Letter Formation Activities

These letter formation activities may help your child to learn number and letter formations even if your child has not yet mastered pencil control and fine motor skills.

Poor fine motor skills can seriously hamper your child’s handwriting efforts. And it is easy to get frustrated with your child when it is a battle to practice numbers and letters.

On this page, I suggest activities that let your child practice the formations needed for good handwriting without getting frustrated by poor fine motor skills.

Why Separate Letter Formation & Pencil Control Skills?

In kindergarten and first grade, there are two separate sets of skills being taught in handwriting lessons: 

  1. the skill of forming numbers and letters and learning handwriting patterns
  2. the skill of controlling the pencil in order to work neatly.

I have found that when young kids have poor fine motor skills, it really helps to separate those two skills, and to deal with them individually.

Forming numbers and letters correctly from the very beginning can help reduce letter reversals, messy handwriting and errors in later years.

But when your child has poor fine motor skills, pencil-and-paper tasks can be tiring and frustrating, which takes away from the ability to really learn the correct number and letter formations.

Medwell et al (2009) state that "Handwriting is not just about training the hand; it is about training the memory and hand to work together to generate the correct mental images and patterns of letters and translate these into motor patterns of letters - automatically and without effort!"

Our goal in helping kids form their letters correctly is to help them to do it automatically, and to free their brains up for higher level thinking skills.

So, my focus with these letter formation activities is to help children master the visual-motor aspect of a flowing letter formation, in other words to get lots of practice in the movements and flow required to actually write the letter, and not just to learn to recognize the letter. There are lots of brilliant activities out there to help kids recognise letters and numbers, using playdough, wikkistix, stickers etc, but my focus is on the actual movement required.

Using these activities, your child can develop the feel and technique for forming different letters and numbers, without the stress of controlling a pencil or crayon.

So when you want to work on letter formations, don’t ask your child to do it with pencils and paper - this is frustrating for kids who want to practice letters but can't control a pencil!

Instead, use the fun letter formation activities on this page to give your child a head start.

You can read my Letter Formation Tips and Strategies to get the most out of these activity ideas.

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don't use paper and pencil activities to practice letter formation when your child struggles with pencil controlDon't use a pencil and paper to practice letters if your child struggles with pencil control!

Fun Letter Formation Activities

1) Sandy Letters

letter formation activities in the sandDrawing letters in the sand with a stick
sand in a tray to practice lettersPractice writing letters in a tray filled with sand

Outdoor activities are always more fun than indoors, and practicing numbers and patterns in the sand hardly seems like work! Have your child use a stick or a finger to draw in the sand.

If you don't have access to outdoor sand, put some sand on a tray instead, for a great indoor sand activity.

2) Gloopy, Edible Letters

use food to practice letter formationsPracticing letters with gloopy food
writing letters in foodWriting in yogurt on a plate
yogurt in a ziploc bag for letter formationsPut the yoghurt in a ziploc bag to reduce mess

Put some gloopy food on a tray or plate, and have your child trace or copy the letter with a finger. You can try any squishy food that your child likes - such as yogurt, custard, angel delight or Jello instant pudding mix.

If your child dislikes the tactile sensation , then put the gloopy food in a Ziploc baggie to get the sensation without the messy feeling! Fill the bag about a quarter full, and squeeze out all the air. You will need to tape the bag down to enable the letters to be formed more easily.

3) Shaving Cream Letters

shaving cream letter formation activityWriting in shaving cream on a wall
shaving cream letter formation activityUsing the whole hand to write in shaving cream

Ok, this one is really messy, but loads of fun. Stick your child in a bath or shower cubicle with a handful of shaving cream to smear and write in. For a more tactile experience, let your child use the whole hand as well as just the fingers!
Caution! Shaving cream can irritate tender skin, so use the sensitive skin variants, and don’t let it get in the eyes.

4) "Wet And Dry" Letter Formation Activities

practice letter formations on a small chalkboardUse a small piece of wet sponge to trace the letter
practice letter formations on a small chalkboard 2Completing the letter tracing
Now trace over the wet letter with a finger

You need a chalkboard for this one. You draw the letter with chalk and then have your child trace the letter with a piece of wet sponge . Your child can also use their index finger to trace your letter before or after the wet sponge is used.

5) Wipe Off Letters

practice letter formations with dry-erase pensTracing over a dry-erase letter with a finger
tracing numbers to learn formationsTracing over a chalked figure with a finger

Write a number or letter on a whiteboard or chalkboard, and have your child trace it with a finger to wipe it off. You could also use a small piece of dry sponge dry cloth to wipe off the whiteboard marker.

NB be sure your child washes the fingers properly afterwards!

6) Laminated Letters

Using laminated letters from Handwriting HeroesTrace over laminated letters
Using laminated letters from Handwriting HeroesTracing helps reinforce the letter formations

I printed and laminated these handwriting activity cards from Handwriting Heroes. They are lovely for kids to trace with their fingers, or to use with write-on-wipe-off markers.

Tracing is a great way to get a feel for the letter as well as working on visual-motor skills. Use the rhymes that Handwriting Heroes provides, to reinforce the correct formation. Read my review of their fabulous resources to find out more - you can teach your child to write in a matter of weeks!

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Try Handwriting Heroes!

The Handwriting Heroes Program teaches the letters in groups with similar formations (eg m, n, r) and also provides a rhyme or story for each letter to reinforce the formations.

You can teach your child handwriting in just 5 weeks, using the Handwriting Heroes programme!

The use of catchy letter formation rhymes played a big part in helping my own kids learn and recall the correct letter formations.

There are stories, animations and catchy songs in this lovely program, that will help kids learn and remember their letter formations.

Find out more about Handwriting Heroes!

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What About Pencil Control?

Working on numbers and letters in fun letter formation activities like the ones on this page, can really help your child to master the correct letter formations.

But if your child’s fine motor skills are poor, you also need to help encourage fine motor development.

Some kids respond very quickly to the right kind of activities geared to improving fine motor skills. They just need some encouragement and the right kind of opportunities.

poor pencil control affects handwritingPoor pencil control can affect your child's ability to learn letter formations

If you have a very young child, or a child who is just a little behind where they should be, then the fine motor activities on my site may help you to boost your child's development.

But if you are concerned about your child’s development, or if your child really struggles to keep up with peers in fine motor skills, I really recommend you get an occupational therapy evaluation and advice as soon as possible, so your child does not have to struggle unnecessarily.

Here are some helpful activity pages on my site that can be helpful for kids who need a boost in their fine motor skills:

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Fun activities and ideas to help your child with letter formations

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Pages Related To Letter Formation and Handwriting

If these letter formation activities were helpful, you may enjoy looking at other pages on my site that are related to handwriting:

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Laura H Dinehart Handwriting in early childhood education: Current research and future implications  Journal of Early Childhood Literacy · March 2014  http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1468798414522825

Medwell, J., Strand, S. & Wray, D. (2009) ‘The links between handwriting and composing for Y6 children’, Cambridge Journal of Education 39(3):329-344 · September 2009 http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03057640903103728

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