Today, on September the 8th, it’s international literacy day. Another crazy new ‘day’ you might think, but this has been a ‘thing’ since 1965, to highlight the importance of literacy across communities, societies and for individuals. Across the globe illiteracy continues to remain an issue across poverty stricken communities, and particularly an issue to education deprived women. But even right here in the UK the National Literacy Trust suggests that as many as 25% of adults are illiterate and struggling with day to day tasks. The quality of handwriting can have a direct impact in success of secondary and further education (Institute of Education), so getting it nailed early on is actually far more important than you may imagine.
Before our daughter started school, or even pre-school, she had learnt to write her name. Partly due to the fact she loves to draw, and so holding a pencil before she could hold her head up had her at a strong advantage, but also because she has a very simple name, with letters made up of straight lines and few characters. No, I’m not being pushy Mum of the Mum olympics…it’s just as it was.
In fact, we were totally clueless about helping her get ready for reading and writing, so apart subconsciously helping her to recognise and recreate her name, we didn’t actually do any prep for the real education starting in school. We figured we knew very little about how to teach kids reading and writing, and there would be plenty of time to find out, when the time was right.
It was probably a good thing, as once the children in pre-school did have some support in learning their names, our daughter barely recognised her peg label, as the cursive text looked so different to the straight lines we had shown her previously.
When it came to reading, we also hung back, knowing different schools use different methodologies and not wanting to confuse things, we felt it was best to carry on reading our bedtime picture books which she loved, and wait for the experts to step in.
Once she started in reception, the heavy focus on cursive handwriting still came as somewhat of a surprise. The children have been hard at work earning how to write their alphabet in a joined up (but not actually joined up) form, as to help them when they reach a stage the expectation is to write sentences in beautiful joined up handwriting.
It’s been a bit of a struggle to get Tigs to write with the leading edges and ticks away from the characters, but as her teacher explained to us towards the end of the school year, this is one of the most important skills the children learn in their first year of school, setting them up for an ability to write clearly and legibly as they develop and learn throughout their education.
It’s been a bit of a wake up call for me too. When our daughter plays schools and teachers, or when we write out tricky words to practice, even if she helps by getting involved in a shopping list, I have to make a conscious effort to switch my well loved hand writing into the cursive form that we have to encourage her to use. Almost like learning to drive again with your hands in the ten to two position, it doesn’t come naturally!
Uniball know exactly how hard it is for parents like us to help their children develop their handwriting, and they have come up with some expert advice on how you can encourage your children to develop at the right pace. Surprisingly, the main focus isn’t on technique, but on hand strength games and exercises, and creating the right environment for improved handwriting.
One of the things I rate about these tips from Uniball is the clear message to keep things lighthearted with your children. As we have discovered, too much pressure is a huge turn off for young children and by disguising ‘work’ with games, or even focusing on playing rather than ‘learning’ at home, you won’t be doing more harm than good.
I mean, what child wouldn’t love a play dough session or water fight, hardly realising you were aiming to help them improve their handwriting skills? That has far much more appeal than a desktop battle if they really aren’t in the mood. And as we all know, sometimes they REALLY aren’t in the mood!
If however they are up for some extra-curricular activities, setting them up with some colourful worksheets might be helpful – watch this space on expert advice for some free printables coming soon.
Once you have all the kit you need, start off with a quick check on the pen grip – this guide may help you be confident that you’re setting off on the right foot…
And the rest is over to you. My advice is to keep it brief – watch out for the signs they have had enough and let it go. Be creative in your home learning – try using different pens and paper, games and everyday tasks to keep the learning interesting.
Most of all, don’t over do it. Let them be little, and let them rest if they have been working hard all day at school. Whilst some encouraging extra work at home is beneficial sometimes, don’t expect too much from their little minds. With reading, homework, and afterschool clubs on top of their in school learning, learning through play whilst they don’t even realise it is the best education at home you can provide.