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Writing the Alphabet in Preschool: Pre-Writing Activities

written by: Andrea Coventry • edited by: Jonathan Wylie • updated: 1/20/2012

Before preschool children can practice writing letters, they need to prepare their arm and hand movements and muscles to do so. Then they can start practicing alphabet writing. Preschool teachers are always looking for ideas on how to do this, so read on for some of my favorites.

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    Development of Writing

    Children are excited to learn how to write in preschool. Alphabet writing, however, follows a natural pattern of development. Certain activities can then supplement and enhance their early handwriting skills.

    Young children will begin by grasping a writing utensil with a fist grasp. With encouragement, practice, and maturity, they will eventually develop the proper tripod grasp used in handwriting. Early strokes will be small lines and scribbling. Eventually those lines begin to take shape. Drawings, shapes, and letters begin to appear.

    Children naturally begin writing uppercase letters before lowercase. They also have a tendency to write from bottom to top, instead of the top to bottom procedure dictated by traditional printing rules. (For this reason, some philosophies, such as Montessori, will teach preschool children cursive writing before printing.)

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    Preparing Children for Writing

    Children need to exercise those finger and hand muscles to develop good fine motor control. They can gain control as they practice different art activities. Practice movements with painting, drawing, and coloring. Exercise muscles using play-doh and clay.

    Use practical life activities, such as cooking and working with other tools and utensils to strengthen muscles. Use tweezers to pick up items. Practice buttoning, zipping, snapping, etc.

    Allow the child to freely experiment with writing motions. Some letters will naturally emerge through exploration. Have the children practice drawing big lines and circles in the air and on a chalkboard or easel. Start with big arm movements, then gradually work down toward making smaller shapes and lines with pencil and paper. Have them trace and copy patterns.

    Trace letters made out of sandpaper. Have the children then trace the letters in a tray of sand, salt, cornmeal, or rice. Trace letters and shapes in fingerpaint or shaving cream. Glue different items onto a pre-printed letter.

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    Alphabet Writing Practice

    The child can then start practicing proper formation of letters. Focus is usually placed on proper formation of the lowercase letters, because the uppercase letters come so naturally. Start with the letters o and l, as they are the same as the patterns already practiced. Group similarly formed letters together.

    Start letter writing practice in big open spaces on paper. Next, practice writing letters on a single line. Then write the letters between two lines, using that dotted middle line as a guide. Proper formation is most important, followed by placement second.

    Both the classroom and the home environments have several opportunities for practicing writing skills. Copy words out of books to make dramatic play menus or lists for grocery shopping. Have the child dictate a story, which you write in yellow or orange marker for him to trace. Have her copy words you have written for her into a thank you card. Their imaginations will take over, once they realize they can write.

    Monitor your child's alphabet writing. Preschool teachers and other professionals can observe your child if you have concerns about his pencil grip or writing ability. Remember that reversals are still common in these early years, and do not necessarily indicate a learning disability. Follow the natural progression of preschool writing development and watch a whole new world emerge for your child.

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