Tag Archives: writing name

Sign Me Up! Meaningful Ways to Encourage Preschoolers to Write Their Names

I wrote a while back about a sign-in chart that provides regular practice for name-writing while also providing a record-keeping system to track progress.  Some children really thrive with this method — they’ve recently figured out that they OWN their name, and they want to write it everywhere!  Others however, are more reluctant.  “I already did that,” they may say.  Like the parent who’s constantly cleaning the same kitchen, the child wonders, “Why am I doing this again?  I did it yesterday!”  Sometimes all a child needs is more purpose for the writing.  Writing it today so they can write it again tomorrow just doesn’t always cut it.  Here are some ways you can encourage reluctant writers to leave their mark.

Label it.

Encourage children to write their own names on their artwork or other items.  Remind them that that’s how people will know it belongs to them so it won’t get lost.  This might be as simple as adding a marker to the art table or providing a crayon on a string at the easel for labeling, or it may mean sitting down with your son and relinquishing control of the forbidden and therefore alluring Sharpie marker so that he can label every soccer ball, basketball, and beach ball in the house.  When children realize that writing their name on something is proof of ownership, the task is not only meaningful, but powerful.

Mail it.

Help your child write letters or cards to friends and family members.  Write what your child dictates, and then allow her to write her name at the bottom (“So they know it’s really from you!”).  The mail is a mysterious, wonderful thing, and the hope of receiving something in return is often incentive enough to get your child on-board. 

Mandi Ehman at Life…Your Way has made the brilliant suggestion of using your child’s artwork to share with others in the mail.  (It cuts down on your paper clutter without diminishing the value of your child’s work.)  Just have your children write their names on the back, along with a message they dictated to you, and then mail it off to Grandma.  Art, literacy, name-writing, family connections, and organization all in one shot!

Sign here, please.

Use sign-ins and sign-ups as much as possible!  Want to borrow a book?  Sign here.  Want a turn at the computer?  Write your name on the waiting list.  Do you like dogs or cats?  Write your name in a column on the survey chart.  Instead of telling your children that the sign-in chart is for practicing names, tell them that’s where you sign up for snack today!  Have children sign up when they are waiting for a turn with something.  Tell them that the list lets you know who’s next.  Besides motivating them to write their names, it teaches them about turn-taking and keeps them engaged in something when they might otherwise be growing impatient.

Play it up.

Incorporate name writing into you play situations.  Many children perform much better when working as an alter-ego!  I’ll give you an example.  I worked with a little gal who had little to no interest in practicing her name.  It just didn’t mean anything to her.  What she did love was dramatic play.  She was always coming up with new stories and characters, and it was all very real to her.  One day she asked for a new prop, a doctor’s kit I believe.  I went to my supply closet and pulled one out, but on my way back to her play area, I snagged a notebook and a pencil.  I approached her as a delivery person, saying, “I have a delivery here. I think you ordered it.  I just need you to sign your name here, please.”  She looked at me suspiciously and then scribbled on the paper.  “No, ma’am.  I need your name so I know you got your delivery.”  She looked at me again, and thought for a minute.  Then she carefully wrote every letter in her name (for the first time that year), and staying true to the story we had created, thanked me for the delivery as I handed her the package.

Find ways to make name-writing playful.  Make random deliveries, ask for their autograph, and take orders at the kitchen diner (“Write your name under the picture of which snack you want to order today“).  Play is an incredibly powerful motivator!

What are some of the ways you encourage preschoolers to practice writing their names?

Top photo by Vivek Chugh.
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The Writing in the Salt

My oldest son began kindergarten this year.  He is enjoying all of the “big-kid” perks of going to school like riding the bus and having recess.  But he’s also discovered that school also comes with responsibilities.  Not least of which is a list of skills to be practiced as homework, including several penmanship tasks like drawing shapes and writing letters, numbers, and his first and last name.  I don’t think my guy is the first child to react as though writing practice were akin to being kidnapped by terrorists, but there is at least one way I’ve found to get around this response. Make it fun and exciting!

Instead of sitting him down in front of yet another sheet of lined paper, I take a standard cookie sheet and pour in one container of salt. That’s the magic ingredient– salt! It costs all of 35 cents, but it transforms the exercise from mundane to motivating! (Don’t be scared of my tarnished cookie sheet.  That old girl has seen more than her fair share of tasty treats!)


Using a pencil or a finger he writes right into the salt. Besides being a little less physically taxing, the salt provides an element of sensory stimulation and the cookie sheet gives room for larger strokes.  I usually let him experiment a little, and then we play some games copying each other’s zig-zags, curves, and lines. He thinks it’s just fun, but writing really comes down to recognizing and intentionally generating these types of written lines, so this “non-writing” game is actually building his writing skills as well!  (But don’t tell him!)  To erase he gently shakes the cookie sheet back and forth like an Etch-a-Sketch to settle the salt again. 

His teacher requests just ten minutes of skills practice for homework, but without fail, when the timer goes off to signal the end of our writing practice, my guy is content to continue exploring with the salt.  He writes, doodles, and draws, all the while building that fine motor strength and control. And every now and then he grabs some toy cars or heroes (or an eager younger brother) to get in on the action as well. When we’re done, I just pour it into a ziplock and save it for next time.

It’s just one way to get play and learning back together!

For more on writing, check out:

  The Write Way to Read

Do the Write Thing
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The Write Way to Read

 Often, when we think of writing, we think of penmanship.  We give children handwriting guides and workbooks and think we’re teaching writing.  But truly writing in the context of developmental literacy is so much more.  In my view, writing is a display of a composite of skills:

  1. Fine Motor Skills
  2. An Understanding that Print Carries Meaning (Concepts of Print)
  3. Letter Form (Alphabet Knowledge)
  4. Breaking Words Down into Sounds and Connecting Them to Letters (Phonological Awareness/Phonics)

If you look at writing as an exercise in penmanship, you are prepared to emphasize component 1, and possibly 3.  If you are aware of the broader goal of using writing in its proper context — that of meaningful literacy — then you open up the possibility to emphasize all four aspects of early literacy on the list.

Fine Motor Skills

The act of writing requires a lot of muscle control and strength out of those tiny hands.  Provide some relief by encouraging children to write with their fingers in a cookie sheet full of cornmeal, colored sand, or salt; with fingerpaint; or in bags of goo like these (I realize they’re numbers here, but you can imagine the possibilties!).

Meanwhile, build fine motor skills by encouraging tasks that use those tiny muscles.  Use tweezers and basters in the sensory table, provide lacing boards and small legos at your working tables, and provide small collage items for picking up and plenty of playdough for kneading at the art table.  As children develop strength and dexterity in their hands and fingers, the physical act of writing becomes a bit easier.

Print Carries Meaning

As a child writes — truly writes now, not just doing handwriting exercises— that child is showing that she knows that those lines and curves tell a story or send an important message.  No matter the level of developmental progression, if a child puts marks on a page and gives them meaning, she is writing! 

Letter Form

As a child progresses through the developmental stages of writing, it becomes clear that the child’s concepts of letter shape and form are becoming more conventional.  When we allow children the opportunity to generate meaningful writing, we can (to some degree) analyze their alphabet awareness.

Words Become Sounds, Become Letters

As children are given opportunities to write, they go through the task of thinking of words, segmenting words into sounds, and then connecting those sounds with the appropriate letters to convert into print, which will later recombine into the words they were seeking to write.  That’s a very complicated process!  It essentially shows an element of competency in every aspect of early literacy. 

Even when the end result is a jagged note reading:  “i wot moR toz” (invented spelling) for “I want more toys” (conventional spelling), we can see that that child is building upon each of those fundamental literacy skills.  Encouraging children to write independently using invented spelling causes young children to go through that involved process, further strengthening essential literacy skills.  Additionally, those writing experiences tend to be more genuine, more meaningful, and as a result, more salient.

So how do you encourage more child-generated writing?

Here are a few ideas:

  • Create a writing area with basic writing supplies, which children can access at any time.
  • Rotate novel writing tools such as typewriters, envelopes, clipboards, dry erase tools, overheads, and letter magnets in and out of your writing area.
  • Designate personal journals for children to really “own” and write in their own way.
  • Create systems that encourage functional writing like lists, sign-ups, sign- ins, creating signs (great in dramatic play), and “internal mail”.
  • Do shared writing where you take turns holding the pencil, but go through the writing process together.  You can do more writing together without the early writers becoming fatigued.
  • Used shared writings to write thank you cards, letters to friends and family, record stories, and label charts.
  • “Think out loud” and model good skills as you write in front of or with your children.

How do you encourage young children to become writers?

Top photo by Weliton Slima.

Read more at Do the Write Thing.
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You’ve Got Mail!

Do you remember how excited you were to get mail as a child?  The mail system seemed magical and mystical.  You might get a package from Grandma, an invitation to a birthday party, or a letter from a secret admirer.  The possibilities were endless!  In these days of email and text messages, children still love to get mail!  Here’s a great mail activity that will give them the opportunity to get and send mail while also getting some practice with recognizing and forming their written names. 

Here’s what you do:

Prepare envelopes for each child.  Write the child’s name across the front of the envelope.  Inside, place the letters to the child’s name (print in a large font and then cut into individual 1 inch letters). 

Let the children know that they are going to write a letter to someone very special…..themselves!  First, give the children the opportunity to find their envelopes by reading their names on the front.  Along with the envelope, give each child a piece of paper.  Have them dump the letters onto the paper and form their names.  If they need help, point out their names on the envelopes and help them match, letter by letter. 

Once their names are arranged correctly, place a strip of double-sided tape across the top of their papers and have them stick the letters to the tape in the order they have them arranged.  Provide materials such as crayons, markers, and stickers for them to create a picture on the paper as well.  You may even want to let them dictate a letter to you to be written along with it.

Help the children fold up the letters and seal the envelopes.  Point out the parts of the addressed envelope, and explain that because it has their name and address on it, the post office will know right where to send it!  Slap a stamp on the top (or, if you’re working with a big group and are leery of cost, have the parents send self-addressed stamped envelopes a week ahead of time) and gather up the mail. 

If you have a mailbox nearby, you could take a walking field trip to drop them off, or if you’re taking a field trip to the post office, you may want to let each child deposit them there and then watch where they go once they’re dropped in the slot!  (Or, you could promise to send them yourself, if neither of those options work out!)  Talk about the mail system briefly and have the children guess how soon they will receive their letters.  (“The mail carrier will pick it up from here and take it to the post office.  At the post office, they’ll look at your address and give it to the right mail carrier to bring it to your house.”)  Your children will bound in the doors as they return to report they got their mail!

This activity (in addition to making the children feel like they just won Publishers Clearinghouse) encourages language and literacy skills, name recognition and formation, as well as social conventions and procedures for sending mail.

Use this as activity along with Nancy Poydar’s Mailbox Magic for a great book activity!

For more mail themed activities, check out the Valentines, Friends, and Communication Unit here!

Top photo by jenme.

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Book Activity: Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes

I really enjoy Kevin Henkes’ books, and I know the children do too.  His clever, relatable storylines revolve around quirky, lovable characters, who often have their own hilarious comic-strip-style comments in addition to the regular text.  Chrysanthemum is the story of a girl (or more accurately, a mouse) aptly named Chrysanthemum.  She really loves her name, until she goes to school.  There, she is teased about it, until the other girls make a discovery that makes them wish they were named after flowers as well.  It’s a great book for talking about social skills, not teasing in particular, but also fantastic for talking about our individual names.
 
I like to use this book for a small group activity at the beginning of the year.  After reading the book, I have a paper for each child with his/her name written in outline on it.  (You can actually do this on your computer, just set the paper orientation to landscape, and the font to outline.)  Since it’s a small group, I spread the names out on the table and first just give the kiddos the chance to identify their own names.  Once they’ve done that, we talk a little about how their names might be similar, especially if some of those similarities made identifying their names a little tricky.  Then, I have them trace over their names, using their fingers, a few times.  Since the story often mentions Chrysanthemum’s name having 13 letters, you could also count the letters in their names and talk about which names are longer and shorter, tieing in some math concepts, while also recognizing that words are made up of individual letters.
 
Lastly, they get to decorate their names in collage fashion.  Be sure to provide items that could form the shape of the letters if that is what the children choose to do.  Yarn and pipecleaners are great for staying straight or bending around curves; beans, sequins, and stickers are perfect for dotting i’s and j’s, or for lining up around any shaped line; and toothpicks and dry spaghetti noodles are naturals for the straight lines.DSCN2375  Point out the shapes of their letters as they decorate, but resist the urge to rearrange their items.  Remember, these creations belong to them.  Talk to them about what they’re doing.  “Those beans are lined up like two straight lines on your ‘t’!”  “You have four sequins on top of your ‘r’!”  They don’t have to stay within the lines to recognize the shapes of their letters.
 
Another option for extending this book is to have the children write their names, or some of the letters in their names, with their fingers just like when Chrysanthemum wrote her name in the dirt in the story.  Use some kind of granular medium in an art tray or cookie sheet.  I like to use cornmeal,  sand, or salt.  I made colored salt one day when, as I often do, I suddenly decided I needed it for an activity THAT DAY!  I was in my classroom and I had some salt, some chalk, and a ziplock bag.  Being resourceful (and a little bit crazy like that) I put colored chalk in the baggie and stomped on it a few times to turn it into a powder.  Then I added the salt and shook it up.  Ta-da!  Colored salt was born!  (I’ve also made it with a bit of tempera paint powder.)  Whatever you use, put the medium in a tray and have the children write with their fingers.  (Just as a note, you would obviously not want to use salt-or really any medium- if a child has an open sore on his finger.  I’m sure you can see why.  Have the child write in it with a stick or unsharpened pencil instead.)  Writing in the sand/salt/cornmeal etc.  lets them practice the motion of writing without the strain of holding and pressing a pencil, plus it’s just more fun and enticing when they can write in something new, colorful, and tactile!  Enjoy this book, and celebrate the names in your class!
DSCN2380
 
For more Welcome Weeks activities, click here!

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Sign In! Practical Name Writing Practice for Preschoolers

dscn14761Children 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:

dscn1471

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.

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