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Anakalia777
Anakalia777 asks:
Q:

How can I help my 4 year old son to write?

My son his 4 years old and seems to be doing great in most things except writing and of course reading.  We got tons of different preschool aged writing activity books that focus on tracing dotting lines.  He's not so good at getting his line exactly on the dotted lines and when it comes to writing a letter without the dotted lines he completely forgets the technique he's been copying throughout the whole page.  

When this happens, he throws his pencil or crayon in frustration, screams and cries, "I can't do it, I can't do it!" I try to encourage him that he's doing a great job or even suggest that we do something else then come back to it later, but he insists on still working it out.  When he does and it doesn't go right again we're right back to the same tantrum.  I feel like ripping out my hair half of the time. He wants it done correctly and so do I but when it doesn't happen we both get frustrated. What can we do?
In Topics: Preschool, Helping my child with writing
> 60 days ago

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Expert

BarbK
Apr 28, 2010
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What the Expert Says:

It sounds like you are trying to give your son a head start on his academics.  Being a concerned parent and knowing the importance of education is wonderful.  I also know that the pressure is on children to learn earlier and earlier.

Keep in mind that he is only 4, and developmentally most 4 year olds aren't ready to read and write.  What I mean by this is that physically they don't have the fine motor skills to hold and control the pencil nor the eye control to track words on a page.  This is normal.  Also boys develop a little slower than girls.

So here are a few suggestions that might help to keep you sane and at the same time provide fun learning experiences that you will both enjoy.

Read to him daily.  Pick a favorite place were you can curl up together.  Read at least two picture books: one of your choice and one of his.  He might pick up the same book over and over again.  That's ok.  In fact as you do repeated readings, he is learning his letters.  He doesn't have to concentrate so hard on comprehending the story and he can look at the words.  You can use that time to point out sight words like the, was, see as well as how we read by going from left to right.  Make it natural, not like a lecture.  When you select a book, you can mix it up and expose him to different genres both fiction and nonfiction.  Make this time your special time.  Because you are going to go through a lot of books, go to the public library.  Let him explore.  It will be a fun outing and he will learn to borrow things and return them in good condition.

Write and draw with his finger.  Write in the air, sand, flour, pudding, or anything else you can think of.  This is a tactile approach that will be fun and sometimes messy - what boy doesn't like that!  This will help with eye and hand coordination.  

Pick up small objects.  Dump out a big bag of buttons or other objects that can be sorted.  You can have him practice counting by making groups of 5, practice colors by finding all the blue ones, practice recognizing sizes by find small medium and large of the same object.  

Lace up shoes or anything else like that.  Having him thread a string through holes will help build that fine motor skill as well.  You can use yarn or ribbon and pice of cardboard with holes.  If you have an old sneaker that would work too.

Go places.  No matter where you go, teach your son about that place.  Even the most common places such as the bank, post office, or food store.  Explain what each place is while you are there and point out the people that work there.  Afterwards, ask your son to recall the events.  Believe it or not that is a skill that will be used in reading and writing.  It involves sequencing of events, cause and effect, and retelling.  

I guess my message to you is to put the workbooks away for now.  Your son will have enough of those in school.  There are so many other things you can do to teach him now that will prepare him when he is ready to read and write in a more academic setting.  Give him a big hug and kiss and go out and have fun.  You sound like a great mom so give him enjoyable memories, not ones that frustrate both of you.

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LouiseSattler
Jul 18, 2010
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Best Answer!

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Hello and thank you for writing to JustAsk!

There are so many ways to "sneak" in pre-writing and reading skills without your son really knowing that he is learning these important developmental skills.

Try first really large writing utensils with big open spaces- such as chalk on a sidewalk or water and a paint brush on a sidewalk.  Have him draw what he wishes, including random shapes, as these are so important for literacy development.

Then have him practice writing with his fingers on a cookie sheet smothered with yogurt or whip cream.  Yummy and educational!

Move on to fun markers with engaging colors or designs.  Use fun paper, if you wish- like the Canson series from Eric Carle
 ( http://www.what-do-you-see.com/).  Also, having him "pretend read" early reader comic books can be fun and he can trace the letters with his fingers or draw what he wants to "add" to the story.

After he seems more positive to these suggestions then try some smaller writing utensils, such as crayons.

Also consider very fun books that help with pre-reading and pre-writing such as the GET READY TO LEARN series from Cedar Valley Publishing (www.CedarValleyPublishing.com)  These books were created to teach kids interactively.

There also are great kits that help kids such as the Grasshopper Preschool Kits.  (www.Grasshopperkits.com)

Keep in mind that the best pre-reading and writing materials are often in your own home already! The goal is to make it fun and the activity to be the time limit that he wishes to participate.  Five good minutes of pre-writing skills is better than struggling for ten minutes.

Good luck!

Louise Sattler, NCSP
Nationally Certified School Psychologist
Owner of Signing Families  www.SigningFamilies.com
Host of Learning and Laughter with Louise! (HerInsight Media on http://toginet.com)

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Additional Answers (5)

TheGoToMom
TheGoToMom , Parent writes:
Research has shown that children under five need no formal academic instruction. In fact, children who come from loving homes where the parents often play and  have frequent conversations have children who fair very well in Kindergarten.  The best indicator if a child will be a good reader and writer is if the parents have books available at home along with being read to. A home where a child who is exposed to books in many different rooms of their home, is more likely to read then the child who is taken to a library. Funny huh? However, this is what the research shows.

The only thing children under five years of age need to be academically prepared, is to be raised in a loving, supportive, book enriched, non-abusive/impoverished environment.  A young child's brain and muscle development is still processing at a primitive level, so if formal academics are introduced too early, then there is a possibility of creating a learning disability by forcing nature.  Or worse yet, killing their spirit and making them lose their love of learning, which all children are born with. By the time a child turns five they begin to show interest and peaked confidence in using a pencil and paper. School enhances their predetermined skills an helps them to pick up reading and writing fairly quick.

I never taught my son how to hold a pencil or crayon. In fact, he hated pencils. After one week in Kindergarten, he came home took out his pencil can and began to write letters. I was shocked and reaffirmed that we did the right thing by not pushing any formal instruction.  ABC magnets on the frig, singing the ABCs, labeling animals and pictures in books was all we really did wit him.

Schools are created to teach children how to read and write. Teachers get their credential to teach children these skills. Parents are here to support and guide. So relax and know in time, academics will come :-)

Children under five should be playing outside, singing, building, creating, painting, experimenting with glue and strings,  laughing and getting real dirty.
> 60 days ago

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MimiR
MimiR writes:
He's four.  He's clearly not ready.  Leave him alone.

Let him play through Starfall.com--he should love that.

I couldn't have kept on the line at four, either.  My fine motor skills were horrid.  I was a National Merit Scholar, earned a bunch of prestigious scholarships, and was at the top of all my college classes.  And my handwriting?  Still horrid.
> 60 days ago

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Anakalia777
Anakalia777 writes:
Thanks for all of the advise.  I've been trying all of your methods with my son and I'm glad to say it has been work. My son and I are happier than ever and he's learning more than before.  

I was being pressured by his preschool teachers about him having to learn how to write his First and Last Name by the time he starts Kindergarten. This is my first and only child so I wasn't familiar with the typical learning milestones of a 4 year old.  Based on the advise giving here I see that its not as necessary as the teachers made it out to be. Thank you so much for all of your insight.
> 60 days ago

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kneusha
kneusha writes:
I have a little boy who has a December Birthday and has started Kindergarten at 4.5 years of age. He also struggles a lot with writing on those (insert grownup word here_______) dotted worksheets! Reading all of your suggestions affirms my intuitive hunch that he is just too young and should play in the sandbox instead--but we have to get up to speed so that he can do his homework. Well, what we have done is paint a wall in our house with chalkboard paint--and it has made a big difference! He used to make faint, timid little hairlines on paper that you could only see in real good light--that was our homework. The lines he makes on that lush chalk surface are bold, bright, and fun! I have been gently guiding him to do his assignments on the board--so much easier, and you can laugh and erase the "mistake" lines, or goof them up even more on purpose, write with an eraser, etc. Then we say: ok lets just do it on paper one time for your teacher to see how good you have gotten at this. So far it's been working for us.
> 60 days ago

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DeniseFinnerty
DeniseFinne... writes:
I am the founder of Pre-K Success and believe all parents want to help their child be prepared for kindergarten.  I applaud you for investing the time and interest in trying to prepare your son for school. I have created a play-based fine motor skill kit to help children naturally build fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, visual motor skills, and most important confidence.  It is important for children to practice motor skills at home before entering school.  Activity books can be discouraging, and it sounds like the experiences he is having are not helping his self-esteem.  There are many fun things your son can do to build necessary small muscles in his hands necessary for writing, along with large motor skill activities he can do at the park that will help build shoulder strength that is necessary before hand strength.  For more information I encourage you to check out my web site at www.preksuccess.com and my Facebook page for helpful early childhood development practices.

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