Don’t under-estimate the power of a game of catch!

Even with all the fabulous online learning tools available for children today, handwriting is still a core skill for children to acquire. There are many factors that can affect your child’s ability to form letters from the actual grip on the pencil to poor visual perception meaning children are unable to discriminate between different letters (e.g. b & d).

Children with poor handwriting may be disadvantaged if teachers cannot mark their work accurately. A less obvious disadvantage is that a child may struggle to write creatively if it takes all their concentration to just form the words. You can imagine the frustration this would cause a child.

There are a few simple ways you can help which we discuss below. However, if you identify significant issues and challenges with your child’s handwriting and reading and are concerned this should be followed up with an Occupational Therapist who is a specialist in this field.

Good hand-eye coordination is necessary to guide the pencil but simple garden games can help develop this key skill:

• Basic throwing and catching a ball with a parent or friend. Start to add variation in height and pace to gauge improvement
• Use a bat and ball and see how long your child can keep the ball in the air
• Swingball is a great game and very good at helping coordination
• Throwing a ball against a wall and catching it, increasing the height and pace for variation

When the weather is not so friendly then use worksheets or books with mazes or follow the path exercises inside.

Another important element in handwriting is a child’s fine motor skills or dexterity. This is the coordination of the movement of small muscles in the hands and fingers and synchronising them with the eyes. You can work on these by encouraging lots of scissor cutting, using playdough and lego to improve dexterity and your child’s ability to manipulate a pencil successfully.

Visual perception is an element that has been found to have a significant effect on handwriting. Visual perception enables children to understand what they see, for example to recognise the difference between an ‘n’ or a ‘h’. Poor visual perception may mean a child doesn’t realise an ‘o’ which is not joined at the top is actually a ‘u’.

Visual perception games can be incorporated into your child’s day like ‘seek and find’ books or bingo games, any games that required the child to notice, and act on small visual difference.

Playing the games is one part, putting the writing skills into practice is also necessary.

So make the most of your time in these early years to provide lots of opportunities to give your child a great start, and you can have a lot of fun doing it too!

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Blending Sounds

Blending is one of the skills children need to develop when learning to read with phonics. They need to be able to look at the letters in a word, say the sounds (all through the word) and hear the word.

Blending needs practice – some children grasp the skill straight away and others can take much longer. The two main reasons why children struggle to hear the word when they have said the sounds are that they don’t know the letter sounds well enough (so they pause to think between letters) or the letter sounds are not being pronounced correctly.

If you are not sure how to pronounce the letter sounds correctly, take a look at our Hear the Sounds page on the website.

Children can start blending sounds into words as soon as they know a small group of letters well. The words chosen to start with will therefore depend on the letter-sounds already known. Jolly Phonics starts with the group of letters ‘s’, ‘a’, ‘t’, ‘p’, ‘i’, ‘n’ because they make more simple 3-letter words than any other group of six letters. Read Write Inc. starts with the group ‘m’, ‘a’, ‘s’, ‘d’, ‘t’.

If your child knows the letter-sounds well but is finding it difficult to blend them to read words, there are a number of tactics you can try to help them:

*Using pictures or objects, ask your child to find the ‘c-a-t’ or ‘p-i-g’ for example – if they can put the spoken sounds together, they will eventually learn to do the same with written sounds.

*Try using Magnetic letters or letters on cards to make simple words.

*Start with 2-sound words like ‘is’, ‘in’, ‘it’ to gain confidence, then move on to simple 3-sound words (CVC words or consonant-vowel-consonant) such as ‘sit’, ‘pin’.

*If your child is adding ‘uh’ onto the consonant sounds, try getting them to whisper the sound as this tends to keep it ‘pure’ this will make it easier to hear the target word.

*Get your child to slide sounds together more quickly until they are literally saying the word.

* Use very simple decodable sentences or books – it may be that your child doesn’t understand why they are sounding out and blending – Decodable Reading Books

* Use finger tracking under the letters to read the word.

*Having a picture on the back of the word card is good so that the child can turn it over and see if they have read the word correctly.

*Make sure your child is reading the letter-sounds – not saying them and looking away trying to remember them. Also, make sure they are reading all through the word – not reading the first sound then guessing the rest.

A useful video showing how to blend sounds into words can be found on a great website Mr Thorne Does Phonics

If you own an iPhone or iPod, then you might want to look at this great app called abc PocketPhonics
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s6UBp6rKJ_g&feature=player_embedded

This makes the most of 21st century technology to provide an engaging and interactive way to help your child learn their letter sounds and how to blend them into words.

The thing to remember is that learning to blend will click eventually – if you have any other good suggestions for how you have helped your child learn to blend, do let us know!

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