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Hello Mat Man! How’s Your Grip Today?

March 30, 2022 | Kristen Jordan

We have been working on some fundamentals of writing and drawing in the Rivers Class.  We began with Mat Man, who may look simply like a nice person, but Man Man is so much more than that!  Mat Man is part of a program that we use at Mustard Seed School called Handwriting Without Tears

Mat Man is made up of the 4 basic lines that children will use to form all of the letters in the alphabet:

Big Line, Little Line, Big Curve, Little Curve.

Children are getting to know the lines by holding the wooden forms, moving them, playing games with them and singing the Mat Man song.   Mat Man also helps children gain awareness of the body parts and draw human figures using simple steps.  It can also be helpful to children as they develop spatial planning and organization, which are important for many aspects of learning.  Later we will be doing more letter formation with the curves and lines, but for now, the children are really enjoying Mat Man!

Handwriting Without Tears uses a multi-sensory approach that is developmentally appropriate for teaching letter formation.  Put very simply, the program is designed for children to learn how to form letters quickly and easy, in the most straightforward fashion, through sequenced practice and repetition.  One big goal is that once children are writing, they will be able to get their thoughts out onto the paper efficiently, without having to think about how to form each letter. 

Another important skill that children have been practicing is using an appropriate 3-fingered grip, which will also help them become efficient at getting ideas down on the paper as they draw and write.

Often it takes time for the hands and fingers to develop the strength and coordination to be able to use a 3-fingered grip, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t practice it before the children are able to do it.  It’s like most things: Aim for the goal, approximate it as best you can, and practice and practice until you are able do it well!

We have a grip song too: “My thumb is bent, pointer points to the tip…”. Repeating the words to the song as they practice picking up and holding writings tools help children remember to use their pincers and their 3-fingered grip.  You might hear the grip song from time to time at home!

All year, children have been using different tools to draw with and they continue to do so as they practice their grip.  Sometimes, children practice the grip with a focused task like trying to color a particular dot or a line, which can help with motor control and hand-eye coordination as well.  At other times they might be drawing Mat Man, making a message for someone, working on their prayer drawing or just drawing  a picture when we remind them to think about their grip.  In time, and as children develop and gain practice, the grip will become automatic.

There are a few other things that we have been working on with children as they draw, and things you can do at home as well: Make sure that children use their “helping hand” to hold the paper steady (the hand not holding the writing tool).  It sometimes takes a bit of coordination and practice but holding the paper steady helps a great deal with controlling the work on the paper.

We are helping children to think about making sure they are sitting up tall, with their tummy close to the table and both feet on the floor.

And of course, we keep working on building arm strength by bear walking!  All of these tiny details help contribute to children eventually being able to draw and write fluently and with control. 

Some children have been wanting to add letters to messages they make.  We follow their lead on this and are helping children to make some letters. One of the most important procedures with making efficient letters is to start each letter from the top and go down.  So we’ve been learning the song “Where do you start your letters?  At the top!”  There will be more to come later on letter formation but for now, children are busy practicing so many things! 

Kristen Jordan

Teacher, Rivers Class

Kristen Jordan began helping at Mustard Seed School in 2006, after her daughter had been a student in the preschool. She substituted for many years in all grades; in 2011, she returned to the classroom and has been a teacher in The Nest ever since.

Prior to the birth of her daughter Clara, in 2002, Ms. Jordan worked in Brooklyn as a first grade teacher with the New York City Public Schools. During this time, her school collaborated with the Brooklyn Museum, and this work helped Ms. Jordan develop a real interest in the parallels between the process of making art and the process of writing in the classroom. She thoroughly enjoys teaching both art and literacy to preschoolers.

Ms Jordan’s background includes work with the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. While at Teachers College, she trained with esteemed educator and author Lucy Calkins. Early in her teaching career, Ms. Jordan did not think that she wanted to teach very young children but her view has changed! She now really enjoys and takes great interest in young children and their development.

Ms. Jordan enjoys reading, working out, hiking, cooking, and spending time with her daughter and family. Although she has lived on the East Coast for a very long time, as a native of Oregon, she really loves the mountains!

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