Children come to preschool with wide ranging ability levels when it comes to recognizing and writing their names. Some of this is due, quite frankly, to the length of their names and which letters are included in them. Think about it. Who will likely learn to write their name first? Lilly, or Savannah? Some of the difference is due to their different ages. In a mixed-age setting, the one year difference between 3 and 4 is dramatic! Even a six month difference is often pronounced. Varying rates of development in fine motor skills or even interest in writing may also be causes for different skill levels. Here is how I have addressed this challenge with my preschoolers.
Using a basic plastic photo holder, I trim back the plastic on the top layer of each pocket, to make the opening more perceptible. I then write each child’s name at the top of an index card and insert each one into a pocket. Each day as the children arrive, they know that their job is to “sign in”. They find their names in the pockets (which I have hanging on the wall near the writing table), and write their names on the cards. At the end of the day, I remove the cards, write the date on the bottom (you could get a really cool date stamper for this), and make any necessary notes. Each card is then placed in another photo holder, specific to each child, to create a collection of writing samples through the year. At the end of the year (or at shorter intervals if desired) I stack the cards in the pockets so that the child’s first and last samples are visible one above the other. Then I can point out the progress to the child, send the samples home, or use them in parent-teacher conferences. This allows me to track progress on a key skill and also allows the children to work from their individual starting points. Here’s Ella’s one year progress:
I’m sure some of you are wondering why I used all capital letters on the top sample and the conventional style on the bottom. I started out this activity writing all of the names in all capital letters, as capital letters, having more straight lines, are generally the easiest for early writers to form. That was my thinking until a kindergarten teacher at a conference commented to me that it is so hard to re-train kindergarteners to use lowercase letters after their preschool teachers and parents have told them to use all caps. I was torn on what to do, as the children were already a few months into their routine at this point. What I decided on, was to begin with all capitals, and then once each child had progressed enough in their writing, I took them aside and pointed out that their name card now had lower-case letters as well. I let them know that this is how they will learn to write their names in kindergarten and since they were getting so big, I thought we could start practicing. Flattered by their own progress, they made the switch pretty seamlessly. I’m debating whether to keep this system next year, or just use conventional form only from the get-go. I’m leaning toward the latter, but I’d love to hear your input!
A few things to keep in mind with this routine:
*Don’t put the names in assigned spots. Mix it up. For some, simply identifying their name is right at the top of their skill level. You’ll want to be sure that these children are recognizing their names, not just memorizing a spot. For those children, I write “ID” in the bottom corner of the cards to notify me that they properly identified their names that day. Then I encourage them to write.
*For any group of young children, the level of writing will cover the writing spectrum. Some will simply make marks, some will trace the name I have written, and others will write the letters of their names with varying degrees of accuracy. Encourage and validate any marks as writing. Give instruction within the Zone of Proximal Development. Choose one aspect to correct, perhaps one letter’s formation (“Remember that when you write your ‘E’, it’s a straight line down, then one, two, three lines.”) or just remind them how to properly hold the pencil (I usually offer to show them a way to hold the pencil that makes it “easier” rather than “right”. It comes across as more helpful and less abrasive.). Then point out all the positive aspects of the writing. Don’t weigh them down with too much correction. It makes the task frustrating and unappealing. When you focus primarily on their progress and what they’re doing right, children really revel in being able to write their own names!
*Remember that writing improves with fine motor strength and control, which is gained in a variety of other activities. Likewise, letter formation can be practiced in many different ways such as, writing with fingers in colored salt or cornmeal, with colored glue, or with paint brushes. All of these activities can be used to reinforce letter formation while depending upon and increasing different aspects of motor control.