Why should learning to write mean a pile of boring worksheets? It shouldn’t! This week, try teaching your preschooler to draw fun shapes that mirror correct letter formation, start/sequence and connections, and watch their handwriting skills take off!
Why draw? Because some kids need more practice, avoid writing due to fear of failure, or simply need their pre-writing practice to be more fun than traditional worksheets. Handwriting Without Tears (HWT) does a terrific job of teaching pencil control skills in their preschool and kindergarten books, but their pages often don’t offer enough experience or variety for kids that struggle with pencil control. I tried using multiple copies of their worksheets, but the kids I treated in occupational therapy sessions got bored too quickly.
I decided to develop tracing pages that naturally expand into guided and independent drawing practice. As an example, kids have more fun drawing multiple large volcanos that imitate the correct formation of the letter “A” (two diagonal lines that start at the TOP) than writing the letter “A” on a worksheet ten times. Connecting the lines at the bottom is also an easier way to teach children that they are aiming to connect the diagonal strokes when they write the horizontal line, not slashing wildly across them.
Kids usually enjoy embellishing their drawings. This gives me more opportunities to work with them on pencil grasp and control skills. Lava rocks are drawn as circles, and dripping lava curves down the volcano like the letter “S”. Exploding lava can shoot out of the top of your volcano, curve and drop down onto the ground. This drawing stroke is very similar to the tricky initial stroke that forms a lowercase “f” (a letter that trips up more kindergarteners and first graders than I can count!). Beginning a crayon stroke at the top of the volcano is actually an important motor control skill needed for all the letters with top connections such as “F”, “D”, and “P”. Children will work harder to make this connection because they think it is so cool that volcanoes explode!!
I use gray tracing lines for my beginner drawings for the same reason that HWT uses gray crayon strokes in their preschool workbooks. Tracing, not connecting dots, helps kids understand that letters and numbers are made of a sequence of strokes. The alternative? I see four year-olds writing the letter “L” without creating a sharp angle at the bottom; it’s a swoop. I also see the letters “A” and “M” starting at the bottom, then curving up and around in a single line. Oops!
An important goal of learning uppercase letters first is that these larger, simpler strokes are required motor practice for the finer movements needed to execute the trace-backs and reversals of lowercase letters such as “a”, “b”, “d”, and “p”. I know exactly what happens if a child doesn’t have the control necessary to learn lowercase letter formation. If I had a dollar for every letter “a” made from a little circle placed next to a short line….!
Incorrect letter formation and poor control are two of the most common reasons that children in first or second grade are identified as slow or sloppy writers and get referrals to OT for handwriting. Not every child is able to or interested in re-learning correct handwriting skills later on, and why should anyone have to re-learn handwriting? Don’t teachers (and OTs) have better things to do? Teach it correctly the first time!
Drawing gives kids the visual-motor practice they need while providing a fun, creative experience that adds depth to classroom lesson plans about nature, holidays and other subjects. Try drawing flags, birthday cakes (always a favorite), ice cream cones and more!