Preparing your child for Kindergarten: 10 Tips for The Reluctant Writer

This week’s blog will commence our new series, “Preparing your child for Kindergarten”. This series aims to tackle some of the most common issues facing parents of children who are about to start Kindergarten in the New Year. The blogs will be filled with practical examples and give lots of ideas of how to ensure that your child’s transition is a smooth one.

The first blog in this series deals with the issue of pre-schoolers who are reluctant writers. Before I begin this blog, I want to make it very clear that it is not expected that children are able to write words or even letters before commencing Kindergarten. However; by the age of 4 – 5 years old, most children become interested in print and how we use it to communicate messages.

It is very common for a child to begin Kindergarten, being able to write their name and for some, they are able to identify the names of the letters in their name as well. There are children, however, who are very reluctant to pick up a pencil and therefore parents become concerned that their child will struggle in their first year of formal schooling.

This is by far the most common issue I get asked about. Many parents want to know how they can motivate their child to write their name or even participate in drawing activities. Below is a list of 10 facts that will help all concerned parents of reluctant writers.

  1. Pre writing skills

imgresBefore children can start writing formal letters they need to be given MANY opportunities to participate in activities that develop pre writing skills. They need to be able to draw straight lines from top to the bottom, humps, zig zags and draw circles (preferably anti clockwise). I like to get children to do this through their drawings. I encourage them to draw rain or grass or flower stems that incorporate a lot of straight lines. I get them to draw waves or clouds for hump practice, zig zag patterns on clothing and circles for faces and eyes for circle practice.

  1. Do it with them

imgres-1Children love to spend time with grown ups, so this would be a perfect opportunity to do something with them. You need to ensure that it does not become a teaching session where a child can become quite stressed. Simply drawing a picture with your child will develop all the pre writing skills that they need. Make sure you talk about what you are drawing and ask them to talk about what they are drawing. This is where you can gently guide them by saying “I like to draw my lines from top to bottom because it is easier”

  1. Variety of tools

imgres-2It is essential that children are exposed to a variety of tools to write with. They need to work with larger tools such as thick chalk and thick paintbrushes to develop their skills and then move onto thinner chalk, markers, crayons and pencils.

  1. Writing must be meaningful

imgresChildren will only want to write something if it is meaningful to them. Get them to write a word on your grocery list (like ham) and take them shopping with you to buy that item. When there is a purpose for their writing, children are really motivated to do it.

  1. Give them ownership

imgres-1Talk about the importance of writing their name on their artwork when they attend preschool or daycare. Explain to them that their name is special and it belongs to them. Start with the first letter and then you can fill in the rest. When they are confident with that, move on by getting them to write the first 2 letters.

  1. Forming letters

imgres-2It is important to not enforce the correct formation of letters straight away. At the beginning, children need lots of opportunities to explore writing and they need a no fail environment to motivate them to keep going. Once your child begins writing letters often, you may mention to them the correct way to form that letter. But remember it is still in the experimental phase.

  1. No lines

imagesChildren should not be writing on lines until they are writing lots of sentences and are very confident with their letter formations. We should not restrict children to write straight at such an early stage. They need lots of room to form their letters.

  1. Restricting their size

Try not to restrict the size of their writing as well. Children start big and as they develop it will naturally get smaller.

  1. Fine motor skills

imgres-3Many children who are reluctant writers have poor fine motor skills. As a result I tend to find reluctant writers also struggle to operate small tools such as scissors. If your child finds it difficult to use their pincer grip (thumb and index finger) to pull coins out of play dough or thread small beads on string or open and close pegs with their pincer grip they may have underdeveloped fine motor skills. This will need to be checked out by an Occupational Therapist as soon as possible.

  1. Use what they like

Most children have a few obsessions and it is important to tap into it to motivate them in an area that they may struggle with. Get them to write the toy they really want for Christmas on a paper and send it to Santa or get them to write one of their friend’s name on an invitation for their party.

The key to motivating reluctant writers is to create a no failure environment, ensure that the writing activity is meaningful to them and make the activities fun which you both can enjoy.

I hope that this first blog in the new series “Preparing your child for Kindergarten” gives you food for thought in how to encourage your child to start writing.

Our next blog in the series will be dealing with the issue of how to keep your child engaged in a task for longer than 5 minutes.

Until next time …

Kelly Pisani

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Ensuring A Successful Transition Into Kindergarten - 11 Aspects To Consider To Ensure Your Child Is Ready

Welcome to my first blog since school holidays. I am well rested and ready to start my weekly blog again. This blog focuses on the issue of when to send children to school and how you know if your child is ready for Kindergarten.

Starting school can be a very stressful time for parents. There are so many unknowns, so many questions and so many decisions to make. Now is the time that parents are deciding whether to send their child on their formal educational journey or to hold them back another year.

We all want our children to have a successful transition into school. Below is a list of 11 aspects that parents need to consider to ensure that their child is going to have a successful transition.

  1. Independence

imgres-3Children who have a successful transition into Kindergarten are very independent. They are able to commence tasks on their own and are able to complete all self care tasks independently. These tasks can include taking a jumper on or off, opening their own lunch box and unpacking and packing their own school bag.

Parent ideas to develop this in your child

  • Child needs to dress and undress themselves everyday
  • Child needs to pack and unpack their preschool/daycare bag everyday
  • Child can make their own lunch and morning tea
  • Child could help younger siblings complete tasks
  • Child needs to do up and undo their own seatbelt
  • Child could help set up craft activities eg pour paint into containers




  1. Organisation

organise clothingMany children who struggle in the first few terms of Kindergarten lack organisational skills. They usually forget where they put things, cannot complete a task in the correct order and they do not get all the required resources to complete the task. Children need to have many opportunities prior to school to gain a sense of responsibility for their things and practice setting themselves up to complete a set task.

Parent ideas to develop this in your child

  • Child needs to get their own clothes out for the day
  • Child needs to put everything they need for the day in their bag
  • Child can clean up/pack up a game before starting a new one
  • Child could get all the equipment needed for a game and set it up
  1. Problem solver

Kindergarten is a new experience for a child and there will be many problems that the child will encounter. Children who have good problem solving skills will be able to cope with these challenges when they arise. Many children who find the transition period difficult will get quiet upset at the smallest difficulty and require an adult to solve their problem for them. Unfortunately there are usually only a couple of adults and a lot of children, so they may spend a lot of their time waiting for the teacher’s attention instead of being on task.

Parent ideas to develop this in your child

  • When your child experiences a difficulty do not tell them what to do but guide them in finding out a solution for themselves
  • Children need to build a lot of resilience so they need to be given many opportunities before school to do this.
  • Set up opportunities for your child to find solutions for themselves. Eg do not put a new toilet roll on, do not refill their drink, do not get the tomato sauce for their dinner etc




  1. Fine motor

using scissorsFine motor skills begin to develop before a baby can walk. By the age of 5 or 6, it is expected that most children have very developed fine motor skills. In the first few terms of kindergarten, most tasks require many fine motor skills such as drawing, writing, cutting and gluing. If a child has under developed fine motor skills they tend to have many incomplete tasks and get upset that they cannot do tasks that others in the class can do. If you have a concern about your child’s fine motor development ensure that you see an OT (occupational therapist) before starting kindergarten. They will be able to offer advice about specific tasks that your child should be doing to strengthen their small muscles in their hands.

Parent ideas to develop this in your child

  • Screwing and unscrewing lids
  • Doing up buttons and tying simple knots
  • Forming letters in their name
  • Drawing basic shapes E.G. square, rectangle, circle and triangle
  • Cutting on straight lines
  • Cutting around shapes
  1. Gross motor

imgresDeveloped gross motor skills are essential for good posture and muscle coordination. Children with poor gross motor skills find it difficult to keep up with their peers on the playground and tend to be more “clumsy” in the classroom. When a child turns 5 years old they should be able to complete the following:

  • Stands on one foot for at least 5 seconds
  • Able to hop on a foot at least 3 times
  • Jumps over an object with two feet
  • Runs around obstacles
  • Walks up and down stairs while holding something
  • Skips on alternate feet
  • Hangs from a bar for 5 seconds
  • Walk on a balance beam
  • Catches a small ball with hands only

If you have a concern about your child’s gross motor development ensure that you see a children’s physiotherapist before starting kindergarten. They will be able to offer advice about specific activities that your child should be doing to strengthen their large muscles and help their coordination and balance.




  1. Learning skills

children readingChildren need to be motivated learners in order to have a successful transition to kindergarten. They need to be able to listen while sitting still on the floor, spend at least 30 minutes concentrating on a task and have the ability to follow instructions.

  1. Speech and Language skills

Children need to be able to have highly developed speech and language skills to be successful in the transition period to formal school. They need to be able to participate in a conversation, explain their ideas, answer questions appropriately, retell a story and understand what someone is saying. Many children start kindergarten with underdeveloped speech and language skills and this significantly affects their writing and reading. If you have a concern about your child’s speech and language development ensure that you see a children’s speech pathologist before starting kindergarten. Early intervention is the key. The sooner your child starts therapy the less their speech and language will affect their success in their classroom.

  1. Letter sounds

Even though it is not essential, children who are familiar with the letter names and the corresponding sounds definitely have an advantage when they first start school. They will have a strong foundation to build their knowledge about writing and reading on which begins as soon as they start school.

Parent ideas to develop this in your child

  • Identifying the names and sounds of letters in their name (first and last name)
  • Identify the first sound of objects E.G.  “C is for cat”
  • Pointing out letters on signs, books you read and labels
  1. Numbers

jumponanswerChildren who can identify numbers 1 – 10, can count past 20 and count using one to one correspondence (pointing to a single object at a time) will have a solid foundation to begin formal learning about mathematics.

 

Parent ideas to develop this in your child

  • Count objects as often as you can
  • Identify numbers in the environment eg letter boxes, speed limit signs
  • Playing games with a dice




  1. Social development

CountingThis is an important element that contributes to a successful kindergarten transition. The child needs to be able to wait their turn, use manners, know when to talk and when to listen, cooperate with their peers and have empathy towards others. They will be going into an environment that has a high adult to child ratio and therefore their needs cannot be immediately met. They need to negotiate, compromise and be assertive when dealing with other children. The social development of a child is the main focus of all early childhood educators so if you have concerns about your child, speak to your child’s current teacher for some advice.

  1. Age

images-2This is a current educational debate that many parents find themselves involved in. Do you send your child to school if they turn 5 in January to July? I believe that this has the biggest impact on a child’s success in Kindergarten. Every child is different, however in most kindergarten classrooms today, there can be a difference of up to 18 months between children. Just think about a newborn compared to an 18month year old. The difference is substantial. My personal recommendation is if your child will be turning 5 in March or later you need to hold them back. They need to spend another year developing the above 10 aspects. It is harder to see the age difference of 18 months when they are 5 or 6 years old but as formal education begins it becomes very apparent, very quickly. However, there are the odd cases (mainly with girls) that are born later than March and show readiness. However, these are few and far between. I have never met a parent who has regretted holding their child back, but have met plenty who have regretted sending them.

We all want the best for our children. We want to set them up for success in life and the beginning of their educational journey is no different. Starting school is a big step and I hope these 11 areas have given you some insights to ensure the transition to formal school is a smooth and exciting one for your child.

Until next time …

Kelly Pisani

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30 Ways To Develop Fine Motor Skills: Early Intervention Matters

Welcome to my next blog in the series, Early Intervention Matters. In this blog I have complied a list of 30 activities that will help children develop their fine motor skills.

Fine motor skills are small movements that are achieved by using the smaller muscles in the hands. Some of these skills include cutting, doing up buttons and handwriting. Highly developed fine motor skills will influence the speed and accuracy of the task performance.

Why are fine motor skills important?

Fine motor skills are very important for children to be able to successfully complete many everyday tasks. These tasks include dressing themselves, opening lunch boxes and writing. Children who have good fine motor skills are generally more confident in their own abilities and have the appropriate independent life skills compared to children who have underdeveloped fine motor skills.

Fine motor skill difficulties can present as:

  • Avoidance
  • Misbehaviour when it comes to particular tasks
  • Inability to use scissors
  • No interest in pencil skills

According to “Therapies for Kids”, Occupational Therapists can work with children of all ages and their families, to help enhance skills necessary for their everyday life including playing, getting dressed and handwriting. Occupational therapy may also include making changes to the child’s environment such as their school or home to help the child be more independent.

Below is a list of 30 activities that will help children to develop their fine motor skills. These are all inexpensive activities that only require items that can be found around the home. These activities would be great for children to complete at home or in the classroom.

1. Using a water spray bottle

waterspray

 

 

 

 

 

2. Putting straws in a colander

strawsincolander

 

 

 

 

 

3. Cutting different patterns

scissors

 

 

 

 

4. Threading fruit loops on pasta

Fruitloopthreading

 

 

 

 

 

5. Dropping pom poms down tubes

PompomdropJPG

 

 

 

 

6. Making a felt button chain

Felt Button Chain 9

 

 

 

 

 

7. Using a pipette to drop water on lego holes

Pipettedrops

 

 

 

 

8. Balancing lego on the side

balancinglego

 

 

 

 

 

 

9. Putting toothpicks in small holes

toothpicks

 

 

 

 

10. Pouring from one container to another

pouringonetoanother

 

 

 

 

11. Sticking beads into play dough and getting them out with a pincer grip

beadsinplaydough

 

 

 

 

12. Putting elastics on a container

elasticsoncontainer

 

 

 

 

 

13. Using an eye dropper

eyedropperjpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

14. Picking up objects with pegs

pegpincergrip

 

 

 

 

 

15. Putting paper clips on paper or plastic

Paperclips

 

 

 

 

16. Balancing marbles on golf tees

marblesontees

 

 

 

 

 

 

17. Putting buttons in a small rectangular hole (also you can put money into a piggybank)

Buttonholes

 

 

 

 

 

18. Opening padlocks with keys

keysandpadlocks

 

 

 

 

 

19. Threading shoelaces and tying them up

shoelaces

 

 

 

 

20. Putting different lids on bottles and containers

bottleandlidmatch

 

 

 

 

 

21. Drawing while laying on the ground

drawingupsidedoen

 

 

 

 

 

22. Feed a tennis ball some food

feedatennisball

 

 

 

 

23. Using a hole puncher

holepunching

 

 

 

 

24. Peeling stickers off

stickers

 

 

 

 

 

 

25. Cutting up play dough sausages

cuttingplaydough

 

 

 

 

26. Putting nuts and bolts together

nutsandbolts

 

 

 

 

27. Weaving pipe cleaners on a drying rack

weaving

 

 

 

 

28. Threading with nature

threadingwithnature

 

 

 

 

 

29. Name dot painting with cotton buds

Namedotpaintingjpg

 

 

 

 

30. Mashing play dough

mashingplaydough

 

 

 

 

These 30 ideas will help children to be engaged and enthusiastic towards developing their fine motor skills. Fine motor skills are essential for your child to be able to perform everyday tasks. If you have any concerns with your child’s fine motor development seek an opinion from a qualified paediatric occupational therapist.

Please share this blog if you have found it insightful and if you believe it offers practical information that you can implement at home or in the classroom. Remember to email a copy of it to yourself for reference later on.

Until next time … 30 ways to develop fine motor skills

Kelly Pisani

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Literacy in the Primary Classroom : Lower Case Letter Formation

lowercaseletters

Welcome to my new series focusing on literacy in the primary classroom. Over the next few weeks I will focus on the different aspects of literacy and give lots of practical tips for parents to employ into their home to develop their child’s literacy knowledge and understanding.

assessmentsThis first blog in the literacy series will focus on the correct formation of letters.  Although technology is embedded into everything we do, handwriting is still an essential skill to have in today’s society. Handwriting is a fine motor skill that can be developed through a variety of activities. It is strongly advised to hold off introducing the formation of letters until these pre-writing skills are developed. Below is a list of 5 pre-writing skills that your child should be able to do before learning how to form letters.

1. Drawing lines from top to bottom.

LinesChildren need lots of opportunities to draw straight lines going from the top to the bottom. This is an important skill for letter formation that they need to grasp before forming a single letter. This pencil movement is used often to form many letters. These letters are; b, h, i, j, k, l, m, n, p, r and t. Children not only need to draw straight lines from top to bottom with a pencil but with many other tools. For example paintbrushes, crayons, chalk, sticks and fingers.




Parent tips to encourage this skill

  • Have the child draw lots of lines from top to bottom across the page. After they have done that, they can use the lines as stems for flowers and draw petals on each.
  • Have the child draw lots of lines from top to bottom with chalk on the pavement. After that get your child to draw circles on each to turn each line into a lollipop.
  • Have the child paint lots of lines from top to bottom. After that, have them paint a line on top of them all from left to right to create a fence. They could paint a cat walking  on top of the fence.
  • Have the child draw lines with crayon from one sticker at the top of the page to a sticker directly under it at the bottom of the page.

2. Drawing circles starting from the ‘2’ position on a clock

clock[1]Drawing a circle is another important skill that the child must be confident with before introducing letter formation. This pencil movement is used often to form a few letters. These letters are; a, c, g, o and q. We want to encourage a child to start their circle from a ‘2’ position on the clock and go in an anticlockwise direction until they get back to the ‘2’. Therefore their pencil would go past the 1, then 12, then 11 etc until they get back to the starting position to complete their circle. We want them to start from this position so it will be easier for them to continue to form a letter without taking their pencil off the page when they are ready for letter formation. For example, to be able to add a line to a circle for an ‘a’ or a tail to a circle for a “g’.

Parent tips to encourage this skill

  • Have the child draw lots of circles on a piece of blue paper. These circles can become bubbles in an underwater scene. They could cut out underwater sea animals to stick on their page.
  • Have the child draw a small circle in the middle of the page and get them to keep drawing larger circles around the smaller one.
  • Have your child trace around circle shapes, such as bottle lids while always encouraging them to start at the right spot (‘2’ on the clock)

3. Using tools other than pencils

circlesChildren need to practise pre-writing skills using a variety of tools. We need a child to start with a thicker tool, like a paintbrush and make big movements with this tool. As they become more confident, a child could move onto chalk, thick crayons, using their fingers and then pencils. They need to be able to make large movements first and then develop their fine motor skills to be able to make smaller and more controlled movements with a tool. It will be hard for a child to use a pencil at first, so by using thicker tools, the child will be able to start practising these pre-writing skills from a younger age.

Parent tips to encourage this skill

  • Have a child trace chalk outlines of lines and circles with a paintbrush
  • Have the child paint circles, lines (zig zag, left to right and top to bottom) and spots with their fingers.
  • Have the child use a variety of tools (paint, chalk, crayon and pencil) on a large piece of paper. They can trace over lines and circles or try doing dot to dot lines.

4. Multi-sensory play

Marble in Sand[1]Children learn best through a multi sensory approach. This means allowing the child to discover skills and concepts through a variety of sensory methods. Pre-writing skills can be developed through this method very successfully. Children should be encouraged to use their sight and sense of touch to develop the fine motor skills required to learn letter formation.

Parent tips to encourage this skill

  • Have the child draw lines and circles and any other writing patterns in the sand with their finger
  • Put some paint in a zip lock bag and put it on a flat surface. Get the child to use their finger to practise writing patterns on the outside of the bag. The paint will move around depending on where they press.
  • Have the child practise writing patterns in the dirt with a stick

5. Holding the pencil correctly

pencil1The correct pencil grip needs to be encouraged, not forced from the age of 4 years old. Children younger than this need to explore holding a variety of tools in their own ways before the correct pencil grip can be taught. Forcing a child who is younger than school age to use the correct grip before they are ready, can cause more harm than good for their development of fine motor skills. Children need to hold the pencil with their thumb and index finger, while the middle finger is used for support under the pencil. We can call these fingers the tripod fingers so when ever you ask your child to check their pencil grip ask them if all of their tripod fingers are in the correct spot.

Parent tips to encourage this skill

  • Have the child hold something small in their hand, like a tissue to prevent the fingers that are not being used from moving
  • Use a pencil grip to encourage the correct hold when the child is younger. You can also get triangular pencils that also do this job.
  • Have the child do lots of finger exercises with the thumb, index finger and middle finger to strengthen their small muscles eg roll small play dough balls using these three fingers and making a pinch pot with clay.

Teaching letter formation for lower case letters

When teaching letter formation, it is a great idea to introduce letters that have a similar formation to help the child understand direction and pencil movement. Below is the oral instruction you can say with your child when forming each letter.

lowercase-and-capitals-prev[1]

1. Round Letters (a, c, d , g, o, q, s)

a (around in a circle and down), c (around in a circle until the 5 position on the clock), d (around in a circle, up and down), g (around in a circle, down and tail), o (around in a circle), q (around in a circle and down), s (around in a small half circle, then the opposite way)

2. Straight Letters (b, h, i, j, k, l, m, n, p, r , t)

b (top to bottom, up and around), h (top to bottom and hump), i (top to bottom, pencil off to dot), j (top to bottom and tail), k (top to bottom, up, oval and diagonal stick), l (top to bottom), m (top to bottom, hump and a hump), n (top to bottom and a hump), p (top to bottom, up and circle), r (top to bottom and half hump) and t (top to bottom, pencil off for line left to right)

3. Curved Letters (u, v, w, y)

u (smiley face and top to bottom), v (diagonal down and up), w (smiley face and smiley face), and y (smiley face, top to bottom and tail)

4. Different letters (e, f, x, z)

e (left to right, up and around), f (half circle, top to bottom, pencil off for line left to right), x (diagonal line from top left to bottom right, diagonal line from top right to bottom left) and z (line left to right, diagonal down to bottom left and line from left to right again)

When a child first learns how to form letters they need to continually revise this skill on blank paper with no lines. The introduction of writing letters on lines comes much later when a child is competent at forming each letter.

lower-case-letter-formation-i3[1]

We can use the analogy of sky, grass and soil to help the children remember what lines each letter is written on.

The grass letters are: a, c, e, i, m, n, o, r, s, u, v, w, x, z

The sky and grass letters: b, d, f, h, k, l, t

The grass and soil letters: g, j, p, q

When a child is learning to write letters correctly, exposing them to as many varied experiences with different types of mediums and tools will enhance their learning immensely. Children do not learn the formation of letters by pencil and paper only. Be creative and let them explore lots of techniques.

I hope you have enjoyed this blog and you can take away some practical tips that will help you guide your child in forming lowercase letters accurately. I would like to end this blog with a little rhyme that I always say with my Early Stage 1 and Stage 1 classes to help them to remember some important tips before they begin to write.

1, 2, 3, 4, Are my feet flat on the floor? 5, 6, 7, 8, Is my back nice and straight? 9, 10, 11, 12, Is my pencil correctly held?

Until next time …

Kelly Pisani

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