Developing Printing Skills

WRITTEN BY MICHELLE BROWN

Problems commonly seen in printing such as incorrect letter formation, poor spatial alignment of letters on the line and a non-functional pencil grasp tend to occur when children are forced to print too early.  If a child does not know how to correctly form a letter, s/he will make up his/her own pattern.  This pattern, if used over and over, becomes a strongly ingrained motor pattern or habit.  If a child does not yet know how to hold a pencil, s/he will make up his/her own style to the best of his/her ability.   Most children who do not yet know where to place letters on a line end up using the entire space between the lines for all their letters.  Many people believe in the concept, practice makes perfect.   Practice does not make perfect, practice makes permanent!  If you practice incorrectly, that pattern will become permanent.

Need-to-knows about Pencil Grasp:

  • Tripod/quadrupod grasp is ideal as the pencil is held on 3 sides
  • Fingers holding pencil should be relaxed and mobile
  • If the grasp is a whole-hand grasp, causes pain or excess fatigue then change it
  • The research does not support that a perfect tripod grasp impacts speed or legibility

Pre-Printing Progression: 

Students should be able to copy these 9 shapes before they are ready to easily learn to print letters.  Do a baseline with your students/child and teach the proper formation of the pre-printing shapes before teaching letters.

To keep things interesting, offer a variety of media to practice and master these shapes and printing skills such as using: markers, white boards, pastels, chalk, crayons, painting with water on outside walls, foaming soap on the bathtub wall, side walk chalk, or dry erase markers on a window or mirror. A multi-sensory approach is most effective for kindergarten or younger.

Always give a visual model to copy from with directional cues (eg: an arrow down with a green dot to start at the top to draw an /) and show the student how to correctly form it.  Before you start, set your student up for success by positioning your student at his/her table/desk with feet on the floor and bum at back of the chair as this gives the most postural support.  Push work forward on table/desk so forearms are supported on the table.  Place the page in front of or slightly angled to the left for right-handed students.

For left-handed students, position and angle the page as shown here.  Also, encourage the student to hold the pencil 1-1.5” from the tip with his/her hand below the line so s/he can see what s/he is writing and to reduce smearing.

Here are some examples of activity sheets for pre-printing shapes I found on Pinterest but you can create your own using your student’s interests, favourite characters, upcoming holidays themes, etc.

Some children who don’t tend to prefer paper / pencil activities will resist drawing shapes and letters.  Below are some alternatives to promote letter development when the paper / pencil is too challenging:

Capitals versus Lower Case:

There is much debate over whether to teach capitals only or both capitals and lower case in kindergarten.  50% of typical students are not yet ready for lower case letters before 5 years old.  Capital letters tend to be easier to learn because they all start in the same place and cover the same spacial area on the line (always start at the top and cover 2 line spaces).  Conversely, lower case letters require higher visual-spacial skills including: re-tracing part of a letter, shifting directions, differently sized and different spacial locations on the lines. That said, children see lower case letters more in the classroom due to reading and this may help them to be more familiar with them.  Further, most children entering kindergarten already know how to print some letters, usually letters in their name.  My advice is if a student is having extreme difficulty learning lower case letters, you may want to consider switching to capitals only, at least initially in kindergarten.  (Again, this would only be after the student has mastered the pre-printing shapes and has developed a functional pencil grasp).  Then, as the kindergarten year progresses, start to introduce lower case letters, starting with the more simple letters (see below) and progressing from there.

When teaching children printing:

  • always give explicit instructions on how to form the letter
  • group similar letters together to build on previous learning
  • always give the structure of the bottom, dashed middle and top lines
  • teach a consistent ‘verbal path-of-movement’ for each letter (eg: t – down, lift, across the middle)
  • have students evaluate their best letters
  • pay special attention to a, j, k, n, q, u, z as these letters tend to be the most difficult

In order to improve handwriting skills practice is essential for improvement.

Once the student no longer has to think about how to form the letter correctly, s/he is ready for practice sheets.  The purpose of the practice sheets are to move the student from a thinking or cognitive level to an automatic motor level.  Usually, students in grade one or two are ready for a cognitive approach like the one used in the Printing Like a Pro Program.

Printing Like A Pro is a free resource from the Sunny Hill Health Centre for Children.  It recommends:

  • Practicing letter formation for 20 minutes, 3-5 times per week
  • Doing letters grouped by level of difficulty (downers–litf, rounders-coe, sliders-vwy)
  • Encourages these key concepts:
  1. Modeling – demonstrate formation, directional arrows
  2. Self-Talk – phrases for the directions of movement
  3. Self-Evaluation – circling best formed letters
  4. Practice (with a variety of media) – chalk, felts, pastels, paint, crayons

You can access the Printing Like a Pro program at: www.childdevelopment.ca/schoolagetherapypracticeresources.aspx  to download their free teacher and caregiver instructions and worksheets.

Printing Apps:

To provide variety and motivation you can also use printing apps but use a stylus so that you are promoting a proper grasp at the same time.  These are the best apps I have found that cover the full alphabet in upper and lower case.

  1. Letter Book - $3.99 for full version. This app is the best in my opinion, as it fades out visual prompts similar to the Printing Like a Pro program and keeps the letters practiced for self-evaluation after completion.
  2. Alphabet First (Alphabet Write Letters) – Free
  3. Cursive Practice (123s & ABCs Cursive Letters for Kids) – Free

 I hope you find this helpful.  

Good Luck and remember, be the hero you are meant to be!

Author: Michelle Brown
Michelle Brown is an occupational therapist and has been helping people since 1996.

You can find out more about Michelle Brown here: http://www.specialkidshero.com
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