handwriting board on Pinterest for more ideas.
Learn some pre-writing pointers from the first installment of this series in this post.