A multisensory, integrated approach to handwriting is the most time-efficient, and brain-friendly way we know of to plant lifelong habits for good handwriting in kindergarten. Now that ambitious kindergarten writing expectations is the foundation for the rigorous K-12 Common Core Writing Standards, it is vital that kindergarten teachers give children the gift of lifelong habits for legible handwriting right from the start of their journey as writers.
Kindergarten and First Grade Teachers Must Share a Coordinated Approach to Handwriting Instruction. Unless the kindergarten teacher has provided a foundation for efficient, automatic letter formation within real words, it is almost a waste of precious time for the first grade teacher to introduce focused handwriting instruction. Small muscle memories are soon engrained and after a year of daily kindergarten writing, children’s handwriting motions may be very resistant to change.
What Works in Real Classrooms
Handwriting instruction is most effective when provided in parallel with a strong writing-to-read program, meaning-centered learning, an arts-rich curriculum, high student expectations, and “Parents as Partners” in the learning process. For diverse kindergarten learners, it is authentic literacy experiences—not isolated drill—that works best! The following principles guide our practice. These represent our action-research on the most time-efficient, cost-effective solution to the “how to fit in handwriting” dilemma.
Practice does not make perfect, practice makes permanent.
We begin kindergarten-friendly handwriting with close one-on-one coaching using the letters of each child’s name and expect that whenever the child prints his name, he will focus and intentionally make every letter accurately (including the approximate height of the letters). This name writing focus includes parents practicing each night with their child until fluency is achieved.
Fingerspelling and sign language are a part of our literacy and handwriting framework. They add a kinesthetic memory connection for acquiring phonics skills and develop the small muscles necessary for writing. You will find free A to Z fingerspelling video tutorials on the ABC Phonics tab of www.nellieedge.com.
Multisensory teaching (visual, kinesthetic, and auditory strategies) helps diverse learners develop an automatic, imprinted letter and handwriting mechanism in long-term memory. We dance, and perform movement chants; we sing, fingerspell, and write high-frequency “heart words” and power sentences. We teach through multiple intelligences.
Children deserve an integrated, differentiated, and flexible approach to handwriting. We aim to provide enough support and enough challenge to build a foundation of success for all children. The first few weeks of kindergarten we introduce the “O” Dance for counterclockwise motions, the “I” Chant to teach “top-to-bottom and left-to-right,” and print the word “love” (singing, signing, and fingerspelling) to develop muscle memories for four basic handwriting motions. (“O” Dance, “I” Chant, and L-O-V-E Spells Love song are recorded on our Sing, Sign, Spell, and Read! CD.)
Experienced kindergarten teachers and literacy leaders understand there is no “one size fits all” instructional model that works for any literacy skill, nor is there an exact script that fits every student of handwriting. It is especially important that children who have already mastered letters and basic handwriting concepts be given the opportunity for choice of topic and to take pride in doing quality work. Likewise, it is vital that the teacher, within small groups of children, provide the crucial one-on-one close handwriting coaching that some harder-to-accelerate learners may need.
The use of Sing, Sign, Spell and Read! songs and anthology pages allow us to connect good handwriting practices with high-frequency “heart words,” English language development, and joyful learning.
We have proved that the most elegantly simple way to teach efficient letter formation is to weave it into word work activities. We systematically teach children how to write the first set of high-frequency “heart words” and “power sentences” with fluency. The repetition needed to develop efficient and automatic handwriting motions teaches both writing and reading.
Handwriting instruction is taught in tandem with how to draw. Art and writing are complimentary symbol systems.
Skills are taught using a gradual release of responsibility model with real words. This is how the brain learns best!
We want to help children develop the life skills of focus, persistence, and a commitment to doing quality work. We teach goal setting and self-assessment skills, giving children language that acknowledges hard work, perseverance, and willingness to try new things.
It is our teaching integrity that causes us to value, teach, and assess handwriting carefully. We recognize that the long-term payoff of this time investment will be children who are happy, ambitious writers who meet or exceed rigorous Common Core Writing Standards—and we know how to do that! This approach to handwriting is detailed in the Kindergarten Friendly Handwriting, Phonics, and Word Work teacher’s guide.
Our Pinterest Handwriting board also has many useful links to online documents and videos: how to hold a pencil, support for left-handed learners, and additional “Parents as Partners” resources.
We invite you to share our journey as teachers committed to weaving kindergarten-friendly handwriting into an authentic literacy framework. Join our online community at www.nellieedge.com. Follow our Pinterest Handwriting Board and comment on our blog below.
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- Not a member? Join our online community below for instant access to writing resources!