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.
In kindergarten and first grade, there are two separate sets of skills being taught in handwriting lessons:
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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
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.
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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If these letter formation activities were helpful, you may enjoy looking at other pages on my site that are related to handwriting:
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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