How to Teach Your Preschooler to Write

A few things, right off the bat:

1. This post is for all parents, no matter what form of education they choose for their children, though homeschooling parents might take a more formal interest.  I usually don't write homeschool tutorials because, frankly, there are oodles of fantastic blogs out there written by parents with lots of great, creative tips, and I think they've covered almost everything.  It's like writing a cookbook: unless you have a special niche, your knowledge has probably already been shared before.  Not that I shouldn't share this anyway, of course, but I don't feel qualified to reinvent the wheel.

2.  This post doesn't mean that your preschooler will learn how to write all of the letters in a week or a month.  Every child has his/her own pace and style of learning.  This is just to give parents a few ideas if they want to encourage their child to learn to write, assuming that the child is ready.

3. I am not a professionally trained writing teacher.  If you know of a better way, then by all means, use it!  Share your thoughts!  I also want to stress that I don't think that preschoolers *should* learn how to write at a very young age, but if they are ready and eager, they should be able to have the option to try.

Okay, all of that said, the first question: Is your preschooler ready to learn how to write?  The following things should be in place before trying to write:

1. Child can easily recognize all of the letters of the alphabet.
2. Child has developed an array of fine motor skills, such as properly holding a fork or toothbrush, putting pegs in holes, and so forth.
3. Child shows an interest in writing, such as wanting to copy pictures or pretending to write.

When my oldest child was three, she was in preschool full-time.  The teachers were telling the children stories about why each letter had its unique shape.  (A clever idea!)  However, my daughter didn't want to sit down and learn how to write her name until the older girl whom I mentored had shown my daughter how she wrote her name.  Seeing the example of another child was enough to make my daughter want to learn more... which is often how these things start, of course.

Writing is learned like most other things: by being interested in learning, and through practice.  Just like my older daughter doesn't learn her piano songs until she wants to learn them and practices playing them, my younger daughter doesn't learn to write letters until she wants to learn them and then practices writing them.  It's that simple.  If one of those elements is not there, at any age, then the child is not ready.  My 2.5-year-old (a lefty) can now write most of the letters of the alphabet, but that was because she showed an interest and wanted to be a big kid, like her sister.  It takes me sitting down with her and practicing when we have some free moments... and patience from the both of us.

As a mom/teacher, it's up to me to encourage the child's interest and frequency of practice, and if necessary, to alter my approach.  For example, as I've written before, my older daughter seems to be more visual in her learning style.  She needs to see (or now, read about) something to learn it.  However, my younger daughter seems to be more kinesthetic in her learning style: she needs to touch it, feel it, experience it.  The two styles are not mutually exclusive, but for me, it's easier to know my child's strengths in order to teach them in the best way.  

Okay, so how do we go about actually teaching the writing?  If you're starting from the beginning, I would do the easiest stuff first.  In a fun, stress-free environment, I would have the child start copying the basic shapes on a piece of paper: a circle and a straight line, and then a half-circle.  If the child can easily write a circle and a straight line, the child can learn to write capital letters such as: I, L, O, and T, and then branch out to A, C, E, F, G, H, Q, V, and X.  Once those are mastered, then try the more complex straight-line letters, like M, N, W, Y, and Z, and then save the "curvy" or combination letters for last: B, D, J, P, S, and U.  I personally found that K and R were the most hard to get right, but that might not be the case for all kids!  Writing diagonally takes practice and strong motor skills.

Once many of those have been mastered, then you can start on the lower-case letters.  The child should easily be able to write o, l, i, and t, and then the "smaller versions" of the capital letters if they are similar.  Pay special attention, of course, to the b, d, p, and q, as these are often confused. 

You can begin by writing the letter a few times to show the child how you would write it, and then let the child try.  The child might want to copy over your letter or just free-style the letters on the paper.  Give a little bit of correction if needed ("The L has a straight back," "The G stays open," et cetera), but mostly, don't interfere.  We're not looking for perfection, just practice.

This magnetic slate with examples of letters was a thrift shop find!

To keep the child's interest, I would use a variety of different media to practice the shapes, including paper, chalk, paint, a magnetic slate (particularly useful tools for the visual learner), and even sand or flour (particularly useful for the kinesthetic learner).  Tracing paper could also be a huge help for some children.  Also trace letter puzzles, cookies, magnets, and so forth with fingers.  For auditory learners, try making up stories about the letters ("B has a big belly!") or using sound effects ("Wee goes the C!") whenever appropriate.  Invite your child to do the same.  For those who watch videos, Sesame Street seems to be the gold standard when it comes to describing letter shapes.  Verbally reinforce the unique letter shapes when you read a story or see an interesting sign. 

In the meantime, strengthen those fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination with dot-to-dot puzzles, lacing cards, sign language, and all of those cool learning toys your child got last year.  Then practice a little at a time.  Before long, your child will probably start writing letters on his/her own time.  Just don't push it.  If your child starts to fidget and lose interest, put the lesson down and do something else. The last thing you'd want is for learning to be a chore for the child.  Good luck!

Having big sister teach little sister how to write...

...makes little sister an eager learner!

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