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Things to Do Before Teaching Name Writing

Teaching children to write their names is such a rewarding process.

You can see the progression right before your eyes!

But, sometimes… we, as teachers, get excited. Too excited.  We jump right in to teaching our 3 and 4 year olds how to write their name.  After all, it’s important and they will need it for Kinder. Right?

We mean well, but… by jumping right in to name writing, we are making the assumption that the little fingers that belong to those cute 3 and 4 year olds are ready. There are some things we need to check before teaching name writing.

Some little fingers might be ready, but some might not.

Pretend with me for a minute… let’s say all day you had to write with one of those huge pencils.  You know… the ones you can win at the carnival and it comes with it’s own sharpener because it is way to big to fit in any regular sharpeners… yea -those.

So, any notes you write or observations you make are used using this ridiculously large pencil.

A couple note taking sessions in and what do you think your arms, wrists and fingers will feel like? Fatigued? Sore?  How might you feel? Frustrated? Ready to throw the ginormo pencil across the room?  Yep- probably.

Why did writing with that stupidly large pencil suck so bad?

Fine Motor Skills

Your fine motor muscles weren’t ready for it. You’ve only used normal sized writing utensils.  So, when taxed with using a heavy, bulky pencil – your muscles fatigued faster.  You’ll have to build up those muscles and practice using that pencil…. or, just donate it to a giant…

What you just experienced with the large pencil is exactly the feeling that some of our children might feel when first starting to use writing utensils. This is what I mean by things we have to do before teaching name writing!

If they have never used one before, or have not built up the necessary muscles needed to operate a pencil effectively there is going to be fatigue, frustration and possibly tears. <None of us want this. For one, it breaks our teacher hearts and for two, that kiddo might now avoid writing (that’s bad).

So, what’s a teacher to do??

Before you explicitly teach any name writing or letter formation make sure that the child you are working with is ready. 

How will you know?

Here are some things you can look for…

1. Can the child cross his/her midline?

 See if the child can reach their right hand to their left foot. Can he/she cross the invisible vertical midline that runs down our bodies? 

Why is this midline stuff important to writing? Well, we want that child’s left and right hemispheres of the brain to communicate effectively. This is needed because generally we start writing on the left hand side of the paper and we move towards the right. At some point the child will have to cross their midline with their arm, hand and eyes to travel across the paper. Also, we do a lot of crossing the mid-line when creating letters like T and X.

2. Hand Division

While there are several functional grasps when writing, when we grasp a writing utensil our fingers all have different positions and tasks. In a Dynamic Tripod grasp, (traditional) our pointer and middle finger and thumb are active, while our ring and pinky fingers are supporting the other fingers. 

Can the child manipulate objects only using the thumb, pointer and middle finger?

3. In-Hand Manipulation: The ability to pick and use an object using only one hand.

There are three types of In-Hand Manipulation:

    Translation: example- Start with 2-3 beads tucked in palm, move a bead to fingers in order to stringing the bead on yarn.

    Shift: example- Moving a pen into position to write with it after picking it up.

    Rotation: example – Flipping a pencil over with one hand, in order to use the eraser.

Can the child manipulate objects using only one hand?

4. Hand Dominance : Do you observe a preference of using on hand over the other?

   The age range in which children develop hand dominance varies. But, we should see our children developing a preference by age 5. 

  To see if a child has developed a dominant hand, try handing him/her a object that their midline. Which hand reaches for it? Document and test this several times over a period of time. Also, observe. Does the child reach for something on their left side with their right hand? Or, vise versa?

5. Pre-Writing Strokes: Strokes that most letters, numbers and early drawings consist of.

 Can the child produce these pre-writing strokes? These strokes should come before letter or name writing.

Pre-Name Writing Skills

Before children learn to write their name, they first need to be able to do these things…

1. Recognize Name (can child find his/her name when mixed with other written names?)

2. Orally Spell Name (can child spell name orally while pointing to the letters in his/her name?

3. Match (can child match individual letters in his/her name to the written form of the name?)

4. Construct (can child construct individual letters to form his/her name correctly?)

Skills to Teach

First and foremost – writing is a progression. 

If the child you are working with has made it this far through the list of to-dos, then it’s time to do some explicit teaching.

1. Pencil Grasp… sometimes it has to be taught.  If you haven’t heard of Dr. Marianne Gibbs from Write Out of the Box, check her out. Her sleeping fingers and busy fingers info is awesome for teaching a traditional tripod grasp.

There are 3 types of grasps that are considered ‘functional’ (aka- they are grasps that okay)…

  • 1. Dynamic Tripod: tips of thumb, index and middle finger hold the pencil and the body of the pencil rests between thumb and index finger…. tri=using three fingers
  • 2. Quadrupod: tips of thumb, index, middle and ring finger hold the pencil and the body of the pencil rests between thumb and index… quad=using four fingers
  • 3. Adapted Tripod: tips thumb, index and middle hold the pencil, but the body of the pencils rests between the index and middle fingers.

2. Top to Bottom 

Teaching children that we start letters at the top and move to the bottom.

3. Left to Right 

Teaching children that we start writing on the left hand side and move to the right.

4. Paper Stability

We use our non-dominate hand to hold the paper stabile while writing.

Name Writing

Once, all those skills are taught – it’s time to start teaching name writing.  But, again with writing- there is a progression.

Actually I’ve written a whole blog post about Name Writing for your reading pleasure 🙂

Would you like all these progressional skills to print out and track for each student?

Yep, I needed it too!

Grab the Roadmap to Name Writing Here.

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