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Where Do You Start Your Letters? At the TOP!

June 8, 2022 | Kristen Jordan

Do you remember way back a few months ago when Mat Man was all the rage in the Rivers Class?

When children were building Mat Man and learning about big, lines, little lines, big curves and little curves?

Mat Man provided the children with some experience using the basic lines that are used to form each letter of the alphabet.  Since then, there have been many other ways in which children have explored with letters and big and little lines and curves:

They have used magnetic lines and curves to make letters…

Stamped letters in play dough…(and served cookies!)…

Made letters at the light table…

Noticed letters in books…

Used letters to add friends’ names to messages…

But in the past few weeks, children have really been working at making letters using correct formation. What does that mean, you ask?  Well, first and foremost, as the old song goes, “Where do you start your letters ? At the top!”  (Ask your child to sing the song for you!)

We use the Handwriting Without Tears program, which helps children to form letters in the most efficient way possible. Children’s natural starting position is often at the bottom of the page, but starting from the top helps children to form letters efficiently using the fewest strokes, and helps to minimize letter “reversals.” Down the road, we hope for children to write letters fluently so they can get their thoughts out on the paper efficiently and legibly.  We hope that children will learn to start their letters using correct formation at the top early because it can be a hard habit to break later on! 

The children engage in letter formation using a multi-sensory approach.  By repeating the letter formations over and over, they will eventually make the letters automatically. 

Children have painted the first letter of their name on large paper.  Using the whole arm to paint on a vertical surface, engages different muscles and movement than does fine motor work that would happen on a flat surface.  Children first say “Hi!” to Smiley, a little smiley face in the upper left hand corner, which helps with the starting point and orientation.  Then, children use a dry paintbrush to make the lines, followed by three different paint colors, saying the words as they form the letter: “Big line down, frog jump to the top, little line, little line, little line.  E!” 

Children have also practiced their letters using “Wet, Dry, Try”, which utilizes more fine motor skills.  First, they use a wet sponge, to ‘erase’ the chalk letter.

Then, a tiny paper towel is used to ‘dry’ the lines, and finally, children ‘try‘ the letter by writing it with chalk.  Each time, children use the same routine: “Hi Smiley!”  Starting at the top, using the same motions each time, they say the the words that describe the lines used and the process to to create the letter. “Big line down, frog jump, big line, big line, big line, M.”

The repetition using different mediums helps children to gain fluency with making the letters correctly.  All children have practiced at least the first letter in their name, and some have done a few more. Some even tried making rainbow letters. 

Some children also added their first letter when they made messages for friends.  

It can be powerful, fun, and practical to know how to do something so well! 

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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