Handwriting practice at Tulsa’s University School begins gently with preschool children using their slight finger to trace their name on a sheet of paper. The simple practice works the small muscles of their hands and engages their brains in letter recognition.
School Director Pat Hollingsworth said teaching a child to write is an integrative process that involves layers and layers of practice. “From tracing their name to tracing numbers in math, they are working fine motor skills. We integrate this practice into every class they attend.”
During art class drawing, coloring and painting all mimic the motions used during writing practice. And by drawing lines and shapes children are slowly being introduced to the patterns they will discover when they start writing the alphabet.
“Eventually we show them how to hold their pencil correctly, and they start writing their names and their friends’ and family members’ names. At that point they usually take off and start to practice a lot on their own,” Hollingsworth said.
Students proceed from writing names to writing short compliments to fellow students. “The kids are so excited to write them and receive them,” Hollingsworth said. “We try to find genuine uses for their new-found skill. This motivates the children to practice. The more teachers reinforce the method, the more the students begin to work independently and feel more confident with the writing process. Some kids are slower to catch on, but we work with them one on one and they soon are moving forward with the class.”
When children are learning to write letters such as an “s” they are also learning the sound simultaneously. “It is fun to watch them begin to spell words phonetically. As they practice writing, they begin to say the letter and we encourage them to write words. The correct spelling of the word is not important. Instead, it is the practice and confidence gained in handwriting,” Hollingsworth said.
By the middle of their kindergarten year, students are challenged to write a five- page story. A creative illustration accompanies the story. “Many kids say ‘five pages’, but once they begin writing they find it quite easy to cover five pages. We are not concerned with their spelling. The purpose is to get them to write, and we don’t want to make it too difficult,” Hollingsworth said. “All the layered writing practice helps the students to have confidence in their handwriting. If the practice of handwriting is not laborious students can write for a longer period of time and can concentrate on the content of what they are writing.“