What about handwriting?
It is important that schools adopt one writing format throughout the grade levels. It doesn't matter whether Zaner-Bloser (sticks and circles), Peterson ( sticks and loops) or connected line writing is used. Whatever the letter format decided upon, a consistent language about each letter's formation should be used by teachers in modeled writing, interactive writing, mini-lessons and underwriting. During these events, the children may be encouraged to sky-write along with the teacher (or, in the case of interactive writing, to sky write along with the child who is sharing the marker.) The language used for the letter t might be "tall down, slide." Whatever the agreed upon formation and language are, all teachers need to use it all the time! That doesn't mean that when we do modeled writing or underwriting, we focus on every letter and do sky writing for each one. It does mean that we choose our focus, based on need.
The important thing about handwriting is that children develop automaticity. If they have to stop and think about how to form a letter, it slows down their thinking about what they're writing.
We do NOT recommend that children practice letter formation in isolation. Kindergarteners should be expected to write in a line across a page - NOT on lines!
Try singing the following song to the tune "If You're Happy and You Know It". "Always start your letters at the top. Always start your letters at the top. When you write a letter, you'll get better, better, better - if you always start your letters at the top!"
What about Kid Writing with Pre-schoolers?
In deciding whether or not to do Kid Writing with your pre-schoolers, consider the ages/developmental levels of the kids. We've seen Kid Writing work well with 4 year olds, but we're not sure that 3's are ready for it.
Here are our recommendations:
* Create a USEFUL print environment - not labels on things like doors, desks, etc. Useful print like "come in" on the door and "on/off" on the light switch. Emphasize high frequency words that kids will need for beginning reading and writing.
* Do lots of large chart teacher demonstration and interactive writing (sharing the pen with kids) in which you emphasize the sounds as you write and invite kid responses as to appropriate letters. Of course, you'd only emphasize the easy sounds initially. We suggest that you do this with songs, chants or KWL charts.
* Post a name wall on which every child's first name appears with a photograph. It's also important that every child wear a name tag so that you can highlight certain beginning letters as you teach those sounds in context. We find that the clip-on swivel plastic kind available at office supply stores works best.
* Post ONE good, clear accurate alphabet chart (not an orange or owl for o). If you want to have another chart elsewhere in the room, it should match so that we can establish the key words for the letters/sounds without complicating the issue.
Now, to get to the Kid Writing part. What seems to work best is that preschool teachers work only with those children who show an interest - typically 1 to 3 children at a time. They do not do mini-lessons for the entire class as shown in the Kid Writing book. Of course, if you have mostly 4 1/2 to 5 year olds, you probably WOULD do mini-lessons. The key here is that you don't take dictation from kids. Help kids to write what they think they hear as you emphasize the sounds in the words. Pull story so you don't get "I made a ball." Ask questions like "Whose ball is it?" and "What's happening with the ball?" Lots of oral language development. Then repeat a cohesive story-sentence back to the child and use the KW process for helping him/her. If any of the words needed appear in the classroom environment, refer the child to the word. Fill the classroom environment with examples of kids' and teacher writing!