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This is a post about kinder and pre-school aged children being offered the opportunity or even being expected to ‘sign in’ on arrival. Some children are ready and well-prepared for this task when it is introduced; others are not. Read on for a paediatric occupational therapist’s perspective and advice for parents and educators, to ensure that children’s handwriting journey begins positively.
I can’t tell you how often concerned parents have approached me with variations of: “Help! Kinder is expecting my child to ‘sign in’ – as in, write their own name, when I drop them off… already! What should we do?”
I’ve asked myself this very question when our own (4 year old) son came home one day, demoralised, that he couldn’t write his name on the group list in the morning. (I was not even aware that the children were being asked to sign their own names!) “But Mama! I CAN’T write my name!” – Of course you can’t, I thought. You’re not ready and you’ve not been taught. Yet, here we are, with your delicate self esteem crushed before you’ve even begun.
I LOVE the idea of kids being responsible for ‘checking in’ for the day. I can also see it as a perfect, contextual opportunity to simultaneously nurture name (and letter) recognition, and even to prepare children to be able to write their own names. I also know kids can get a real ‘buzz’ out of that small but important moment of responsibility and achievement! However, there are a number of cautions I’d like to highlight.
Given the range of abilities and pre-writing readiness within a kinder group, it is vital that those less ready to write, be encouraged and supported within their skill range. Let’s face it, kinder age can vary from 3-6 years, and that is a HUGE developmental range. Nevertheless, my favourite educators in the world, the Finnish, often believe that teaching literacy to kindergarten children, even of 6 years of age is stepping on the toes of the first grade teachers, whose role it is to introduce reading and writing skills. Why? Because they believe that children learn and develop best through play and support rich play experiences. (Check out this wonderful article: The Joyful, Illiterate Kindergartners of Finland)
Handwriting is a highly complex occupation. All of the underlying skills for handwriting: gross motor, fine motor, visual perceptual, visual motor integration, and sensory processing skills develop naturally, with full motivation of children, in play. This includes hand preference/dominance! Then, when it’s time to pick up a pencil to write – children learn well (quickly and efficiently) and they are successful. They draw on all of those pre-developed skills (Excuse the pun!). Occupational therapists often say that there is SO much a child can do to work on their handwriting skills, without even picking up a pencil!
Children should feel excitement and success at their first attempts at writing, and not feeling defeated from the outset, ready to give-up. Remember, a ‘sign in sheet’, with everyone’s names listed together, also invites children to exercise comparison. And children’s visual perceptual skills (particularly visual discrimination skills) generally develop faster than writing skills, in fact, they are a pre-requisite for writing. “Jade can write her name already, but I can’t. It’s too hard.”
Practised, inefficient and incorrect habits are hard to change. We should be striving for quality over quantity when it comes to early writing. Otherwise, as I see time and again as a paediatric occupational therapist, children can become very set in their ways of forming letters and writing their names, often mixing capitals and lower case letters, as well as reversing and incorrectly forming letters in awkward, effortful ways. They can also practise poor pencil grasp patterns if their fine motor skills are under developed, employing a range of compensations which can lead to soreness in hands and limited endurance during writing activities later in primary and even secondary school.
I realise this is only a ‘name’ we are talking about here – not full essays, however, if the writing output is unsuccessful at the start, children are at risk of going on to become reluctant writers, resistant to correction/adaptation and practise. In my experience, this can result in a difficult (at times, painful) situation for children, educators and parents, trying hard to back track and consolidate early skills.
Here are a bunch of ideas for parents and kinders/preschool educators to consider around this issue of independent ‘signing in’, especially when children are not yet ready or able to write their own names.
- Play is invaluable in terms of developing the underlying skills for writing (hanging, swinging, climbing, crawling, exploring with materials and tools…)
- Keep it fun (post it, stick it, rip it, hole punch it, ‘sticker it’, ‘stamp it’…)
- Allow choice (eg. pick your own colour or writing implement)
- Routine has it’s place, but don’t be afraid to ‘mix it up’ a little (eg. a different way to ‘sign in’ each month)
- Children may like and may need to have some individual support for their sign in procedure while they are developing their independence.
- Many kinder/pre-school settings offer sign-in opportunities which are not ‘mandatory’; rather, they are optional and encouraged – this is a nice, gentle way to go too!
NAME ‘SIGN IN’ INSPIRATION
Give a sign that you are here!
- Put a stamp or sticker next to your name
- Draw a smiley face in a circle next to your name
- Remember those DIY signs stuck to community boards or in the street, with rip off phone numbers? How about finding your page with your rip-away names, rip off one name carefully and post/stick or glue it on a group list?
- Hole punch a hole next to your name (maybe on your monthly name card?)
- Choose a highlighter texta to ‘highlight’ your name with a straight (horizontal) line
- Put a paper clip next to your name
- Draw a tick or cross in the box next to your name
Laminated name cards
- Find your (laminated) name card and post it in a box or on a poster as they enter
- Find or stick your name to a locker/bag area to use for the day
- Stick your name card on your name by finding/matching on a large poster and sticking it (valcro, blu tac…)
- Trace your name on your name card with your finger (‘raised’ or textured lettering – eg. glue, glitter or sand stuck to the letters) then post it/stick it on the group list poster or over your locker for the day
- Find your laminated name page in a group sign in folder. Choose to trace and/or copy underneath large, medium, small names with starting points indicated, with a dry erase texta (perhaps ‘built up’ with a chunk of blu tac wrapped around like a pencil grip).
- Trace your name written on sandpaper, corrugated card or bubble wrap etc, with your finger, and stick it on your locker/group name poster, or post it in a group ‘post box’
- Copy the first letter (capital letter) of your name in a large tray of salt, dirt, sand… then post/stick your name on the group list poster (An A4 sized piece of paper with all names is too small. Think BIG)
- Copy/write your first letter/name on the window outside or on a large perspex screen, in shaving cream (with your finger, or a paint brush) – this can be hosed down/cleaned by the children later in the day!
- Trace/go over your name (or first letter of your name) on the blackboard in another colour chalk (then when going home you could trace it again with your finger – this rubs it out!
- Please offer more than a regular tall/thin pencil or pen for children to write with! How about fat/thick pencils, crayons; egg shaped chalk; triangle shaped pencils, pencils with ‘grooves’ or little cut outs for fingers to sit in…
- Help children to practise holding the implements appropriately, either in person, or when they are ready, they can copy a photo/picture demonstrating correct grasp.
Angle of writing – off the horizontal is best – go for angled or vertical surfaces! This supports posture and grasp development for successful writing.
- Sloped/angled writing boards
- Magnetic boards
- Felt boards
- Clipboards/peg boards
- Think big to start with, gradually getting smaller
- Trace first and practise in different ways (eg. following along a path/road, sensory writing, …) then copy, then write independently..
There are so many ways to make children’s first attempts at name writing fun, and at the same time, building good writing skills and habits. I will continue to add ideas to this post over time, as I frequently hear from parents worried about their kinder/pre-school aged children being expected to ‘sign in’ independently before they are quite ready.
Please let me know of any wonderful ideas you come across at your children’s kinder, whether you are a parent or educator! I’d love to hear from you about your experiences, as I know there are some BRILLIANT and very creative ideas around!
Also, you may know that I have been working with an awesome team of paediatric Occupational Therapists and Physical Therapists to write The Handwriting Book.
The Handwriting Book (e-book) is a perfect resource for parents, educators and therapists of preschool and school aged children. It covers:
- The Developmental Progression of Pencil Grasp and Handwriting Strokes
- Fine Motor Skills
- Gross Motor Skills
- Sensory Considerations
- Visual Perceptual Skills
Specifically, The Handwriting Book (e-book) ,is packed with information and tips to support:
- Reluctant writers,
- Students struggling to master particular handwriting skills, and
- Anyone looking for more fun ways to develop handwriting skills (at home and school)
Therapists will love having all of the handwriting information and strategies handy for their own goals, plans and home programs;
Teachers will love being able to easily and quickly access tips and tricks to support specific students in class; and
Parents will particularly love the clear, informative chapters on the developmental progression of writing skills, and how to support their kids at home to work on handwriting that is legible, less effort and faster!