Is Handwriting Important in Kindergarten?

Handwriting is one of the foundations that are taught in Kindergarten. And actually it is a standard; L.K.1a: Print many upper and lowercase letters. Handwriting IS important, as it conveys a spoken message. Handwriting begins with learning to correctly form each upper and lowercase letter. But ask 5 different kindergarten teachers and you will most likely get 5 different answers on how to teach it. I am a big believer in finding the best way to teach YOUR students, which means there is not one ‘right’ way. In my opinion…haha. Here are a few of my suggestions, tips and activities to help with Kindergarten Handwriting.

Writing Requires Developing & Using Fine Motor Muscles

I have talked and worked alongside with occupational therapists, as well as child development specialists and we all agree that explicit instruction and modeling is of utmost importance. One common thread throughout education, regardless of grade level or student age is that writing tends to be a non-preferred activity. And the number one reason in early childhood education is because the actual mechanics of writing is difficult. Little Learners have not fully developed their fine-motor muscles. So just like any person who wants to build/strengthen their muscles, it doesn’t happen in one session. Proper form, practice and consistency are the keys to growth. And remember, practice makes progress…not perfection. I like to provide little learners with a multitude of opportunities to strengthen those fine motor muscles. This can be done through a variety of purposeful activities that incorporate fine motor muscle practice. You can read more about the importance of fine motor activities HERE. But I am also sharing a few of my favorite ones here…

Explicit Instruction & Modeling

I love to introduce each letter in isolation, using this pocket chart. I model how to write the upper and lower case letter, as well as demonstrating the sound. I also like to use alphabet songs that combine movement and music. Next, I have students ‘sky write’, which uses gross motor movements to create the letter strokes.

I also create this anchor chart to introduce the writing lines. There are many versions and different verbiage, but I like to call it Head line, Belt line, and Foot line. I draw the little man and demonstrate by touching my own head, belt and foot. This also provides a physical movement and connection to the letter sizing. For instance, most lowercase letters will begin at the belt line. So we will put our hands on our belt line and go down to the foot line. I refer to the letters that go beyond the foot line as ‘naughty letters’ that don’t like to follow the rules. The kids get a big kick out of the word ‘naughty’. It’s quite funny.

There are a myriad of opinions when it comes to teaching to write with or without lines. Some teachers believe you should write without lines in the beginning, while others think you should write with lines. Some curriculums even give specifics on that philosophy. It’s been in my experience that little learners need both. I like to use writing lines, so they understand the formation and sizing. But we also write on unlined white boards. If you choose either or and not a combination of both, what happens when they go to art or music or you use a worksheet that is different than what they have been using? Just one of the reasons I feel it’s important to do both.

Pencil Grasp or Grip and Tips

This is another controversial topic. Some teachers and experts say that students should use a proper tripod or quadripod grasp. Other teachers say it doesn’t matter. My opinion comes from working with beginning learners and Kindergarten students in a public school, as well as teaching students in a private setting. In public school, some students come in and already have the tripod grasp down, some come not knowing how to grip a writing utensil at all. Then you have some that come with a different grasp altogether, but the habit was formed before they even stepped foot through my doors. It is my job to explicitly introduce, teach and model how to grip the writing utensil and even provide some hand-over-hand support. But I will say that even with all of the instruction and guided support, some little learners never develop a tripod grasp. This is where I let my teacher intuition intervene.

Take a look at this student’s grasp. It is not a tripod or quadripod grasp. She was in a private preschool and was already writing when she came to me for transitional kindergarten. I noticed her grip right away and addressed it with her mom. But what I observed was that it did not impede her writing AT ALL. She had perfect penmanship and formed all of the letters correctly and the way that she gripped her utensil did not cause writing fatigue either. Should I intervene and force her to change her grasp. No.

On the other spectrum, I had a left-handed student that I noticed had trouble with dexterity and controlling the writing utensil. He tired quickly with writing fatigue and when he first attempted writing, it was not legible, even with tracing lines and he struggled independently.

I supported him with hand-over-hand and yet, he still struggled. I submitted an OT evaluation and we intervened with physical pencil grips to help aid him.

This support helped him and I saw his writing fatigue wane and his control and coordination improve. These are the utensil grips that I like to have in case someone needs support. I like the variety that this multi-pack offers. Click HERE to check them out.

Intentional & Purposeful Practice

I believe that purposeful practice is so very important and while repetition is needed, I try and choose activities that are intentional AND fun. As I described earlier, after I have provided explicit instruction and modeling, I give students an opportunity to practice independently. This also gives me an opportunity to see who has mastered the skill/writing grasp, who is still developing and who is needs intensive support. IF there is or are students who need intensive support, I would pull them into a small group or 1:1. Here is an example of purposeful practice. It includes both the scaffolding of tracing the letters, yet giving them the practice of writing the letters on their own. Is it going to be perfect? Nope. Just a work in progress.

Grown-Ups Guide to Handwriting

But how do we get grown-ups to support what we are teaching and modeling at school? We can offer information, tips, and suggestions. What grown-ups do with the information is beyond our control, but at least we can provide it. A few years back I created a 1 page handout for parents/grown-ups with tips for handwriting success. It is simple and concise, with not an overwhelming amount of information. Other educators saw it and suggested I add pictures of the proper grasp as a reference, along with some practice pages. Done. I turned it into a kit that you can use at your discretion and the handout is even editable. (Make sure to look at the preview to make sure that this will work for you and your grown-ups).

Now Also In Spanish!!

What are your best tips for teaching handwriting? Please comment below!

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