Welcome back! If you’re reading this you may have a kid who’s been struggling to learn the letter formations for their alphabet, perhaps for quite a while! Learning letters is a tricky task for our brains and hands; they must work together to look at a drawing, understand that drawing/symbol represents a letter, remember that letter, copy a mental image of the letter, and then instruct our hand to move in such a pattern that creates the letter. Often times I have parents/teachers who have students who do somewhat well when tracing their alphabet, but when it comes time to write the letter on their own it falls apart. This can be due to two things: 1. The child does not have a good memory of how to create the letter 2. Tracing allows for the child to start at any point, and therefore formations may start bottom to top/in the middle of the letter/wherever and thus the resulting formation may be large/incorrect/illegible. While tracing does not appear per the research to limit children with good graphic skills (they learn the motor skills despite the tracing practice), however for a student with poor visual motor skills this can result in reduced carryover of letter formations and letter memory. This is particularly true for students who rely on visual monitoring for letter formations. Still skeptical? Try it yourself! Have someone write something in their neatest handwriting and you trace it. You’ll notice your handwriting takes longer, and may not be as neat or well formed, due to you having to vary outside your normal motor patterns that you’ve grown used to, resulting in choppy, irregularly formed letters. Pretty neat!
Phew, okay, now that the science part is done, let’s talk about alternatives to tracing! Again, I want to stress that for students who are able to follow the tracing guidelines or multi step directions (most tracing work sheets have numbers and arrows to assist with directionality), tracing does not impede learning. However, for kids who need the motor planning help here are some good techniques:
- Finish the letter: Start the letter half way and have your child “finish it”. You can use dots to make this easier if your child has trouble for a visual marker of where the line should go.
- Multi sensory play: have the child make the letter out of slime, play-doh, in sand, big on a vertical white board etc.
- Simon says: have your child write the letter in the air by mimicking your large arm movements!
- Group similar letters that start at the same point together. For example, “Frog Jump” capitals are a good place to start. FBRPD are all letters that start at the top, go down, and HOP to the top to finish the letter.
- Verbally say the directions for how to form the letter to enforce auditory learning. For example to make the letter B, say “start at the top, doooown to the bottom, HOP to the top, little belly, little belly.” You can get creative with this!
Hopefully these techniques will give you some alternatives to tracing at home. Happy handwriting!
Ps. For any therapists/interested people who want to know the research for this I’ve attached a couple research articles for your consideration.
Ms. B’s fun fact: Slugs have four noses!
Overvelde, A., & Hulstijn, W. (2011). Learning new movement patterns : A study on good and poor writers comparing learning conditions emphasizing spatial , timing or abstract characteristics. Human Movement Science, 30(4), 731–744. doi:10.1016/j.humov.2010.08.016
Paz-Villagrán, V., Danna, J., & Velay, J.-L. (2014). Lifts and stops in proficient and dysgraphic handwriting. Human Movement Science, 33, 381–94. doi:10.1016/j.humov.2013.11.005
Vinter, A., & Chartrel, E. (2010). Effects of different types of learning on handwriting movements in young children. Learning and Instruction, 20(6), 476–486. doi:10.1016/j.learninstruc.2009.07.001