Give your preschooler’s printing skills a big boost with MH’s letter-perfect approach.
WORDS SUE-ANN BAUMGÄRTEL
For most preschoolers, learning is like second nature. It is as natural as breathing, eating and sleeping. They learn through observation, repetition, mimicry and ultimately, they learn by doing. For young children, learning has not yet been compartmentalised into going to school or trying to achieve certain results. Instead of being a task that has to be completed, learning and developing tend to be more instinctive. How often does your four-year-old voice demands such as “Can I do that, too?” or “But I want to do it!”? Reading and writing are fundamental life skills that shouldn’t be taken for granted. It is the key to nurturing an open and inquisitive mind. It connects people through communication and words. But rather than simply relying on others to teach your child, why not be part of their learning experience, too?
Words and letters are all around us. For a child, letters might seem like a jumbled-up muddle of lines and curves. But when writing is viewed as ordered speech, it can be a monumentally empowering form of communication and expression. Although emails, texting and emojis might be the preferred form of communication today, they will never fulfil and satisfy quite like words on paper. By demonstrating an appreciation and respect for the written word, you can help your child to develop the necessary skills required to recognise letters with ease and confidence. So, get back to the basics with your kids, and rekindle the joy of letters and writing.
A is for Attitude
You can pretty much take it for granted that, at some point or another, your child will be taught how to communicate through reading and writing. However, try and incorporate an awareness of the written word in everyday situations. An awareness of learning is as important as good manners. Reading is the first port of call when it comes to exposing your child to the magic of words. By reading regularly, your child will absorb new words and sounds. Sit them on your lap, and follow the story with your finger. By the age of three, you can introduce books that are specifically designed to help recognise letters and their respective sounds. Books that are based on a single letter are great in allowing the child to recognise the shape of letters. As your child develops and matures, books with rhymes can also help connect visual patterns with sounds.
Writing is an elaborate motoric skill. Help your child develop their fine motoric coordination by always keeping a craft box at hand.
This box can contain safety scissors, marker pens, chalk, crayons, paints, brushes, stickers, pencils – and plenty of scrap papers. Let your child doodle and create freely. Draw their attention to the different effects that can be created on paper – straight lines, little dots, squiggly curves, bold strokes and delicate touches.
R is for Recognition
A major pre-writing skill is the ability to recognise visual patterns. As the child learns to write, these visual patterns start fitting into a specific order, resulting in a connection with a single idea or meaning. The alphabet is basically a combination of straight lines and curves. By the age of four, most children will be able to connect visual patterns to a sound or an idea. By using multisensory tools, your child will be having fun whilst learning their letters. Start by introducing simple concepts – mama, papa or their name – and use different mediums to put these concepts on paper – literally.
Although your child’s efforts might seem to be, well, just scribbles, give the scribbles a context by praising your child – “Wow, that line is really straight. Like an arrow! Can you draw another arrow?” or “That squiggle is all curvy, like a snake. Can you draw a friend for the snake?” or “That dot is really big!”
P is for Pen
As your child matures and becomes more confident in coordinating different shapes and strokes, you can guide him even further still by encouraging good habits when it comes to writing. Always make sure he is sitting comfortably. Most children tend to grip a pencil too tightly, allowing little flexibility for controlling the pencil. One way of encouraging a firm but comfortable hold can be demonstrated so:
Sit your child at a desk and place a pencil on the desk. The pencil must be pointing upwards. Get your child to pinch the pencil – about a centimetre above the lead – with his thumb and first finger. Once this position is in place, ask your child to lift the pencil up while maintaining the same position. Take the top end of the pencil and flip it under and over your child’s hand until it comes to rest in the crook of his hand. This is the basic shape of how a hand should a pencil.
Whether your child eventually holds the pencil with three fingers (tripod grip) or rests the pencil on the fourth finger (quadrapod grip) is up to him. Lefties need to hold their pencils a little higher up the pencil whilst positioning the paper slightly to the left.
With different exercises based on tracing and controlling their pencil line within borders and lines, your child can slowly experiment with the pencil, while improving their hand to eye coordination at the same time. Exercises can include the following:
At the end of the day, you are under no pressure to teach your child letters. It is not a race and there is no prize at the end. But showing your child how to recognise and reproduce letters can be a wonderful boost for their confidence and curiosity.