Letter Formation. The Secret Weapon to Good Handwriting 

Letter formation usually includes the ability to form both letters and numbers correctly.  Research has shown that good letter formation is a significant predictor of the mastery of good handwriting.  With so many of our children battling with handwriting acquisition, it can be helpful to go back to basics and be sure we don't miss any vital stages.  We will look at some of the principles for developing good letter formation and some fun letter formation activities to help set your children on the road to handwriting success.

Following this sequence for teaching letter formation will assist in contributing to well-developed handwriting.  As we know, good handwriting contributes to composition and story writing skills.  Children who were exposed to a programme focusing on the improvement of letter formation compared to those who weren't, displayed an improvement in story writing and composition.  This reminds us how vital letter formation is as an underlying foundation for academic progress through the foundation phase and beyond.

Recognition before reproduction

In the post on shape reproduction, we looked at recognition before reproduction.  These principles are as true for letter formation reproduction as they are for shape reproduction.  Before a child can reproduce a letter, they need to be able to discriminate and name the different letterforms.  This starts with the auditory discrimination of initial sounds, such as |a| is for apple.  This goes hand in hand with the sound-symbol association, which is the ability to recognise a graphic representation that a b makes a |b| sound.

We can look at the ability to reproduce a letter in different stages:

  1. The ability to both recognise the sound and name the letter;
  2. The ability to draw the component lines such as the circle, and the vertical, horizontal, and diagonal lines;
  3. The ability to watch someone draw the letter and then make their own, known as imitation:
  4. The ability to copy a visual representation of a letter before them;
  5. And finally, to be able to draw the letter from memory.  This requires the child to retrieve a visual picture of what the letter looks like and then represent that on paper.

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Lines, strokes, and forms before letters

Letters and numbers are made up of basic lines, strokes and shapes.  The basic strokes, including the vertical, horizontal, circular, and diagonal lines need to be mastered first.  Our children will run into trouble if they try to write letters and numbers without first mastering the strokes.

Many worksheets on the internet focus on tracing the basic lines and strokes.  When choosing, please be sure to analyse if the required level of refined pencil control is developmentally appropriate.  So often, there seems to be a developmental mismatch between the required level of dexterity, and the skill we are trying to develop.  We don't want to be asking our children to trace over small lines when their motor skills just aren't yet there.  In addition, we need to ensure there is the opportunity for sufficient repetition for your child to master the strokes.  Follow the link for a unique, fun, and engaging approach based on developmentally appropriate large movements, supported by songs, to facilitate the development of the basic lines and strokes in the pre-school child which are one of the foundational letter formation activities our children need.

The next developmental step for our children is to be able to put the lines and strokes together to form the basic shapes.  Our multi-sensory Shape Builder takes your children on a kinaesthetic, auditory, tactile, and functional journey to the mastery of shapes.  With the delightful Aliens to guide your children, they will be begging for the Shape Builder every day!

Letter formation and starting positions

The correct starting positions are critical. Consistently forming a letter or number from the correct starting position will support the development of a fluid script which will facilitate handwriting speed as your child progresses through school.  Incorrect starting positions can lead to letter and number reversals.  If your child starts the letter "d" from the top with the stick of the letter, there is the possibility to turn to either the left or right when forming the tummy of the letter.  If they travel to the right when forming the tummy, the child will end up writing a "b" and not a "d."  Compare this to starting the letter "d" with the "c" shape, where your child is going to have to get very creative to be able to turn that letter into a "b" without lifting their pencil.  If we can get starting positions established correctly from the beginning, we can significantly reduce the number of children who struggle with letter formation and handwriting.

Master the motor map®

We aim to "master the motor map®" in the brain, so handwriting is automatic.  The "motor map" is the set of instructions in the brain for letter formation.  If your child consistently uses incorrect formations or reverses their letters, they are practising them in the wrong formation patterns.  When this happens, the motor maps, or sets of instructions in the brain on forming them, become hardwired in the incorrect pattern. Incorrect patterns that are hardwired are very difficult to remediate later on.  Remediation is assisted through the use of a sensory-motor approach using fun letter formation activities.

Automaticity, letter formation and repetition

Automatic letter formation is achieved through repetition.  Making use of multi-sensory input, whether touch, auditory or other input, will give the brain more information about how the letter or number is formed.  The more information the brain has on how to form a letter, the faster the letter formation motor map will be established and consolidated.  Creating Rainbow Letters and Numbers® – tracing each letter with every colour forming a rainbow letter – will provide the opportunity for multiple repetitions, which are a must when it comes to letter formation activities for establishing automatic handwriting.  All our handwriting books use the Rainbow Letters and Numbers to ensure the sound establishment of letters and numbers.  If you are working in a one-on-one situation where you can monitor the formation patterns used by your child, the OT toolbox has some lovely ideas.  Please be sure that your child uses the correct starting positions and formation patterns while doing these.

In closing about letter formation

Our goal is to establish these in the correct formation patterns from the start, which is in keeping with our motto of "the right way the first time!®".  No more guessing how to approach letter formation – you are now good to go following the steps in our download.

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