15 effective letter formation techniques for 3-4 year olds!
Are you homeschooling and wondering how to go about starting or improving your child’s handwriting or letter formation? Do you just want to help your child reach their full potential by giving them a head start from home? As a former Primary School Teacher turned homeschooling mama, I’m sharing 15 fun, creative, tried and tested tips to get you started with your child’s letter formation and hand writing.
1. A letter or 2 a week goes a long way!
At age 3.5 Ammarah used to get frustrated at writing and getting the formation wrong. She would give up and say “I can’t do it!” Truth is she shouldn’t have been expected to have got it straight away. So we changed our way. We planned out our weeks and decided to stick to learning a letter a week – learning the letter formation and sound too. Read my post on ‘How I taught my child to read!’ for more on our phonics learning and the order in which we learnt our letters. Below are pictures of our treasure hunt find which helped get us started on our phonics and that’s how we focussed in the formation of one letter a week. If you’re child is ages 4-5, they could probably work on 2 letters a week, however work with your child’s ability, you know them best. There is no one set way to do this. Work at their pace, but have a break for some days before you begin the next letter.
Tip: Don’t try to teach letter formation for all the letters in one sitting! Yes it may still work, but the question is will your child enjoy the repetitive nature or writing this way at such a young age? You want to nurture the fun of writing into them so that they pick up a pen and write down the letters they enjoyed writing over a natural course of time.
2. Model how to write for your child
Show them how its done! This is probably a very obvious tip but essential to include in this list. Let your child see where the letter starts when you write. Does it start at the top? Does the letter formation begin above the line etc? Also write it big, and write slow! Below, we wrote on our tablet, I started by showing Ammarah how the letter was formed and she attempted after me. I added some dots for the letter S initially but she seemed happy to write without the extra help. All her efforts were praised because a perfect letter formation is not essential at all right now!
Tip: Don’t just have pre-preared sheets or dry-wipe marker booklets ready for your child and expect them to know how to form the letters, they need to see it written first. Also using trace sheets may limit them to thinking they can only write perfectly when only using tracing sheets. You want them to be confident in writing without the tracing aids eventually. Take your time and see what works for your child. When you feel they are ready, remove the dotted trace sheets and let them write!
3. Letter formation talk
This, for us has been super effective in helping Ammarah form her letters correctly. I have often heard her say “Round like a c, up, down and flick” when writing the letter ‘a’ for example. We made up the letter formation talk and it works for us. Here’s a few examples for how we use letter formation talk.
Tip: You can find formation rhymes online, but some can be wordy. Make up yours together with your children and you’ll find it’ll be easy to remember too.
4. Tracing on backs and in the air!
The children used to enjoy forming letters on each others back with their fingers just after I showed them how how the letter was formed. In fact it became a bed-time game for Ammarah and I too. She traced a letter on my back and I had to guess which one it was. We also practise up in the air. This was all in preparation before actually using a pen or chalk to write the letter. As we traced in the air, we said our letter formation talk to help us remember.
5. Chalk-writing & painting on chalk!
We then moved on to the chalk board (You can also go outside and use chunky chalk) where I would show Ammarah how I form the letter again. Then she would try. At first she found it difficult. So I formed the same letter a few times and then let her trace over the chalk writing with a wet paint brush. This way worked best for us so we used it throughout our letter formation journey. After she had a little practise, she told me she wanted to try forming the letter with chalk again and her attempts got better and better as the weeks went on.
6. Salt Tray writing
Salt tray writing has been another really fun way to write practise letter writing. We used an empty large Ferrero Roche box, sprinkled in some salt (you can also use coloured sand – or put a piece of coloured paper in the tray before you sprinkle the salt) This sensory method of letter forming can be really effective with your younger children. Once you’ve traced your finger in the salt tray, you can easily shake the tray to start over. It’s fun, children can make the errors and know how quickly they can start over.
Tip: Don’t let your children get frustrated over trying to get things perfect. Applaud and praise all their efforts as the last thing you want is a child who feels they cannot do it!
7. Cotton Bud or Q-tip Writing!
We love using paint for more than just our art sessions. So we used Cotton buds, dipped them in paint and traced over letters and then finish with an attempt to try forming the letter ourselves too. The fine motor skills involved in holding the cotton-buds and ensuring there is enough paint each time they attempted to trace or write the letter was a perfect combination of fun learning.
8. Finger painting!
Another sensory favourite – Finger painting. So we used to dab our finger in paint and form the letters by tracing the tips of our fingers all the way to form the letters. But our actual favourite way is to make dots with our fingers all the way along the letter. Show your child where to start and let them see you show them the correct letter formation.
Tip: You don’t need to hold their finger and help them form, let them try themselves and see how they improve as they do this every week!
9. Glue and sand!
This is always fun especially with coloured sand! The children can use cotton buds or squeezy glue bottles and form the letter with glue first. Then simply sprinkle with sand and shake off. It is a brilliant way to allow you to see how your child forms their letters straight away.
Tip: Write out the letters in pencil first, and show your child what to do if this is the first time you do this!
10. Pipe cleaner letter formation!
Use pipe cleaners to form simpler letters like s, t, k, w, v, z, m, n, a, l, o etc. You can use your letter flashcards as your guide. It’s great for their fine motor skills and lots of fun too!
Tip: Let your child try place the pipe cleaners on top of the flash card letter to see how the pipe cleaner could be manipulated to form the letter
11. Road Themed letter formation
When I saw these on twinkl – I had to download them. I love these. you can easily make them too by sticking masking tape to form the letter and drawing black road markings inside the tape. The kids love driving their little cars through the letter formation road!
Tip: Laminate them – they can be used over and over again!
12. Play dough letter mats
Using play dough as a fantastic, creative way of forming letters. Not only is it sensory play, but it is something the children can do on their own confidently. If you haven’t made these already, make some a5 sized playdough mats, by using word Art to bubble write each letter of the alphabet. Print 2 letters per page, cut and laminate. I used coloured paper to draw the letters on in my early stages of letter formation with my Ammarah.
Tip: You have to laminate these in order to be able to use them again and again!
13. Icing letters
As Ammarah and her friends became more and more confident in letter formation, we really challenged them the day we made biscuits and decided to ice them. They wanted to write the initials of their names to know which cookies they had helped make. Now I don’t know about some of you, but icing itself is super difficult, but the children did a fantastic job! We even brought in some magnet letters to remind them how the letters are formed.
Tip: You can also buy icing writing pens, they work perfectly and the right size for little hands!
14. Letter craft
This can also be an effective way of helping forming letters, especially as the letter craft would be directly linked to its sound. For example, decorating the letter z with black zebra stripes would be a fun and creative way to help you child enjoy working on letter formation and remembering the letter sound too. Here are a few examples of the ones we did and thoroughly enjoyed!
15. Wipe-dry letter formation sheets
Wipe-dry letter books can be found in many book shops but usually follow the alphabet order. I managed to make my own wipe dry letter formation sheets in the families of letter formation order. So our first family is the family of ‘c.’ All the letters that begin like a ‘c’ and so on. We have found these really useful when practising our letter formation review at the end of our journey! I’m giving these FREE to help get you started on your children’s letter formation journey. 🙂
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