I have a perfectionist.
She will refuse any task I give her. She just assumes she is not going to do it right the first time, so why try.
Because of this, I gave up on handwriting a long time ago. It was not worth the effort it took to get her to try and there were other things that seemed more important. Then, I read a post from The Measured Mom where she describes how she set up handwriting stations at the kitchen table.
I realized three things.
One: I am pushing Grace out of her comfort zone. If I stop doing that, maybe she won’t fight so much.
Two: my view of handwriting is too narrow. Anything that gets her to improve pencil grip and try anything is a step in the right direction.
And three: I wasn’t scaffolding. Not scaffolding = freaked out kid. (Scaffolding is arranging activities so that they slowly get harder.)
I decided to try setting up stations around the table and see how it goes. I showed her each station. She was excited. Excited to do handwriting?! Since that first time, I added handwriting to our center rotations once or twice a week.
How I Set Up the Handwriting Stations
There are four categories that I think of when I plan handwriting centers (these are not technical terms, they are useful for me when planning).
Manipulate–These are activities that encourage children to move objects to form letters.
Grip–Activities that help strengthen muscles for correct pencil grip. I also include hand-eye coordination in this category.
Trace–Tracing over correctly formed letters, typically in the form of a worksheet.
Freehand–Writing letters on blank/lined paper
I try and create a station for each of these different categories. It sounds complicated doesn’t it? Like most things, it’s hard at first. I found after setting stations up 3 times, it became easier and took very little thought. I can, now, create the stations in just a few minutes.
When I first introduced the stations to my children, I started with a 15 minute timer. The timer was for my oldest, so that she knew the torture would only last 15 minutes. I was wrong, it wasn’t torture. In fact, she typically asks for more time after the timer goes off. Despite the fact that this will throw off everyone else’s center, I always grant her more time. I am ecstatic to grant her more time.
Stations for Ages 3-7
If you are setting up handwriting stations for one child, it isn’t much more work to do it for more. When I set up the stations, I keep the manipulate and grip stations the same for all 3 of my children. While my 6 year old won’t find constructing letters out of pipe cleaners challenging, she will find it enjoyable. Next, I print different level worksheets for tracing. Typically, my 3 year old will only do the manipulate and grip stations. So, I am just printing worksheets for my 4 and 6 year old. Worksheets with mostly lines are too intimidating for all of my children, so the freehand station is normally blank paper and pretty pens. (Who can resist pretty pens? They scream, “write with me”. Or am I the only one who can hear their screams?).
Once I have all of the worksheets printed, I put them in a pile separated by paper clips (I color-code my children to make it easy to tell which stack is who’s; example, purple paper clip = Faith). I attach a 3×5 card with ideas for the manipulate/grip stations written on it so that I won’t forget. You could also add it to a lesson plan template if you use one.
I normally set up 5 stations depending on how long each one will take. I set out all of the materials the children will need for each station together. If there are several that will be using writing utensils, I might set out a couple of different kinds for variety. The picture below shows one example of how I might set up stations. This is only one example. I am sure that as my children grow and mature, the stations will look much different. And of course, the stations will look different for you because your children will have different interests and abilities.
When I set up the stations, I try and make them look orderly. I am hoping that my children see them and want to do them. It also sets a good example to my children if they see me taking the time to make things look nice.
There are lots of different activities that you could set up for handwriting stations and lots of supplies you could purchase. However, there are a few staples that I use frequently and recommend every house with young children have. (This post contains affiliate links).
Staple supplies for handwriting stations:
- Plain computer paper or drawing paper
- Salt or sand tray (we put salt in a shallow Tupperware container)
- Tactile letters (these are good for tracing over, kids really like feeling the texture)
- Writing utensils
- Triangle shaped writing utensils. Not only do they encourage correct grip, they don’t roll off the table.
- Other writing utensils
- Things to manipulate and create letters from. There are too many things to list everything. I will stick to our favorites
It can be daunting trying to find good resources online or think of ideas. Below you will find some ideas to get you started for each station.
- Letter construction set
- Wikki Stix Alphabet Fun Cards for Learning
- Use stickers, dot markers, or small items with do-a-dot printables from:
- Play-Doh mats
- Cutting practice
- Use Q-tips to paint. Free printables from 1+1+1=1, look towards the bottom of the link.
- Use paintbrush and a small container of glue to glue things together.
- Use alphabet stamps to stamp inside a letter worksheet
- My favorite letter practice worksheets are from The Measured Mom. She has three different levels which makes scaffolding easy.
- Using a highlighter, write the letters/words you want your child to practice
- Make a word out of something (like pipe cleaners) and then trace over it
- Apps on iPad and tablets
- Blank paper and writing utensils
- Blank paper and paint brush
- Make letters in the sky (perfect for perfectionists)
- Use the salt tray and tactile letters to trace the letters on the tactile cards then again in the salt tray
- Lined paper
Since I changed how I set up handwriting, it has been a lot of fun both for me and my 3 children. We have done handwriting stations 5 times now. My oldest (who is difficult to please), still looks forward to that center. Although it does take more work setting up several stations than handing my children worksheets would, I am getting a much higher return. My children are now working 15-20 minutes (even my 3 year old) on handwriting activities and are producing quality work instead of completing the worksheet as fast as they can.
If you would like more ideas, visit my Independent Center Ideas pinterest board.