Four more reasons letter formation families are superior – in case you’re not convinced yet!
Motor learning principles – teaching skills
Writing is a motor skill which needs to be practiced. When coaches teach motor skills, for example tennis or swimming, similar movements are practiced together. The easier movements are taught first and then they are built on. A tennis coach would never teach a back hand first, in the same way that butterfly would never be the first stroke taught in swimming.
In some schools, this principle is lost when it comes to handwriting. Letters are taught in phonic groups rather than formation groups. What this means is that ‘s’ is taught first. ‘S’ is a highly complicated letter, especially if you add on cursive joins. It is the equivalent of starting with a back hand or butterfly. It’s certainly not going to give confidence to a reluctant writer. The letter ‘l’ on the other hand can be drawn by most three year olds. It’s a much better letter to start with!
It’s easier to learn the same letter formation movements together!
It is much easier to learn similar motor movements at the same time. Learning letters in letter families, see picture, can be easier for many children as they can practice the same motor pattern every time. For example, practicing ‘c,’ ‘o,’ ‘a, and ‘d’ together reinforces the same pattern each time. However, practicing ‘s,’ ‘a,’ ‘t,’ and ‘p’ does not allow for reinforcement of any pattern.
Starting with one of the hardest letters of the alphabet, ‘s,’ can also be demotivating for children who find handwriting more difficult. Whereas, starting with the letters ‘l’ and ‘t’ means that most children in a reception class can experience success. This will help to build their handwriting confidence.
Correct letter formations from the beginning
In my experience, children with handwriting difficulties typically have poor letter formations. They often start letters in the wrong place. Their letters often include ‘add ons’. So, they might start ‘n’ from the bottom, draw the shape, they add the side at the end. And, reversals are common.
Teaching in formation groups, with directional prompts relating to the movement, gives these children the correct patterns at the start. It gives them a clear rule and structure. And, it takes away the need for them to think about how to plan their pencil movements.
Learning the correct formations right from the start, leads to improved fluency later on. If children write with ‘add-ons’ or start their letters in the wrong place, they end the letter in the wrong place. This means they make additional hand movements and their printing is not fluent.
If they add the side onto ‘n’ and ‘m’ after drawing the shape, they finish on the left. Then, they have to move across to the right to write the next letter. If they made those letters correctly they would end on the right and just continue to the next letter.
When children have poor letter formations, often they can’t join letters correctly. For example, when ‘n’ is drawn as a bump without a correct side, it often looks like a random bump in joined up writing. This makes the writing difficult to decipher. When printed letters are learnt correctly, children have their pencil in the correct position to add entrances and exits. They have also practiced the formations correctly, so don’t lose part of the letter when adding the joins.
Make it easier for your children – teach in letter formation families
At the end of the day, when you teach in letter formation families, you make it easier for children to learn their letters. I can’t count the number of times a child has told me they ‘can’t write’ and I have asked them to write an ‘l’. This they can do successfully and it’s a springboard to write more.
Teaching formation groups also reinforces motor patterns, which makes it easier for the brain to learn the shapes. It also helps with reversals and writing fluency. Whilst it may add to your planning, please give it a try. And, I’d love to hear about your successes!