My district had not formally adopted a program for handwriting or letter formation. Some teachers used Handwriting Without Tears, and in my building we had some of their materials but no formal training in it. There were parts of that program that I loved and used, but I wanted to integrate letter formation into the alphabet program I was using with my puppets.
At the beginning of the year when I was teaching letters and sounds, and encouraging the children to draw recognizable pictures and start to stretch words and write what they hear, I chose not to focus on correct letter formation yet – although of course I always modeled it as I wrote, and talked about how letters are formed. After they gained some confidence with the whole phonetic process I went through the alphabet again, focusing on how to form each upper and lower case letter. That meant they were already writing quite a lot before we did this, but I felt like they were more ready to be successful a little later in the year when they had gained fine motor control and were already interested in letters.
Since we began full day Kindergarten I usually introduced letter formation in the afternoon while we were using Alpha the Alligator and experimenting with phonetic spelling in the morning. In the beginning the children were not using paper – just practicing forming the letters with their finger on the carpet, in the air, on each other’s backs, etc. We had already worked on alphabet recognition and letter sounds, now the children had a reason to write and were more motivated to learn how to write correctly.
I made a large book of upper and lower case letters, based on an old Math Their Way idea.
I cut each letter out of green and red paper. The first stroke that you make was green, the rest of the letter was red. The Math Their Way program used this technique with purple and green strokes to write numerals – they chose those colors because of the old “ditto” machines. I chose green for the first stroke (green for go) and red for the rest.
I introduced the children to another puppet – he has 26 names: Archibald Bertram Cornelius Dexter Ephram Franklin Grant Hiram Ignasius Jeffrey Kevin Liam Michael Nathan Owen Patrick Querulous Robert Stanley Timothy Ulysses Victor Walter Xavier Yoland Zolad. We called him Archibald Bertram Cornelius or ABC for short.
What I loved about Archibald Bertram Cornelius was how easily his mouth works, and how I could use his long pointed beak to trace the letters – first in the book, then in the air. He always talked about how upper case letters always start at the top. He would say it very joyfully with his beak pointed up to the ceiling. It wasn’t long before Archibald would ask the kids where to start a letter and they would turn their little noses up to the ceiling and yell – At the top!
I wrote simple poems about how to form each letter that we chanted off as we practiced. For lower case letters I wrote an alliterative phrase.
I brought out Archibald each day and started with the letter Aa – then went through the alphabet up to the new letter for the day. That way the children had lots of practice with most of the letters – just hearing the poems and practicing forming the letters using their finger. We would go through the alphabet one more time – this time practicing writing the letters on paper, and meeting another puppet – Kelby Kangaroo. When I began introducing all the letter poems before we worked on this final alphabet writing book I found that the kids were more able to remember to start at the top and how to form each letter.