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Interestingly, pencil grip isn’t necessarily the key to good handwriting; many people use unconventional grips and are competent writers. However, it is generally accepted that encouraging the use of a tripod grip is best because it minimizes the risk of strain and offers the greatest control.
A quick web search will give you plenty of ideas on different ways to encourage this technique in young learners, including threading beads onto straws.
Top tip: An easy one for the classroom is to get the child to hold a rolled-up piece of tissue in little and ring finger; this will encourage them to hold the pencil in a tripod grip.
Once children have a comfortable pencil grip, the next step is letter formation. It’s important children begin forming letters correctly early on, as it can be challenging to change the formation later.
This means when writing a letter, it starts and ends in the correct place. Learning the correct formation will help children to write with speed and accuracy, allowing the writing to flow, particularly when children begin to learn cursive.
The challenge as teachers is to ensure children are, in fact, forming letters correctly. Often the result is similar, and without seeing them physically write the letter, it can be hard to be sure they have started and finished the letter in the correct place.
Especially with a class of 30. I have found that using a handwriting patter is helpful, ie, ‘a’ would be ‘up over the hill, down round to the line, up-down and flick.’
Many children come to reception writing in capital letters; this is usually easier than lower case letters with ascenders and descenders, while capital letters are the same size.
It can be challenging for children to get the size of lower-case letters consistent while making sure they write on the line. You might end up with a ‘g’ that’s all above the line or an ‘l’ that goes too far up.
In addition, those lower-case and capital letters which are formed in the same way, eg ‘c’ ‘C’ and ‘p’ ‘P’, can further add to the confusion and hinder consistency. The size of writing is essential for presentation and can help ensure writing is clear for the child to read back.
Top tip: Using ‘sky, grass, mud’ lines early on. This adds a visual element to writing, allowing children to see where the ascenders and descenders should go easily. This, combined with a handwriting patter, can be very effective.
Children must also learn to leave a space between each word to ensure what they have written is readable. This can be difficult, particularly if pupils haven’t fully grasped what words are and how they form sentences. An internet search will provide many ideas to support the use of finger spaces such as ‘finger space markers’ or simply using their own finger to make a space.
Top tip: A fun activity for young children is to write every word is in a different colour so that the difference between the words can be seen easily.
It might seem strange to suggest that edtech can support children with handwriting, but with the advent of the tablet computer and stylus, there are now more tools available to develop children’s handwriting skills.
The children can also often receive instant feedback and take part in interesting and engaging activities.
Top tip: Look at what edtech tools can help; we are fortunate enough to have 1:1 iPads at our school and have been using www.kaligo-apps.com to support our students in developing their handwriting through fun and engaging games, and the results have been impressive.
Sophie Lamb is a Y1 teacher and digital lead at Kender Primary School in Lewisham, London. Sophie has chosen to improve handwriting for the lowest five per cent of children as the focus for her NPQSL (National Professional Qualification in Senior Leadership). Follow Sophie on Twitter at @SophieL49167020.
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