Easy Ways To Help Your Child With Handwriting.


The national curriculum has put a greater emphasis on cursive handwriting. Children in year R are being taught how to write joined up and it’s worrying many parents because they don’t know how to help. I’ve collected some “gems” over the years and have used some of these resources with my daughter. This post gives you easy ays to help your child with hand writing.

What is cursive handwriting?

‘Cursive’ or ‘joined-up’ handwriting is any style of writing where letters are joined to make writing faster.

Make it Fun!

If we can make the physical process of writing – handwriting – enjoyable from the start, children are more likely to see themselves as ‘writers’. If the physical process is unpleasant then there is a danger that everything associated with it – spelling, writing stories will also be unpleasant.

Pre-writing Activities

Handwriting is a skill which takes time to learn, just like using a knife and fork or tying your shoelaces. So activities like colouring in, using scissors, anything involving the hands are beneficial.

The Dadlab Youtube channel has some great videos on practicing handwriting with children. This video is a Montessouri method where the child writes the letter in a tray of granulated sugar. It’s so easy to do and great fun.

If you do have a whiteboard, you can write and then get your child to rub out what you have written by tracing over it with a finger. I have done this at Kip McGrath and its so easy to do. Here is a short video.

For a more structured approach try pre-writing activities which involve tracing shapes and lines. I print these out and laminate them so that children can write over them with a dry wipe pen, rub out and write again. Senteacher.org has lots of printable resources you could use.

These worksheets from Activity Village are lovely.

football_pencil_controltracing_lines_2

tracing_patterns_dotted

tracing_patterns_2

Once your child has mastered simple worksheets, they can move onto pictures. The idea is to give plenty of opportunity to hold a pencil correctly and control the pencil.

 Try this lovely owl picture from the Scholastic website.

 owl-handwriting-practice

Then there’s these pre writing worksheets which don’t use dotted lines at all.

pre-handwriting-practice-pages-for-preschool-and-kindergarten-from-walking-by-the-way

Back Chaining

Start with your child’s name. This technique is called “back-chaining”.

Write the whole name first, and then write it again underneath but leave off the very last letter for your child to complete. Then write it again, this time leaving off the last two letters and so on, until the whole name is written independently by your child. Doing it this way means there is always a correct model for the student to copy, and you are breaking down your child’s name into manageable chunks.

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Back- Chaining a technique to help your child learn to write their name.

Starting Points

Starting points are very important- mark them with a dot or a star, and make sure your child is forming the letters in the right direction.

This worksheet from kidstv123.com marks the starting point with a star so the child knows where to start.

start-at-the-star-png

I make the children say what they see before they start writing so for example an “m” is a stick and tunnel and a tunnel.

a – round the roundabout and then straight down

b – it’s important to get this right as many children confuse their b’s and d’s. Talk about the letter as if you are describing a movement rather than a shape. Start at the top and go down the ladder. When you get to the bottom go up the ladder a little bit and then go round the roundabout. You may need to explain that the roundabout comes after the ladder.

c – is a curly caterpillar

d- same as the letter “b” but explain that the roundabout/ball comes before the ladder.

e – across the bridge, over the top and down and round.

l – long ladder

r – one-armed robot

Teach similarly formed letters in groups, rather than working alphabetically, so, for instance, “c” and “a” may be taught together as may h, m, n and r.

These workseets from the measured mom are an excellent way of writing numbers. They show clearly where the starting points are and each worksheets covers one number. The numbers are in different sizes too which also helps with pencil control.

Get your child to practice their name by making your own name writing worksheet. Just print the worksheet, and put it into a clear plastic pocket. Children can write on the clear plastic pocket and wipe clean easily if you use dry wipe markers.

To Trace or Not To Trace?

Tracing letters instead of writing from scratch is easier but I would only do that for children who have good pencil control. At Kip McGrath we prefer to start with tracing as it gives the children a template. Tracing improves fine motor skills and should be used initially. Stop tracing once your child can write all the letters of the alphabet confidently.

The following websites do some great tracing worksheets.

SEN Teacher Flash Card Printer – select a word list suitable for your child, select font size 4, select a dotted font and change to a plain border. Print, laminate and use.

Handwriting worksheets – particularly good for making cursive handwriting worksheets.

Soft Schools – easy to use and prints out the handwriting guide lines too.

Super Teacher Worksheets – child friendly worksheets generated, a few are free to try.

Donna Young has a whole section on handwriting resources and what I like abut this website is that they are arranged in order of difficulty.

I Don’t Understand What I Read – How to Help With Comprehension


I Don’t Get What This Book Is About….

As a teacher, I have heard this many times.  Children who cannot comprehend what they are reading, will say this and give up reading the book after a few pages.

Many children can read fluently for their age and understand what they are reading.  But some will struggle with comprehension.  These children will struggle to grasp the finer details of a story.  For example, they may be able to recall the names of the characters but may not be able to:

“Compare two characters in the book. Tell which one you think is better and why.”

Children with weak comprehension may not be able to summarise a passage in a book or even re-phrase a sentence into their own words.  They will copy out the answer from the passage word for word.  They might be able to tell you what happened in a story, but can’t explain why events went the way they did.  They also find it difficult to explain character’s thoughts and feelings, and put themselves in the character’s shoes.

Weak comprehension skills are common amongst children with a low reading age, and children who do not read enough. This is because they are using all of their “brain power” to work out what words they are reading and are just going through the motions of reading.  They fail to see the bigger picture.  So how can you help your child reading comprehension?  Here are some useful tips on how to help your child with comprehension:

Read Every Day

  • Start with a minimum of 10 minutes per day.  Little and often is better than 1 hour on a Sunday.

  • Don’t just read books given by the class teacher.  Have books available around the house, get them from the library or if budget is tight, then buy them from charity shops.

  • Read a variety of genres and also read non-fiction.  Children with vivid imaginations tend to cope better with fiction because they can visualise whats happening in the books.  Getting children to read more factual information can help them learn new words, to think about layout features like sub-headings and fonts, and to slow down and think about what they are reading.

  •  Let your child choose the book.  Don’t force your child to read something they don’t want to. Let him/her choose the books and at the most, make a few subtle suggestions.

  • Read the same book, many times.

  • Don’t make the reading into a punishment.

You will find that children reading every day will improve their reading fluency and they will become more expressive in their reading.  As they get more exposure to words, their sight word recognition will improve.  Sight words are the most commonly used words in the english langauge and a child is expected to read without decoding or thinking about the word.  Examples of sight words are “the”, “after”, “through” and “world”.

Talk About What They Read

  • Read the books your child is reading so that you can talk about it together. Either read the book to your child, listen to your child read or read the book separately. Then talk about the characters and story just like you would be talking about a film after the movies.

  • Ask questions will help your child to think about the book:

    • What part of the reading was funniest?

    • What part was the most exciting?

    • What part was the saddest?

    • Was the main character in this reading good or bad? Why?

    • Which is better…?

    • Would you agree that…?

    • What is your opinion of…?

    • Were they right to do…? Why? Or why not?

    • Who would you choose…?

    • What would happen if…?

    • How would you…?

    • Do you know someone like…?

    • Would you do the same thing in the same situation…?

    • If you had to…what would you do?

  • Point out technical terms like:

    • the author

    • the illustrator

    • contents

    • index

    • genre

    • chapter

    • title

  • Never stop your child when they are reading mid sentence to ask a question.  This will take all the enjoyment out of the reading.

  • If your child comes across an unfamiliar word, discuss the meaning of this word without using a dictionary.

Thinking about characters, settings, the plot, the descriptions, the writer’s voice in a book also helps with writing.  Children become more aware of the ingredients for a good story.  Reading will also improve vocabulary and language skills.

If your child is struggling with comprehension Kip McGrath can help.  Our qualified, experienced teachers can guide your child through comprehension techniques, improve reading skills and help with exams.

Visit our website for more details.

How To Choose Your GCSE Subjects


During year 9 you will need to choose your GCSE subjects.  These are the subjects which you will study in year 10 and 11 and eventually get examined on.  Making the right choices at this stage can have a significant impact on your future opportunities and educational achievements.

English, Maths and Science are compulsory, but you have to choose at least one subject from the following categories:

  • Arts (including art and design, music, dance, drama and media arts)

  • Design and Technology

  • Humanities (history and geography)

  • Modern Foreign Languages

So what should you before making the choices?  What shouldn’t you do?  What factors affect year 9’s when they are making their choices?

Choose Subjects You Enjoy

GCSE’s are 2 year courses at school, so you want to make sure that you enjoy the majority of your time in lessons and if you like the subjects then you are more likely  to do well.  That’s why its important to choose subjects which you are interested in and the ones that you enjoy.  What if there is only one or two subjects you like?  How do you choose the rest?  Go through each of the subject choices you are given and tick off the ones you like, then think about why you enjoy them.  Is it because you like the way it is taught, for example do you enjoy science because it’s a practical subject, or do you enjoy history because you have an interest in the past? Then choose subjects which would also have these features, for example design and technology is a practical subject, and english literature also involves reading and learning about things which have happened in the past.

Choose Subjects You Will Need For Your Future Career

Do you have an idea of what you’d like to do after you finish school? Certain subjects can help you to get there. For example, if you want to be a journalist subjects like English and Media Studies are going to be very useful. The first place to start is the National Careers Service Website where you can actually search for the job you want to do.  The website will tell you about what sort of work you will be doing, the hours you will be working, the salary, the qualifications needed and the skills and knowledge you need.  Some careers have entry requirements at GCSE, for example it is recommended that you choose triple science if you want to do medicine.

Choose Subjects You Are Good At

Are there any subjects you don’t have to try very hard at but get good grades in?  Are there some subjects that your friends struggle with but you find easy? 

Never Ever …..

  • Choose a subject because you think it’s easy. 

  • Choose a subject because you like the teacher.  There is no guarantee that you will have the same teacher and the teacher may leave before you finish the course.

  • Choose a subject because your best friend is doing it.  Your friendship may not last!

Finally, speak to teachers, careers advisors and family members who might be able to help you choose. 

Student Alert: Why You Probably Won’t Get The Grades You Hoped For.


I get a lot of comments from frustrated GCSE students who just don’t know how to revise effectively and get the grades. Despite trying their best to study and swatting up for exams, they keep failing. Some do well in class, know all the answers but flop in exams. Others will spend hours making colourful notes, drawing mind maps, reading books, and trying all sorts of revision strategies and still end with a fail. So what’s going wrong? Are they just not cut out to be A* students?

I don’t have a magic formula to help students pass their exams but I can draw on my past experiences when helping students revise to come up with some winning strategies. There are 4 types of problems:

1. When You Get Good Marks in Class Tests But Not in Real Exams

A class test is usually taken in the classroom and it is usually with the class teacher present. This makes it easier for students to relax because they are not faced with something unfamiliar. The class test is often not taken as seriously because “it doesn’t count” and so again helps the student to be more relaxed.
Another reason is that class tests are taken straight after a topic is finished whereas exams are on topics which might have been done months ago. For example, if your child is taking AS exams, then they might have to revise all the work they’ve done since January or even September. For GCSE students, they will be tested on topics they’ve covered since the beginning of year 10. For KS2 SATs students, they will be expected to know everything they’ve done in year 6.
To get over exam nerves , students need to get used to working under timed conditions and under pressure. Practicing past papers at home with a stop clock ticking away can help a child get accustomed to it. Getting used to the idea that it is normal to be nervous for exams, and learning strategies to cope with such feelings can also be beneficial. I have taught students who have well-used revision guides and text books, but haven’t seen a single exam paper. They haven’t had mock tests, and they haven’t timed themselves to see if they finish on time. So you must:

  • get used to working under pressure

  • practice tests at home under timed and un-timed conditions

  • compare your test results to see if you really are performing as well as you can in exam conditions

2. You Don’t have Enough Time To Learn It All

There’s no point in revising topics you know already. Find out what your weaknesses are and which skills you need to brush up on. You can ask your teacher if you don’t know. Then choose one topic you need to improve on and find exam questions on that topic. For example if you need to improve your vocabulary, then you need to read more and work out the meaning of unfamiliar words in the context of a passage of text. If you are a level 3 because you don’t know how to read tables and graphs, then find questions on data handling.

Exam papers are written so that the easy questions come first. For a higher GCSE maths paper, the C grade questions come first, for KS2 SATs, the level 3 questions come first and for English reading papers, the easy comprehension questions come first. Save time by finding out what level/grade you are working at. If you are already a C grade and need to get a B, then just skip the C grade questions. If you want to get a level 5 in your SATs then start at the back of the level 3-5 paper to practice harder questions.

3. You Spend Too Much Time making Notes/Mind Maps/Revision Cards

I encourage all of my students to have a good bank of resources to help them revise. For some students, this could be a set of colourful index linked revision cards, for others it might be mind maps and for some may even be their school text-book with highlighted text. In fact it’s essential when it comes to revision.

But some students take this as the “be all and end all” to revision, just because they’ve spent hours writing these beautiful colourful notes. Revision resources have to be used once they have been created. Aim to have all resources ready at least 4 weeks before the exams. There are many ways to use revision resources. You can:

  • read them

  • edit them

  • re-write them

  • shorten them

  • add questions to them

  • pin them up in your bedroom

  • use them when revising with a friend

4. You Don’t Know How To Revise

Read my other blogs on revision techniques:

How To Revise 1-create a timetable

How To Revise 2 – do some mock exams

How To Revise 3-read with a purpose

How To Revise 4- understand the wording

How to Teach Halving


HALVING SHAPES

Before teaching a child to halve a number, make sure that they can halve a shape.   Most children find it easy to halve a shape and don’t realise that halving means the same as splitting into 2 equal parts. So before teaching your child how to halve a number, please make sure that they have understood the following common misconceptions:

1.  When you half a shape, you must make sure that it is split in the middle.  This teaches the child that halving must be fair and that both halves must look the same.

2.  There is more than one way to half a shape.  Ask your child to halve a rectangle or square in as many ways as possible.  This should include diagonally as well.

3.  Draw and inaccurately half some shapes so that some are split unequally, some are split into three or more pieces.  then ask your child to find out if they have been halved.

HALVING NUMBERS

There are many ways to explain the term of “half of”; sharing equally between 2 people, counting in 2’s, dividing by 2, opposite of doubling and splitting down the middle.

Different ways of working out half of a (2)

Therefore, there are a variety of ways of teaching halving.  Choose a method that your child finds easy, and stick to it.  Once they are confident with that method, try to teach a different way of halving.

I always start off teaching a child how to share equally.  I usually use counters and draw 2 smiley faces on a whiteboard or piece of paper representing me and the child.  The child has to share the counters between the smiley faces.  Sometimes you have to teach a child “one for you, one for me” and once they have learnt this they find it quite easy.  Make sure that once all the counters have been shared between the 2 smiley faces, that they have been shared equally.  the child needs to check every time. “How many do you have and how many do I have” seems to work well.  What if the counters have not been shared equally?  The child can repeat again or if they have caught on, they will be able to move some counters around to make the distribution fair.  I use this method for up to 24 counters.

For numbers larger than 24, using counters can be time-consuming and often ends up with the child miscounting.  By now the child should know half of 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10 without working them out. So I break down larger numbers into manageable chunks, and then ask the child to share equally between 2 smiley faces.

Example 1:  Draw 2 smiley faces.  Half of 30 = 10+10+10 Draw three 10’s in circles at the side as in diagram below.

How To half 30
How to half 30

Then share as in the diagram below, the smiley faces will get 10 each and then, there will be 10 left which will have to be split into 5’s.  So each person gets 15.

Halving 30
How to halve 30

The same method can be used for bigger numbers and it’s easy and simple.

half of 34 = 10+10+10+4

half of 50 = 10+10+10+10+10

Do try this with your children and let me know if it works.