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By Nan Barchowsky

Scribbling is a key factor in pre-writing. Watch! Watch a child’s completely independent marks for clues as to how the hand moves to create images. Independent means that the child voluntarily picks up anything that will make a mark. Paper may be handy, or a stick may be the tool of choice for scratching in some sand.

Be patient as you observe and find clues to handwriting. Make no verbal re­marks about the images. You might suggest starting the image over on the left, or at the top, especially if the child says he or she is “writing.” Remem­ber the child may be imitating you when you have pen in hand, apparently doing something important. Resist the temptation to say, Oh, that looks like an “a,” a “B” or….

Academic Success
As parents we are eager that our children progress as rapidly as possible to­ward academic success. The general tendency in many countries is to teach “readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmatic” too early. Consider Finland where fifteen year-olds lead the world in all subjects. Children start school at seven. It is enlightening to Google Finland’s education to see their approach to school­ing.

Finns believe children should have ample time to learn through play, both independent, and through interaction with other children.

I recently visited my grandchild’s family. I watched the one year-old as she explored and examined her surroundings. She has learned that the food in the cat’s bowl is not her food, and that she can drag a laundry hamper around to make a chair for herself. So many discoveries every day! I have not seen her with a marker, but plenty of time for that!

I Digressed
If marks a child makes are simply imaginary images, the lines are apt to flow freely with few sharp turns and straight lines.

However if the child is pretending to write, lines may be stiff, straight or roundish. He or she may be emulating the letter shapes in books. Letters that make up the words in children’s books are close to the print-script or manuscript usually taught to beginners. The theory is that it is easier to learn to read and write if all the letters are similar.

The problem is that the strokes that make up the print-script models have little relationship to natural movements of hands. The lines in the child’s imaginary images have the rhythm and flow that we should encourage for fluency in handwriting

The first attempts to form letters, even those composed of the easiest strokes, may be more slowly drawn than written, but for the long haul sim­ple, rhythmic strokes will win the day for development of age-appropriate speed and legibility.

Rhythmic movement is important; equally important to the goal of good handwriting is posture. You can help with the early scribbles without intrud­ing on a child’s creative play. Provide broken chalk, broken crayons and short pencils. Why broken, and not brand new? It’s how you train a young hand to hold a writing tool in a relaxed manner, so lines will flow with ease, not with tension. The short object fits a small hand best. It encourages the hold to be with index finger and thumb, and with some support by the third fin­ger, while the palm of the hand is open. A full length pencil fits a small hand poorly.

Lots of positive pre-writing play can lead to the fun of learning to communi­cate handwritten thoughts in which the child can take pride.

I welcome questions and comments, even requests for more pre-writing ac­tivities. Nan Jay Barchowsky


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