It seems so simple: if a child can write all of her uppercase and lowercase letters independently, she should be able to use paper with only a baseline as an anchor. I see too many kids in kindergarten and first grade go from proud writers to discouraged writers when the “training wheels” of extra lines come off too early. Why does the loss the of the midline and top line (or the mid line of Handwriting Without Tears) totally blow their minds and destroy their legibility?
I think I have the answer to this one.
These kids have not been taught, or have failed to grasp, the proportion and placement rules of letter formation. They don’t have an internalized sense of placement. This is what adults do automatically. You can draw a midline and a top line through any adult’s writing easily. A child that can’t place letters correctly will get a lot of red marks on their compositions. My suggestion? Emphasize placement as early as late pre-K, and avoid handing back all those papers covered in red!
Placement on the baseline and proportions of lowercase letters are handwriting details that don’t get enough attention in our world of early test prep for all. Even for preschools that teach lowercase formation well, teaching sizing and placement concepts are often overlooked or taught too quickly. Sometimes it is because half the class of kindergarteners are still shaky on mental and perceptual concepts of “middle” and “left/right”. They haven’t fully mastered those important pre-writing skills. It is also very, very hard to teach children to write using only the baseline if they do not know the correct start/sequence. Correct sizing and placement are only dreams if a child is struggling to remember if the letter “r” starts on the midline or on the baseline. What do you see with single-line handwriting if a child has’t been taught lowercase/uppercase proportion and placement?
- the letter “t” will be the same size as an “i”, and crossed in the middle, since even 4 year-olds have mastered a vertical cross.
- letters like “t” and “l” will start on the baseline. Kids are looking for an anchor spot to start their letters, and since they don’t have those other lines, they go for the baseline.
- the letter “l” as a huge straight line, and if it is D’Nealian, add a curly tail that makes it look like a backwards “j” without the dot.
- The tails of both “Y” and “y” sitting on the baseline. Sometimes the “y” is half above, half under as the child remembers there is a difference but can’t recall exactly what it is.
You get the idea.
Simply put, letters like “t”, “l”, and “h” are twice the height of “a”, “e’, and “o”. Stack two “o’s” and you should be at the correct height for the letter “t”.
If a child can stack two LEGOs and visualize the ratio, than they can learn this principle with writing letters. If they do not have the physical control to write lowercase letters this way, go back to writing uppercase letters. Use those larger letters to refine control, getting smaller and smaller, removing starting points and lines along the way. Just don’t make red marks all over worksheets and wonder what is happening…