{Early Literacy Stage 3} Utensil Prewriting and Uppercase Letter Writing

The development of early literacy skills progresses in stages.  Beginning concepts should be taught before introducing more difficult ones.  By following a proper developmental progression, we assist the child’s natural learning capabilities.   This is why I have decided to write a series about {Early Literacy Stages}.  These stages will all inter-mingle with one another, but it is important to define them, and I recommend introducing them in this order.

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Here are the Early Literacy Stages for childhood learning:

  1. Uppercase letter recognition

  2. Tactile uppercase letter writing

  3. Utensil prewriting and uppercase letter writing

  4. Lowercase letter recognition (and matching uppercase with lowercase letters)

  5. Lowercase phonetic sounds

  6. Lowercase letter writing

The entire scope of literacy includes the following: reading, writing, speaking, listening, viewing, and representing.  I am focusing on reading letters and writing letters for this series.  However, the other components are very important in developing the whole child towards literacy and becoming a lifelong learner.

Please note: I do not label these stages by age — I have met 18-month-olds who have learned all of their upper and lowercase letters and I have taught 5-year-olds who were still struggling to learn both.  It is important to meet the learner where they are and embrace the child’s pace!

Please see my {Early Literacy Stage 1} to read about why I am teaching uppercase letters first.

How do we introduce utensil prewriting and letter writing to our children? How do we set them up for success in handwriting? 

1.   Read, read, read!  Literacy begins from infancy on.  Reading to your child will always be my first suggestion to parents.  Children are opened up to a world of imagination and developmental readiness towards learning through books and fine literature.  If you are unable to invest the time in any of my {Early Literacy Stages} due to time constraints or affordability, please go to your library and check out some books!  Also, the springtime is the perfect time to visit garage sales and buy a library of books for your child for a very low cost.  If you read to and with your child, you are already setting them up for success!!

In addition to making books available for your child, your child should see you reading in the home to know that reading and literacy is an important and worthwhile investment of your time.

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2.  Using markers and crayons: Give your child experiences with writing utensils from an early age.  This is while knowing that every child has different interests — I know some 18 month olds who could draw for hours, and I know four and five year olds who are uninterested.  Every child is different.  Keep in mind that short utensils promote proper finger grip.

Until recently, my son had not been interested in drawing or coloring.  For example, during our Tot School, I have asked him to color the apple on the “A is for Apple” page, and he would scribble on it briefly, but then want to move on.  Lately, he has paid closer attention to actually coloring the object, and he has wanted to do more pages as well.  My advice is to follow your child’s lead and have materials available for them to work with!

Here are some art bin suggestions: {this post may contain affiliate links, please see my disclosure policy, thank you}

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3.   Proper “pencil grip”: Children aged two to four are working on the development of their fine motor skills (small muscles).  If a child lacks the ability to: pick up small items, lace beads, use a tweezer, or do a knobbed puzzle, then your child’s fine motor skills need to be further developed.  At a very early age, your focus should be on promoting learning, and playing, to develop these fine motor skills, rather than perfecting the pencil grip.  You do not want writing to be a negative time or experience, and you should always teach with the learner’s abilities in mind.  However, with that being said, if they learn (somewhat) the proper grip from day one, it will be that much easier and smoother for a transition into more advanced learning and writing.  Here are some helpful steps and tools:

  • Determine which hand is the child’s dominant hand.
  • Holding a writing utensil requires the “tripod grasp”: using the thumb and index finger and resting the middle finger on the index finger.
  • A trick to learning proper pencil grip: lay the pencil, point facing you, pinch pencil about a half inch up with thumb and index finger, and flip the pencil so it rests on the fatty part of your hand.
  • We have the Pencil Grip Writing Claw which also may be helpful.
  • And I have also heard good things about trying the Pencil Grip Ergonomic Writing Aid.
  • I found another great (and free!) suggestion from Teacher Lisa’s Class about using a rubber band around the wrist and around the pencil.
  • See Handwriting Without Tears 4 Steps to Teaching Writing Grip for more beneficial information.

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Here my son is working on his pencil grip — this is a quadropod grip (which is discussed in the Handwriting Without Tears link above) — and includes holding with four fingers instead of three.  He is, of course, still learning!

4.   Prewriting tracing sheets:

  • There are many free resources from many wonderful bloggers.  We use 1plus1plus1equals1‘s Tot School ABC’s tracing sheets.  These sheets focus on straight lines, while promoting left to right familiarity for reading and writing.  (Below is my son using dry erase markers with heavy duty sheet protectors.)

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The above is from 1plus1plus1equals1’s Nativity pack and Mama’s Monkeys Fall pack.

5.  Ordered letter writing: When it comes time to write uppercase letters, a proper sequential order is needed to set your child up for success in handwriting.  I wrote about the Handwriting Without Tears curriculum in my {Early Literacy Stage 2} post.  Since all of the alphabet letters include either straight lines, diagonal lines, and/or big and little curves, this curriculum helps children learn the letters in a sequence that is easiest.  It begins with allowing children to create their letters using alphabet letter templates.

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These templates can be found for free from the following two sites — I made mine out of colorful paper-foam: Build-A-Letter Templates (includes mats) from Tired, Need Sleep Blog or Magnetic Alphabet Builders from Confessions of a Homeschooler.  

I highly recommend the Handwriting Without Tears book “My First School Book.”  It includes arrows as well as large, thick prewriting lines and circles to help your child succeed.  The following is the recommended schedule for learning to print letters:

    • Vertical & Horizontal Lines: L, F, E, H, T, I, U

    • Magic C: C, O, Q, G, S, J

    • Big & Little Curves: D, P, B

    • Diagonal Lines: R, K, A, V, M, N, X, Y, Z

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Further resources, to use in addition to or in place of purchasing the “My First School Book” by the Handwriting Without Tears curriculum:

  • Erin at Royal Baloo created an amazing free printable series called Zoomin’ Movin’ Alphabet. These truck printables include pre-writing pages to prepare children to write their letters as well.  You could use her wonderful curriculum with your child using the letter sequence above.

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  • ABC Jesus Loves Me has a wonderful Learning to Write series for free individual (not classroom or commercial) download pre-writing and letter practice.  I recommend the letter sequence above, as written by the Handwriting Without Tears curriculum.

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  • Carisa at 1plus1plus1equals1 created Raising Rock Stars Preschool which includes wonderful printing pages.  You can also buy them from Teachers Notebook. She recommends an order similar to the Handwriting Without Tears curriculum.

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It is difficult to find printables that only include uppercase letters.  Here are two additional letter writing free printables that may be helpful to you — from Homeschool Creations and 123Homeschool4Me:

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What are your challenges with teaching your child to write?  What other resources have you found helpful?

Check out all of the Early Literacy posts: 

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{Early Literacy Stage 2} Tactile Uppercase Letter Writing

The development of early literacy skills progresses in stages.  Beginning concepts should be taught before introducing more difficult ones.  By following a proper developmental progression, we assist the child’s natural learning capabilities.   This is why I have decided to write a series about {Early Literacy Stages}.  These stages will all inter-mingle with one another, but it is important to define them, and I recommend introducing them in this order.

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Here are the Early Literacy Stages for childhood learning:

  1. Uppercase letter recognition

  2. Tactile uppercase letter writing

  3. Utensil prewriting and uppercase letter writing

  4. Lowercase letter recognition (and matching uppercase with lowercase letters)

  5. Lowercase phonetic sounds

  6. Lowercase letter writing

The entire scope of literacy includes the following: reading, writing, speaking, listening, viewing, and representing.  I am focusing on reading letters and writing letters for this series.  However, the other components are very important in developing the whole child towards literacy and becoming a lifelong learner.

Please note: I do not label these stages by age — I have met 18-month-olds who have learned all of their upper and lowercase letters and I have taught 5-year-olds who were still struggling to learn both.  It is important to meet the learner where they are and embrace the child’s pace!

Please see my {Early Literacy Stage 1} to read about why I am teaching uppercase letters first.

How do we further develop uppercase letter recognition through tactile experiences?

1.   Read, read, read!  This was my first suggestion for my first stage of learning as well.  A child must have experiences with books morning, day, and night.  Reading to your child opens them up to a world of imagination and developmental readiness towards print awareness and learning.  Here are more suggestions to promote tactile exploration in book reading:

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2.  Use shaving cream on your tabletop: experiment with prewriting straight and curved lines by first showing your child how to write with his/her pointer finger.  The goal is exposure and not perfection!

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This is my son exploring shaving cream, but when he is ready, he will use his pointer finger and try to write his letters.

3.   Put a shallow amount of sand or sugar in a bin: prewrite straight lines and curved lines and write the letter with a finger.  

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Here is a friend working with blue sand in her outdoor water table.

4.   Tape a squishy bag to a table top or window and have the child write straight and curved lines and the letter with a finger.

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5.  Use a push-pin-pen with a letter page and poke the letter to get a feel for its straight and curved lines.   Small push-pins are not safe for children to use, but I love this concept, so I taped a push pin to a marker very securely.   You can get these sheets from Confessions of a Homeschooler individually, by letter, or you can print the uppercase letters from Alphabet Printables.

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6.  Use Do-A-Dot markers to write the letter.  Here are some awesome printables and ideas from Confessions of a Homeschooler.

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7.  Learn how letters are built using alphabet letter templates.  This is an advanced step and should be taken closer to when you think your child is ready to begin writing uppercase letters — this will also be a part of my {Early Literacy Stage 3}: Utensil prewriting and uppercase letter writing.

All of the alphabet letters include either straight lines, diagonal lines, and/or big and little curves and these awesome letter builders help children to grasp the parts of the letters.  You can buy wooden ones from the Handwriting Without Tears curriculum.  I love their no-fuss approach to handwriting.  They recommend the following schedule for learning to print letters:

  • Vertical & Horizontal Lines: L, F, E, H, T, I, U
  • Magic C: C, O, Q, G, S, J
  • Big & Little Curves: D, P, B
  • Diagonal Lines: R, K, A, V, M, N, X, Y, Z

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These templates can be found for free from the following two sites — I made mine out of colorful paper-foam: Build-A-Letter Templates (includes mats) from Tired, Need Sleep Blog or Magnetic Alphabet Builders from Confessions of a Homeschooler.

How have you taught your child the alphabet?  What tactile experiences have you used to help your child learn and write letters?

See {Early Literacy Stage 1}

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