Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Fun Writing Activities at Home

Trust me, I get it.  You've been at home for weeks now, playing the role of parent, teacher, friend, counselor, spouse, custodian, etc.  You're over it, and your kids are over it, and not a whole lot of learning is happening. You don't want your kids to fall behind, but you're struggling to juggle everything.  So let's talk about ways you can improve handwriting, writing skills and storytelling without losing your mind.  It's all about PLAY and framing it in a way that makes it seem like it's their idea. Note that I'm going to say "letters" below, but these activities can be used with letters, words or numbers.

Letter Recognition
You don't have to start out the gate with flashcards and memorization.  Letter recognition begins with simple exposure! Activities like those below help kids become familiar with letters and numbers.

(1) Watercolor Resist Paintings: Using white crayon, write whatever you'd like your child to work on.  If they're learning numbers, write some numbers.  If they're working on sight words, write sight words!  If they're just learning letters, write upper- or lower-case letters.  Then let your child use watercolor to paint the paper and watch as your writing magically appears!

(2) Letter Search: Give your child a letter flashcard, a highlighter, and a page from an old book/magazine or an old piece of mail.  Ask your child to highlight each time they find the given letter!

(3) Foam Letters: Everyone needs a set of these.  Throw a few in the tub for bathtime fun! As soon as you get them wet, they stick to the sides of the bath or shower for later spelling.

(4) Hot Glue Letters!  You can make 3D letters by writing with hot glue on wax paper and letting it cool.  These are extra fun if you make them using glow-in-the-dark hot glue!  Your child can play with them or you can hide them in rice or beans as a fun hidden letter sensory activity!

Fine Motor Skills
Before writing letters, kiddos have to strengthen their grip.  The following activities will encourage a strong grasp!

(1) Moving items from one bowl to another with large tweezers or kitchen tongs.

(2) Picking beads out of putty (I suggest Silly Putty, TheraPutty or Crazy Aaron's Thinking Putty) and hiding them back in the putty again once they've all been found.  (To limit any possibility of a mess, you can keep the putty and beads inside of a ziploc bag and the activity is just as effective!)

(3) Rubber Bands: There are a couple options here - you can take regular sized rubber bands and an upside down muffin tin and have your child stretch the bands to go around each muffin cup (less prep and you probably already have both items in your house!) or you can take mini hair rubber bands and have your child put them around popsicle sticks.  You can integrate math and counting by asking your child to put a certain number of bands on each stick or by writing a numeral and asking them to match the same amount of bands to the number on the stick (as they advance).

(4) Push Sticks: Use an empty sprinkler container and cake pop sticks for this easy activity!  Children have to grasp the sticks and manipulate them into the small holes of the shaker container.

Handwriting/Letter Formation
Kids don't like paper and pencil.  They love pen, markers, anything that can make a mess! So let's work with that and find alternatives to the paper/pencil routine.  

(1) Mess-free painting: Squirt some paint into a bag.  Seal the bag, and let your child use his/her finger or a q-tip to write letters. Don't have paint lying around? Put some yogurt in a bag!

(2) Sand trays: Pour sand into a tray and let children use their finger to write letters.  This one is great because you can write the letter first, shake it gently and then have them trace the faint outline that remains.  Don't have sand or trays? That's fine! You can use salt or sugar on a plate or cookie tin!

(3) Shaving cream: Squirt some shaving cream on a plate and let children use their finger to write letters.

(4) Toothpicks: Write a letter on a sheet of printer paper or index card. Place the paper on top of cardboard or a foam meat tray. Let your child use a toothpick to poke holes along the letter.  A lot of people use pushpins, but if you don't have those lying around OR don't want your kiddo using one, toothpicks work great!  You can put one end in the side of a cork and it's a safer version of a pushpin!  

(5) Play-Dough Letters: You have three options here -- you can have your child make each part of the letter with play-dough and put it together to form the letter (for example, a "b" would have one straight part and one curved part), your child can press the playdough flat and poke the outline of the letter with his/her finger, OR your child can use a toothpick to write letters by scrawling into the playdough.  Making the parts of each letter helps kiddos recognize the similarities and differences between letters.

(6) Water Painting: This amazing, magical paper allows you to paint with just water! As the water dries, the writing disappears and you can write again and again.  I used a Buddha Board in this picture, but you can use this paper from Amazon that works just as well and is a fraction of the cost!

(7) Window Crayons: Crayola makes great window crayons for writing on glass!  If your child is just learning letter formation, you can spray the outside of the window with soapy water and trace the outline for your little one to follow with the crayon on the inside.  (Note that you would have to write the letters backward for this to work!)

A lot of kids come into kindergarten uncertain of how to tell a story.  They will draw to tell you about something, but when it comes to sharing what they've written, they orally label the picture instead of telling a story.  For example, a child might draw a picture of herself and her mom next to a flower garden.  When asked what the child's story is about, she might say "That's my mom. That's me. That's a flower.  That's the sidewalk.  Oh and that's my house."  Clearly she's thought of a moment in her life she wants to share, but she isn't using storytelling language.  Instead of asking your child to physically write, ask him or her to share an oral story! Children who can express ideas and stories cohesively when speaking usually read and write in similar ways.

(1) Picture cards: You can use these cards as prompts to share a real or made-up story each day.  You can download and print them or just show them on your phone. 

*** Note that these are ALSO great for Nonfiction Writing practice. Instead of telling a story, you can ask your child to share true facts they know about the selected topic!  Help him/her brainstorm additional facts -- or do some online research together -- to learn more about the day's topic!

(2) Wordless books: Invite young children who can’t read all the words in their books to tell the story using the pictures, or use wordless books and ask your child to tell you the story.


Of course there are many more strategies for fine motor development, letter recognition, handwriting and storytelling, but this gives you a place to start!  I'll share some tips for letter/sound association next time.

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