As the school year begins in much of the northern hemisphere, children who are not yet in school may be asking to "play school" at home as their older siblings are off to new adventures at school, and writing is one of those things they are likely to want to learn.
Gaining motor control and practicing the kinds of shapes and movements which will help lead to letter formation can happen in "real" space -- skywriting with big arm swings, counterclockwise circles, and top-to-bottom lines in the "sky;" dragging fingers through pudding or finger paints making circles, triangles, lines, and more should happen well before these same shapes are made on paper or tablets.
Before teaching your child to write letters, help her learn to hold a pencil, crayon, or marker correctly. Have her do lots of drawing -- shapes like vertical and horizontal (left to right) lines, counterclockwise circles, slanted lines, squares and the like -- are great precursors for letter formation. Your child needs to have fine motor control in order to have a successful, positive experience learning to form letters. (See our previous post about the stages of development and interaction with tablets.)
When your child is ready, look for apps that have paths for him to trace. Look for the inclusion of curved lines as well as zigzags with options for wide paths and then more refined, precise paths. Tracing shapes (like squares and triangles) is good too. A drawing app can also provide exciting opportunities to practice these skills. Dragging on-screen objects and completing tablet-based puzzles are additional ways to develop more and more precise "prewriting" skills.
Here are some apps which are good for helping your "just about ready to write" little one practice and perfect his or her pre-writing skills.
Patchimals First Lines is an app with simple tracing which can adjust to slightly higher levels of difficulty (thinner lines and targets) as your child begins to excel at tracing lines and simple shapes. This is a very simple app without a lot of distractions and with some great parental control options. You can turn off the music and narration and set the level of difficulty in the parental controls. You can also choose English or Spanish in these controls!
Labo Shape is a simple tracing app that gives children practice tracing simple shapes which then become common objects like birds and flowers and vehicles which little ones can play with on the screen, making this practice both fun and very playful.
Chalkwalk is an app that combines practicing tracing with the "pinch" which is needed for pencil gripping. While this one gets great reviews with children, we find it difficult for us to "pinch" on the screen if our fingernails are not clipped very short. ;-)
Kids Learn to Write Letters, Alphabet & Words By L'Escapadou is a great introduction to the movement of writing that also extends to include letters, numbers, and words in multiple styles and levels of difficulty. There are parental controls that help you adjust this app to your child's development and as he or she becomes better at fine movements on the screen. If you have more than one child, it is easy to set different settings for each one and to even see their progress through your parent menu.
Look for our next post where we will share apps to practice forming letters. These apps will be good for young children not yet in school as well as those in early schooling.
Be sure to check out our book "Using an iPad with Your Preschooler" for even more apps and ideas!