Teaching preschoolers to write

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Today I will be sharing how to teach writing using a daily diary with some general tips and a quick “how to.” I have started this post 3 times now because there is just so much I could say and it keeps turning into a thesis, so back to dot points 🙂

Tips for turning out great writers:

  • Provide many experiences that develop fine motor skills – playdough, threading, building etc.
  • Make sure your child is using the correct pencil grip – get a moulded pencil grip if necessary.
  • Teach the correct letter formation – bad habits are hard to undo.
  • Teach phonics. A strong grasp of the phonemes (sounds) and how they join together to form words is vital
  • Read examples of good writing every day
  • Avoid have-a-go methods where the child is internalising incorrect letter combinations that will need to re-learnt later. Do not be afraid to tell children how to spell a word. It is better to copy from a good model than to write the word the wrong way over and over again. You can encourage them to use their phonetic knowledge and spelling rules as you work with them to write the word correctly the first time.

Daily diary writing for preschoolers – how to:

  • The child chooses their topic for the day and spends a few minutes drawing a picture.
  • Have them dictate a sentence about the picture for you to write down, leaving every second line blank. Ask questions as you do this; What does the word start with? How do I write the letter “s”? Show me in the air. What sound can you hear in the middle of the word? How do I write a “ch” sound? This is one of your sight words – can you remember which letters go together to say “the”?
  • For beginners, re-write the sentence onto a separate strip of paper. Cut it into individual words (or have them do that) then ask them to match these words underneath the ones you have written in their book and glue them in.
  • When this is easy, have the child trace some of the words you have written. For one of my preschoolers I choose a couple of words each day to write in dots so that he can trace them to write the word.
  • When this is easy, start copy work – where the child copies what you have written underneath. (Don’t be too pedantic about letter formation here – just keep practising with handwriting lessons every day so that the correct strokes are quickly learnt.)
  • Read back the writing together, pointing to each word as you do so. Ask them to find a word for you – Can you see the word that says “house”?
  • Move on to having the child write their own sentence once they have a large enough bank of words to do so. Brainstorm words they may need before starting and write them along the bottom of the page so that they can see the correct spelling as they write the word for themselves. Correct any errors as soon as possible.

Obviously there is a lot more to learning to write than I have covered here but for the sake of clarity I have tried to keep it brief. I have used diary writing with several classes of students and now my own children and it is encouraging for them to watch their skills develop over time, as well as proving a lovely keepsake for later. A few years ago my Mum pulled out a school diary I had written in year one and it was so cool to read through and see what was important in my life at the time. It began with the teacher writing everything and by the end of the book I was writing everything – all in the space of one year. Preschoolers will of course move more slowly than this but you will be surprised at their progress. Reading though my diary bought back some wonderful memories of events that I had totally forgotten about and made us all laugh to see what Mum did when she was in school.

 

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Workboxes – homeschooling multiple ages

With many children in the family, juggling different levels of homeschooling can at times be a challenge. One of my long-term goals is for each child to become a completely independent learner, to be able to educate themselves in any way necessary to equip them for their future careers and life. Once each child is an independent reader, this becomes much easier and it is therefore the children in the 4 to 6-ish bracket that receive the most one-on-one parent directed teaching as they learn their basic phonics, reading and mathematic skills. As they progress through the next couple of years or so and become proficient readers, they begin to work more and more independently.

Workboxes are one method of encouraging independence and organising several different learners at different stages. They can take different forms; some families have a system of drawers whereby the child starts at the top drawer, completes the set task in it, moves on to the drawer below and so on until their daily responsibilities are completed. This allows them to see their progress and gives even non-readers a very clear indicator of what they are to do next. There is no wandering around collecting or organising supplies as everything necessary for the activity is in the drawer (other than a caddy or pencil-case of stationary items that is collected with the first drawer work.)

This kind of system is great for all children and is particularly helpful for those who like to know what is coming next, those who tend to argue or complain about what they do or do not have to do for the day and those who waste a lot of time finding books and supplies instead of working. Everything is black and white and dictated by the drawers. You are not finished until the last drawer is done. They can even include music practice, computer time, chores or any other kind of task a child is responsible for in a day.

I love the idea of workboxes set out in this way but didn’t want to have to swap out activities on a nightly basis. While the year one child for example does reading and phonics every day, they do not do exactly the same activity so the drawer system would require me swapping out the phonics drawer every night. The same applies for maths which is a daily activity, however the form that it takes changes daily.

Miss 3 1/2 year old’s cupboard – 1 workbox and 1 tray per day.

Miss 6 year old’s shelf – 1 workbox per day.

In the end I took the basic idea of the workbox (that is every piece of equipment necessary and every activity needing to be completed throughout the day is in the box) and tweaked it to fit our family. Our workboxes are simply a plastic crate containing every activity that must be completed throughout the day for each child within the one box (or in some cases a box and a tray for each day.) There is a box for each day of the week, apart from Wednesdays when our eldest son attends a homeschooling co-op and the girls have a more relaxed day of craft and cooking etc.

I set them up at the beginning of the term and only need to change them when content such as reading books need to be updated, rather than on a daily or weekly basis.

For those of you who are interested, here is what’s in the boxes.

Miss 3 1/2:

Monday: counting workjob, starter styles (Pre-number at the moment) and peg board. (She is learning the alphabet letter names and sounds but we do them everyday so they sit separately on the top shelf, rather than in any one box.)

Tuesday: Letterland phonics, counting workjob, puzzle and colouring in.

Thursday: Montessori style tong activity, book, counting workjob, pattern blocks and puzzle cards.

Friday: counting workjob, Montessori style spooning activity, diary writing and puzzles.

Miss 6’s work boxes:

Monday: Reading, 3 letter words spelling book, addition workjob, phonics & spelling starter styles and Montessori sight words picture match.

Tuesday: reading, handwriting, Montessori sight words picture match, phonics digraphs, number starter styles and subtraction workjob.

Thursday: Diary writing, Montessori sight words picture match, number starter styles, reading and geoboard activities.

Friday: Reading, calculations starter styles, Montessori sight words picture match, sight words activity book and base 10 activities.

Master 8 yr old’s school work is not in workboxes. He has his own desk with drawers and keeps his school book sorted into those. He does do some hands on work; however the morning session (which is when we use the workboxes) is when he does his book work. He has a weekly schedule to follow which tells him which subject to do on what day and  he works through this in order; a kind of “workbox on paper.”

He uses a mixture of Saxon Maths and Maths-U-See, Mystery of History, Exploring Creation, copywork, lapbook activities, Color the Classics and English for the Thoughtful Child.

We all have circle time together, with the focus on bible reading, character training, scripture memorization, catechism and prayer. I spend time with Miss 3 1/2 while Master 8 and Miss 6 work independently, then one-on-one with Miss 6 while the others work independently and finally time with Master 8 while both girls finish off their activities and head outside.

This is what is working for us at the moment, although as life changes and new challenges appear (such as the twins dropping their morning nap sometime soon!), everything changes again. But that’s life with little ones!