Learning to Print is a Demanding Skill: Key factors Promote Success!

Your child should be learning to print, legibly. With consistent training and practice your child can be successful unless she has a physical disability that affects the function of her dominant hand. Eye-hand co-ordination and sensory integration are basic to good penmanship. Efficient, legible printing is a motor activity that involves…

visual-motor integration,
fine-motor skill,
pressure,
proper position of the pencil and paper,
posture,
both hands (one to hold the paper, the
other to hold the pencil)…and
balance.

Several parts of the brain must work together to produce efficient and legible letter formation.

If your child has to think about how to form individual letters, at school, when writing in his journal and in completing other written exercises, he won’t be able to keep up with peers who have automatic recall and efficient fine-motor skills. Speed of printing will slow down because of it.

Does your child print the same letter differently each time it is written? Does your child start the letters, l, b, k, v, and w, from the top? Does your child have an unusual pencil grip?

The combined effect of awkward pencil grip and unusual letter formation, over time, instills ingrained habits that are virtually impossible to change. They may result in

 

printing that is difficult to read
poor spelling, and
slow and/or labored letter formation.

 

Another effect in learning to print is that your child may have great ideas but have difficulty putting them down on paper. Or...

She may lose track of her ideas because her attention is so focused on the mechanics of printing.

Parents need to understand the importance of efficient letter formation in manuscript form (printing). They need to understand the importance of an efficient and effective grasp of the pencil to promote legible printing.

Beginning writers need instruction in letter formation. And...they need practice to develop the motor memory that influences speed and efficiency in completing written tasks.

Many children have acquired letter formation habits that are not helpful to an easy transition from a printing style to a cursive style, or handwriting. Getting rid of bad habits requires enormous conscious effort.

If parents understood the importance of
careful direction in learning how to print,
they would give it.

If parents understood the importance of
supervised practice in learning how to print…
they would provide it.

There are many chores and activities around the home that contribute to the development of fine-motor skills necessary for learning to print.

 

Dusting furniture with linear and circular motion...
Stacking blocks and small boxes...
Placing grocery cans in cupboards...
Throwing and catching a ball...
Sorting small and large buttons (picking them up, one at a time, to place in jars or cups)...
and, folding laundry from the dryer...

 

are all great activities in support of the motor skills, eye-hand coordination, and balance needed for learning how to print.

A best, fine-motor skill activity, that has a direct influence on printing, is the pendulum ball activity described on another page in this website. Its goal is sensory integration.

Many children learn to print their names before they get to Kindergarten. Some learn how to print their names from their parents...others from pre-school teachers.

Typically, these children print their names in upper case, or capital letters.

Why?

Capital letters are always first in alphabet books and alphabet charts. That leads parents to conclude that they should be taught first. Isn't first always best in our Western world?

 

The reality of what we read suggests otherwise.

 

Fully 95 percent of what we read is written in lower case letters. That leaves 5 percent written in upper case letters. Admittedly, the short sentences and short dialogue of early primary reading material gives rise to a higher incidence of upper case letters.

Some believe that upper case letters are easier to form; as a group, they are less complicated than lower case letters. It stands to reason that printing is going to have the same proportions stated in the previous paragraph. Therefore, 95 percent of the practice required should be with lower case letters.

Note, also, that referring to upper case or capital letters as big letters and to lower case letters as little letters is very misleading. For example, which of the following letters is big and which is little?

A

a

 

Proper terminology reduces a great deal of confusion in your child's understanding.

What concepts does your child need to understand before introducing the lower case letters and how to form them? Here are just a few:

 

Top – bottom
Left – right
Above – below
Open - closed – hooked
Ascending - medial – descending
Long – short
Horizontal - diagonal – vertical
Intersecting.

 

To your child, only a horizontal or a vertical line may be straight. To her, a diagonal line is not straight; the angle alters the characteristic, straight.

Letters are made up of lines. The appropriate lines, when joined together, form each distinct letter. Lack of understanding of the concepts used to describe the formation of each letter affects your child's ability to recall and reproduce each letter's distinctive features.

Proper placement of each letter on a line is yet another feature that affects legibility. Some lower case letters are medial letters, using up about half of traditionally-lined paper (a, c, e, i, m, n, o, r, s, u, v, w, x, z).

Descending letters have an extension below the line (g, j, p, q, y).

The remaining letters are ascending letters. They extend above the medial position to the top of the space between the lines (b, d, f, h, k, l, t).

Preschool instruction may include the direction to write the letters on the line. To your child, that may mean the bottoms of the descending letters are supposed to be on the line, too!


I once taught a boy, who, after 4 years in school,
still printed all letters with descending parts on the
line. Not only was it distracting, it made his printing
difficult to read.
It was clear he was following the teacher's instructions...
literally. It was also clear he hadn't assimilated
proper placement of letters, in words, on a line.

Children who struggle with spatial ordering appear to be unaware of the spatial arrangement of letters, words, and sentences on a line and on a page. The evidence is found in their work. They have:

Persistent, uneven spacing between letters in words
and between words on a line...
Poor use of lines on the paper...and
Print that slants down from the line intended.

 Often, we take for granted that what we mean is clear. With adequate supervision in the early stages of learning to print, your child won't persist in these types of errors. The correction will be immediate.

Learning to print, and later, to write, requires
more basic skills than perhaps any other.

The use of VAKT (Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic, and Tactile), a process that is multi-sensory, can prevent many potential problems...

if used when your child is learning to recognize letter forms.

A set of flocked letters, with arrows showing the start and end points for each specific letter, is useful. Your child will see the letter, say and hear the letter name, go through the movement to form the letter, and feel the shape of the letter in this single operation.

Do this with the thumb, index, and middle fingers pinched together in the same way you do when you hold a pencil. Later, you can add the eraser end of the pencil when doing this activity. This gives your child practice in how to hold a pencil properly.

Hold the pencil about ¾ to 1 inch (20-25 mm) from finger to pencil tip. The pencil should be held somewhere between a 45 to 70 degree angle. The page for printing should angle toward the elbow of the dominant, or writing hand. Pressure on the pencil should not be too heavy or too light.

Kinesthetic learning, a strong learning channel, helps your child assimilate the accurate formation of letters … to a point where no further conscious effort is required. When your child is ready for printing practice, the pencil can be used in its intended manner.


If your child is left-handed, the material he is to
copy from should be placed to the right so that
he can see it.

Once letter-name identification is proficient with accuracy in letter- formation, you can begin to use a new strategy to reinforce letter knowledge and automatic memory for words.

Dictate short sentences that relate to your child, letter by letter. Include word boundaries and punctuation.

Keep it simple!

If your child is wearing a blue hat a good sentence would be: Kelly is wearing a blue hat.

Allow time for your child to print the letters. Watch to see that the letters are formed correctly. When finished, call out the letters a second time. Your child should be verifying that all letters called were written down in the correct order. Allow time for him to make any necessary corrections.

Provide closure by reading the sentence your child has written pointing to each word as you read it from your child’s paper.

You may need or want to start this activity using the hand over hand technique, guiding your child’s hand in the formation of each letter. Rapid progress usually follows when you model correct letter formation with your child.

Gradual, deliberate, and consistent practice, over time, reaches the point where there is automatic motor memory for letter formation. Delay in thinking about how to form the letter will be eliminated. Keep an eye open for follow-through on all aspects of letter formation.

This letter printing strategy, when taken to a level of naturalness, will reinforce the idea that we combine letters to form words and words with words to communicate our thoughts and feelings. Not only is this part of reading readiness, it gives your child the needed practice in learning how to print in a realistic, integrated context. It requires no creativity at this point.

As a variation, have your child tell you the sentence she would like to print. Dictate it back to her, letter by letter. She’ll be able to recall her own sentence. She’ll also be thinking about spelling – which letters make up the words she’s used in her own sentence. This will set her up for spelling accuracy. You may also want to enter her sentences in your word processor. Print them off for reading at a later time.

Legibility, precision, attention to detail, and neatness are the hallmarks of written output. They contribute significantly to success in school. Every teacher looks favorably on an assignment that is neat, well-spaced and pleasing to the eye.

Your child needs to acquire a certain level of writing skill even if he can’t write for a long period of time. If done carefully and adequately, printing ease will facilitate the development of a cursive style. It won’t become a struggle that plagues your child throughout life.

Since a Kindergarten teacher’s day is packed to the gunnels, she can’t supervise, adequately and consistently, the writing practice of 20 students at the same time. In many kindergarten classes there may be 5 or more children who have no experience with print. They have never been read to before they entered the classroom. These children take up a great deal of the teacher’s time.

Teaching your child to print is a hugely supportive practice. It is one that you can do in support of your child and of the kindergarten program. Your effort will pay enormous dividends both for you and your child.

Remember that difficulties and mistakes are to be expected as your child develops her printing and writing skills. Your supervision and vigilance will prevent bad habits from developing.

Remember, too, that learning to print is a process. It is easy to become critical. Be on guard. Above all, use phrases that encourage and acknowledge improvement.

One way to monitor your child’s progress is to collect samples from time to time. If you maintain a portfolio of your child’s printed work you will have concrete evidence of your child’s progress.

Printing and handwriting are the most important skills your child will acquire and use throughout his school years. Pay yourself forward. Make the commitment to help your kindergarten child learn to print. The time you spend now… is the ounce of prevention.

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