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Learning to Print

By Susan Canizares PhD
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Q: How can I help my child learn to print?

A: Like all skills in the early childhood years, fine-motor skills develop in different children at different times and with different rates of growth. Learning is most profitable and enjoyable when several things are in place: 1) motivation and desire; 2) a general awareness of the purpose and function of the task; 3) physical readiness; 4) mental readiness.

You can quickly assess your child's readiness to learn to print simply by observing her behaviors and actions as she is engaged in drawing activities.

  • Does she show motivation and desire by seeking out various writing tools, such as crayons and pencils?

  • Does she spontaneously ask you for paper to draw on?

  • Does your child ask you to write her name? Is she aware of some of the letterly as you write in front of her and show an understanding that what you are saying is connected to what you are writing?

  • Can she hold a crayon or pencil in the proper position? If she picks up a writing tool and it is upside down, does she orient it correctly?

  • Can your daughter sit still for several minutes and concentrate on making scribbles? Is she willing to attempt making letters when you model them? Does she show a willingness to care for her writing materials (such as storing paper and writing tools in a special box) as well as the understanding that these materials are used in special ways?

When most of these behaviors are in place, your child will most likely be the one asking you to help her learn to print. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Begin by focusing on the most important word she will ever write: her name. If she has a long name and you have a shorter nickname for her, use that

  • Children learn best when they have an active model — meaning that your child will need you to demonstrate the formation of letters over and over. Take turns together — you write a letter and then she follows.

  • Uppercase letters are generally easier to learn. Their shapes are more distinctive and more recognizable. They are also easier to print because they are made from simpler line constructions.

  • Finally, don't be surprised if your child does not print in simple left to right fashion. She will likely experiment by placing letters all over the paper and in no apparent order. She will also mix real letters with squiggles and even incorporate letters in parts of her drawings. This is all part of the learning process involved in mastering written communication. For her, it is also part of the fun.

About the Author

Susan Canizares holds a PhD in language and literacy development.

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