Tuesday, October 25, 2011

How to Teach Your Child to Write

Jett loves writing on the magna doodle and he's been stealing our pens and pencils as well. Since I'm following his cues, I guess I need to get prepared to give him "safe" opportunities to write!

Jett Magnadoodling
How is writing more challenging for those with Down syndrome? And what can you do?

Early on, I attended a seminar where they explained that, for those with DS, it was as if they had oven mitts for hands. 
Okay... but then they didn't tell you how to fix it! It's great to empathize, but please, let that be the beginning of the conversation, not the end of it! 
To fix this disadvantage, you must help your child to be able to FEEL his fingers and hands. When he can feel them, he can better use them!  Kay Ness' Tactile Sequence will do the trick.

Important play activities for developing handwriting skills are explained in this great blog post.

Why teach handwriting in the computer age?

How Handwriting Trains the Brain Forming Letters Is Key to Learning, Memory, Ideas  by Gwendolyn Bounds 

...Wendy Bounds discusses the fading art of handwriting, pointing out that new research shows it can benefit children's motor skills and their ability to compose ideas and achieve goals throughout life.
She's right. Using advanced tools such as magnetic resonance imaging, researchers are finding that writing by hand is more than just a way to communicate. The practice helps with learning letters and shapes, can improve idea composition and expression, and may aid fine motor-skill development.
...Studies suggest there's real value in learning and maintaining this ancient skill, even as we increasingly communicate electronically via keyboards big and small. Indeed, technology often gets blamed for handwriting's demise. But in an interesting twist, new software for touch-screen devices, such as the iPad, is starting to reinvigorate the practice.
...Recent research illustrates how writing by hand engages the brain in learning. During one study at Indiana University published this year, researchers invited children to man a "spaceship," actually an MRI machine using a specialized scan called "functional" MRI that spots neural activity in the brain. The kids were shown letters before and after receiving different letter-learning instruction. In children who had practiced printing by hand, the neural activity was far more enhanced and "adult-like" than in those who had simply looked at letters.
Even legible handwriting that's messy can have its own ramifications, says Steve Graham, professor of education at Vanderbilt University. He cites several studies indicating that good handwriting can take a generic classroom test score from the 50th percentile to the 84th percentile, while bad penmanship could tank it to the 16th. "There is a reader effect that is insidious," Dr. Graham says. "People judge the quality of your ideas based on your handwriting." 
...In children who had practiced writing by hand, the scans showed heightened brain activity in a key area, circled on the image at right, indicating learning took place.

How I teach Jett handwriting skills

1) Set him up for success! It's easier and more colorful to make marks with a marker rather than a crayon or a pencil. It's also hard to hold the paper steady while trying to make marks. So, I use blue painter's tape to secure the paper and easy clean markers so he can freely give it a go! (See Tools below.)

2) Acknowledge and praise the marks he can make, in whatever way he makes them. Many of our children will not be holding the marker in the "correct" way for some time. They need to go through a series of stages to get to the "tripod" stage where he'd be holding the pencil as you would. First, is fisted with elbow down, then is fisted with the the hand turned upside down and elbow up and then he'll be moving into the four-finger and thumb grasp and then to the tripod position. Each stage should be celebrated and none should be pushed upon him.
Of course, Jett wanted to write perfect letters and words right away, but his short little fingers wouldn't cooperate. So my strategy was to distract him from feeling the need to write letters right away and to give positive feedback and a sense of accomplishment from making ANY marks that he can. Any mark that he made, I gave a name to so that it he got positive feedback and recognition. "Oh, I see: dots, dashes, lines and scribbles." That way each has a name and he can be proud that he can make those marks. 
3) To help him get through those various finger grip stages faster, please look into crawling, wheel barrow exercises, the neurodevelopmental grasp and hanging exercises, using monkey bars and getting the reflexes integrated through MNRI. (See my Therapy page for links.)

4) Move to more controlled dots, lines and circles with fun worksheets to encourage practice.
Jett drawing circles.
We say, "Dot! Dot! Dot!" like we are so happy to do them. Then we've moved to more controlled dots, like "Ohhh, two dots up and two dots down!"  and then lines from the top of the page to the bottom: "Line up, then down!" and then "Line, across, across!" Then we moved to "circles" which was basically anything round, which slowly became more distinguishable as a circle. To further reward him and have him feel pride for being able to do "just" lines, dots and circles, I found some free worksheets for him to do that give him a reason to practice and eventually perfect his lines and circles. See "Free Worksheets" below.
5) Continue to practice making more difficult, controlled writing tasks with worksheets that increase with difficulty.

6) A fun way he practices writing the letters in the air is when he watches the short, fun videos on youtube by Walphabet. You can find them on my youtube channel andiandi222 in the playlist called "Jett 32 months." He also practices and plays by writing letters in the sand and with chalk on the sidewalk.  

7) If you are seeing frustration or just want more ways to improve handwriting without a writing implement, you can always do pre-writing/fine motor-strengthening exercises to give plenty of opportunities to hone the finger skills such as: bubble wrap popping, paper tearing, paper crumbling. 

8) Once he was able to master those worksheets, we moved to a DVD I found at the library called  Steps 4 Kids to Write Their ABCs.

It takes each letter and puts them into groups of similar writing movements and walks you through each type of letter and how to do it on lined paper. Jett really enjoys the video (although it's not the least bit exciting, unless you love letters and writing like Jett does). We do one set of letters a day, about four, on one sheet of lined paper. I don't do more than that so that it's fresh for him everyday. 
a. We watch the video segment of one letter.
b. He watches me do it on the paper in front of him. 
c. We do hand over hand practice.
d. Then he does it on his own. 
Once we go through all the letters, first upper case, then lower case, then we'll go through them again until he has mastered them.


For the worksheets, I bought a Crayola Dry Erase Activity Center  which was $14.99 at Michaels, but I got it 50% off. The board works so that you can print any paper and slip it into the board then your child can use the dry erase markers all over it while still protecting the paper so you can reuse it or give it away when he's done with it. Jett used these sheets several times because it took him a while to be able to make a controlled, perfect line. Initially, Jett scribbled all over the page trying to control the pen and then progressively got better.

The marker the comes with the center washes off hands and tables with water. For clothes, it's best to put on something you don't care about. Now, we buy the washable dry erase markers. They aren't as bright as the others but they work well and I feel better about him using them.

Free Worksheets

These are the free worksheets that I printed out for him to practice lines, circles and x's. Be sure to only print the first page since the second page is often the unnecessary answer key. 

A cheaper alternative may be already printed activity books like the Sesame Street "Let's Learn the Alphabet & More" that you can get for $2.00 at Big Lots. They have four others to choose from and you can just rip out the pages and insert into the dry erase activity center.

These worksheets are listed from easiest to hardest. Do just enough worksheets everyday so that he wants to do more and protests when you take them away. You don't want to bore your child. I don't let Jett do more than 3 a day.

Drawing Lines
Tracing Slanted Lines - Sleds downhill

Slanted Lines Worksheet - Wagons uphill

Tracing Straight Lines Worksheet Set 1 - Three worksheets include tracing straight lines from left to right, right to left, top to bottom, bottom to top, and slanted directional lines.

Farm Animal Match - match the farm animals to their shadows

Dinosaur Shadow Match - draw a line to match each dinosaur with its shadow

Marine Life -draw a line to match each marine animal with its shadow
Match the Bears - fine motor skills, visual discrimination

Match the Leaves - draw a line between the leaves that match

Match the Frogs - draw a line between the matching frogs

Christmas Matching Worksheet- draw line between the word and the picture.

Printable Christmas Picture Matching- draw a line between the matching pictures.

Christmas Worksheet - Same

Opposites - draw a line between the two pictures that are opposites. Pairs of words include hot-cold, young-old, inside-outside, and happy-sad
Things That Go Together - draw a line between the things that go together, 2 worksheets

Missing Shoes - match people to their shoes

All Kinds of Weather -match the children to the weather

What Goes Together - draw a line between the pictures that are related

What Do Animals Eat? - draw a line between the animals and what they eat

Day and Night - draw a line from the day or night to a day or night activity

Drawing Wavy Lines
Wavy Lines - practice drawing between wavy lines, pencil control 
Dragon Maze -help the dragon get to the castle, pencil control, visual discrimination 
Hummingbird Maze - help the hummingbird get to the flowers, visual discrimination, pencil control  

Drawing Circles 
Happy and Sad - feelings worksheet

Small Worksheet 2 - circle the smallest of three items in each row

The Smallest Object - letter Z, zebra. zipper, zucchini (You'll find this worksheet for every letter of the alphabet at http://www.tlsbooks.com/preschoolconcepts.htm, just search for "smallest object.")

Dinosaur Same or Different - identify the dinosaur in each row that is different

Funny Fish Same or Different - identify the different fish in each row

Four Same Size worksheets - fruits, vegetables, toys, sea life (Instead of coloring them, you can have your child circle the answers.)

The Same Size at the Beach - identify and color items that are the same size (Instead of coloring them, you can have your child circle the answers.)

What Does Not Belong #3 - circle the picture that does not belong in the group

Counting Crustaceans - Counting to 5.

My Turtle Number Book -identify numbers 1 to 10 by circling

Count and Circle worksheet 1 - Read the numeral at the beginning of each row and circle that many items (up to 5).

Summer Counting - circle correct number of items

4th of July Counting- circle correct number of items

Farm Theme Counting- circle correct number of items

Africa Animals- circle correct number of items

Easter Counting- circle correct number of items

Themed Counting Worksheets

How Many Apples - numbers 3, 4, 5, and 6

Dinosaur Tally - circle correct number of items, make "tally marks"

Numbers 6 - 10 - 5 page packet

Numbers 1 - 5 - 5 page packet
Drawing an X

Different Weather - draw an X on the picture that does not belong in each group  
Same of Different #4 - identify the item that is different in each row 
Tallest and Shortest identify the tallest and shortest items
 What Does Not Belong #2 - put an X on the picture that does not belong with each group

Tracing Pictures

Giraffe Tracing - complete the picture, pencil control, visual discrimination
Tracing Practice Worksheet Set 2 - Encourage pencil control and color recognition when tracing a snail and a butterfly. 
Bear Tracing Activity - complete the picture, pencil control, tracing
Trace and Color - trace shapes and color recognition 
Kitten and Bubbles - trace the bubbles and color the kitten
Clown Tracing Circles - tracing and coloring, pencil control
Half a Bear - complete the picture
Finish the Picture - complete the picture, pencil control
Finish the Picture - trace the dotted lines to complete the flower picture

Dot to Dot
Clown Dot-to-Dot - connect the dots from a-z and 1-10 to complete the picture of a clown 
Dot-to-Dot - 2 pages, one alphabet and one letter dot-to-dot puzzle 
Dot-toDot PuppyPail Dot-To-Dot -connect the dots from 1-10, print the word pail

Writing the Alphabet and Numbers 

There are numerous, easy to find items to support this practice. One dry erase book we like is Wipe Clean Letters and Wipe Clean Numbers .

Here's a collection of websites, blog posts and products to support writing efforts:

Handwriting Blog Posts
Make your own sand writing tray:

Using the Handwriting Without Tears wooden letter parts that kids put together like a puzzle to make complete capital letters as well as the Stamp and See Screen:


Handwriting without tears' Mat Man. Song and pieces help teach parts of letter structure:


Handwriting Curriculum Reviews

Reviews of Handwriting Programs by Cathy Duffy


Steps 4 Kids to Write Their ABCs


Complete Montessori At Home is downloadable book for less than $9 that has lots of inexpensive ideas to teach your child at home: http://www.montessoriathomebook.com/Home.html/


For years Montessori teachers have used The Red Letter Alphabet Book as a complement to the Sandpaper Letters, integrating touch, sight, and sound to help children in the first stages of reading. This book uses greeting card felt (flocking) to make velvety, touch-sensitive letters, which invite children to touch and trace the shapes of the letters.

You can get lowercase wooden letters from

Homemade Items

Sandpaper Letters

Perhaps your local library or school has an elison machine that you can use to punch out the letters and shapes in the sandpaper. 

Fine Motor and Pre-writing Activities by a Montessori mom of a child with DS.


The official Handwriting Without Tears website: An easy-to-teach, easy-to-learn curriculum makes handwriting mastery joyful for students and their teachers.

Free Handwriting Worksheets

These are cool  because you can create your own worksheets. The writing space is too small for Jett at 2 1/2, but will be great when he's older.


Related Posts

Teaching Your Baby to Read

Jett Pretending to Read at 16 Months
Teaching Your Young Child to Read High Interest Books
Books to Read to Your Baby
Review of BrillKids Little Reader
BrillKids is offering discounts for Special Needs
Readeez: Songs Supporting Reading Free Download
Reviews of Educational Media
Video of Jett reading at 19 months.
Alphabet Tactile Quilt
Teach Your Baby Math


Ramblin' H said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
e said...

Your devotion, on top of your resourcefulness, is ADMIRABLE.
I hope and pray that this devotion can serve as a role model for other parents!!keep going, you are doing more than great.

e said...

I would also add that anyone who sees this and is as impressed as I am, that you help circulate this to others, that it may reach many parents who are in need of this great resource!!

Anonymous said...

Your site is wonderful. I too find it frustrating when attending seminars and sessions all I get explanations of the problem but nothing on working and fixing the problem.