We keep learning activities for my preschool daughter pretty simple and unstructured. Recently she’s shown a lot of interest in writing. She loves practicing the basics, like writing her name, as well as more creative activities such as dictating and illustrating stories. She’s an action-focused kid so when she expresses an interest in creating something we jump on the opportunity. Our goals are always to 1) provide enough information and framework for her to complete the activity on her own, and to 2) make it motivating enough that she’ll want to continue to practice the skill.
The other day I was complaining about her wanting yet another item from the kitchen, way after bedtime. She stopped my ranting by stating “Mommy, you need a sign for your kitchen that says closed.” We made a plan to create one the next morning.
I rely on the most basic of materials for these sorts of activities, usually grabbing whatever I can get my hands on in the moment. For this activity we used a piece of 8.5″ x 11″ paper, markers, and small scraps of paper. I knew that she can write most of the letters on her own but right now she’s lacking the confidence that she can actually do it, so some tracing practice was in order to build in success right off the bat. I also knew that she didn’t know how to spell “closed” so I’d need to provide that information. She has good page and word orientation so I let her figure out where she wanted to put the letters on the page. Here’s how I set it up:
I wrote each letter on a small Post-It note and placed them in the correct order. I placed these at the top of her writing table, with a blank sheet of paper and marker. Since she already knew the word because it was what she wanted to write, we didn’t even review letters or the word. She talks a lot while she’s working so I just stayed nearby to affirm her observations or answer questions.
Intuitively, with no direction from me, she picked up the letter “c” and placed it on the left side of her paper. She named the letter and used her marker to trace over the c on the Post-It. When she felt confident she then wrote the c independently on her paper. She continued this process with the rest of the letters. She had less confidence in reproducing the s on her own so I offered hand-over-hand help. She lost a bit of focus by the letter d so I again offered hand-over-hand so she could have the satisfaction of completing the task. We then picked a spot to hang her sign. She proudly showed it off to her daddy as soon as he came in the room.
Because this was a child-led activity, sparked by my daughters motivation to communicate and create, it has continued to be a source of conversation and learning. She constantly checks on her sign, likes to name the letters, and feels pride in “reading” her sign. Since this activity she has shown more confidence and interest in writing her nemesis – the letter s – which shows up in her name twice! Also, she now has a format for writing words in the future.
For less experienced writers:
- Practice tracing/writing lines, circles, v’s, humps (like the letter n) and scoops (like the letter u) – basically all the shapes that make up letters. I like working the gross motor first, using the whole arm to the trace/write these shapes in the air, then tracing/writing on a large easel pad or white board.
- Practice making all of these shapes or letters using PlayDoh. Make “snakes” first (great for building up fine motor muscles needed for writing) and then shape the snakes into the shapes and letters.
- Trace/write shapes and letters in a sensory tub – rice, sand, and shaving cream are all really fun mediums with which to play!
- Larger letters are easier to trace as a child’s fine motor skills are developing. Write a single, large letter on a large sheet of paper. Reduce the size of the letter/paper as your child becomes more proficient.
- Provide hand-over-hand support when your child is motivated and could benefit from writing the letter with correct formation. Sometimes this gives a child confidence to try it on his/her own.
- Provide visual cues for letter and page orientation. For example, an anchor line on which to write, and/or a dot indicating where to place each letter, the direction in which to start writing the letter, etc.
Some ways to extend this activity for more experienced writers and speller:
- You can always make an activity more challenging by removing pieces of the framework. For example, you could remove the first letter and see if your child can generate it on his own.
- For children ready to practice spelling words on their own you can provide the letters but mix them up.
- For children who have started spelling and reading simple words on their own, introduce word families. For example, start with the word ending “-op” and a few letters that could be added to the beginning to make words, maybe “t,” “b,” and “p.” Show your child how placing the each letter in front of “-op” makes a new word. Encourage them to arrange the letters and write them on their paper.
- Introduce capital versus lower case letters. Practice writing both.
- For school-age spellers, this is a great way to practice a weekly spelling list. One day, have your child pick five of her spelling words that she is interested in practicing. Direct her to write each one of these words, one letter per Post-It. The next day have her mix-up the Post-Its for each word and then place them in correct spelling order. The day after that, she can place the Post-Its in correct order, then trace each letter, saying it aloud at the same time and when she’s ready, spelling the word from memory. By the time of her test, she should have built a good visual memory for how to spell each word she practiced.
You don’t need a lot of fancy or complicated materials for at-home learning activities. Follow your child’s lead and keep it simple. She will tell you exactly what she needs to be successful and to master the next step in her learning progression. If this is an area you’d like more support in, feel free to contact me for a consultation.
What tools and activities do you find work best for at-home learning activities? Share your ideas below, with the community. Also, post pictures of your activities on Instagram. Make sure to tag @mandalasformamas! Be well, mamas.