Children come to preschool with wide ranging ability levels when it comes to recognizing and writing their names. Some of this is due, quite frankly, to the length of their names and which letters are included in them. Think about it. Who will likely learn to write their name first? Lilly, or Savannah? Some of the difference is due to their different ages. In a mixed-age setting, the one year difference between 3 and 4 is dramatic! Even a six month difference is often pronounced. Varying rates of development in fine motor skills or even interest in writing may also be causes for different skill levels. Here is how I have addressed this challenge with my preschoolers.
Using a basic plastic photo holder, I trim back the plastic on the top layer of each pocket, to make the opening more perceptible. I then write each child’s name at the top of an index card and insert each one into a pocket. Each day as the children arrive, they know that their job is to “sign in”. They find their names in the pockets (which I have hanging on the wall near the writing table), and write their names on the cards. At the end of the day, I remove the cards, write the date on the bottom (you could get a really cool date stamper like this to be really slick *affiliate*), and then make any necessary notes. Each card is then placed in another photo holder, specific to each child, to create a collection of writing samples through the year. At the end of the year (or at shorter intervals if desired) I stack the cards in the pockets so that the child’s first and last samples are visible one above the other. Then I can point out the progress to the child, send the samples home, or use them in parent-teacher conferences. This allows me to track progress on a key skill and also allows the children to work from their individual starting points. Here’s Ella’s one year progress:
I’m sure some of you are wondering why I used all capital letters on the top sample and the conventional style on the bottom. I started out this activity writing all of the names in all capital letters, as capital letters, having more straight lines, are generally the easiest for early writers to form. That was my thinking until a kindergarten teacher at a conference commented to me that it is so hard to re-train kindergarteners to use lowercase letters after their preschool teachers and parents have told them to use all caps. I was torn on what to do, as the children were already a few months into their routine at this point. What I decided on, was to begin with all capitals, and then once each child had progressed enough in their writing, I took them aside and pointed out that their name card now had lower-case letters as well. I let them know that this is how they will learn to write their names in kindergarten and since they were getting so big, I thought we could start practicing. Flattered by their own progress, they made the switch pretty seamlessly. I’m debating whether to keep this system next year, or just use conventional form only from the get-go. I’m leaning toward the latter, but I’d love to hear your input!
A few things to keep in mind with this routine:
*Don’t put the names in assigned spots. Mix it up. For some, simply identifying their name is right at the top of their skill level. You’ll want to be sure that these children are recognizing their names, not just memorizing a spot. For those children, I write “ID” in the bottom corner of the cards to notify me that they properly identified their names that day. Then I encourage them to write.
*For any group of young children, the level of writing will cover the writing spectrum. Some will simply make marks, some will trace the name I have written, and others will write the letters of their names with varying degrees of accuracy. Encourage and validate any marks as writing. Give instruction within the Zone of Proximal Development. Choose one aspect to correct, perhaps one letter’s formation (“Remember that when you write your ‘E’, it’s a straight line down, then one, two, three lines.”) or just remind them how to properly hold the pencil (I usually offer to show them a way to hold the pencil that makes it “easier” rather than “right”. It comes across as more helpful and less abrasive.). Then point out all the positive aspects of the writing. Don’t weigh them down with too much correction. It makes the task frustrating and unappealing. When you focus primarily on their progress and what they’re doing right, children really revel in being able to write their own names!
*Remember that writing improves with fine motor strength and control, which is gained in a variety of other activities. Likewise, letter formation can be practiced in many different ways such as, writing with fingers in colored salt or cornmeal, with colored glue, or with paint brushes. All of these activities can be used to reinforce letter formation while depending upon and increasing different aspects of motor control.
What a great idea! Ainsley is obsessed with writing, maybe I’ll get a head start while she’s interested.
Most of my 3 and 4 year olds have had no prior preschool or even daycare experience so identifying their first name can still be difficult. I take index cards and place their picture on the card with their name underneath and then on the other side I just put their name and then place the cards in a pocket chart. When they come in for the day it is their job to find their name and turn their card over so that their picture is showing. Then they turn the card back over at the end of the day. Some children realize that they are not the only person who starts with the letter J because at times they pick the wrong name. After a while I mix the cards up weekly or daily.
I LOVE that idea! Thanks for sharing!
How do you feel about having children write on a vertical surface? I have the name cards taped to one side of a plexiglass easel with a piece of sentence strip beneath each one. The children write their names on the other side of the plexiglass with a dry erase marker. For documentation I take pictures. Most of my kids do well with this system and are writing their names by the end of the year. Some of the ones with really long names take longer and when they want to write their names on other things they go look at the sign in board for a sample.
Amanda @NotJustCute says
Sounds like you have a great system! Vertical surfaces are great because they work the muscles in a different way. Ideally, children will have the opportunity to write/paint/draw in a variety of positions in order to develop all of those important muscles in the arm and hand. Thanks for sharing your idea!
I brought up the question of having children write their names using proper conventional style. (As I too had Kindergarten teachers complain to me.) HWT’s protocol is to start children as you did using all uppercase letters as they are easier to form and then teach them lowercase letters. They have found in their research once children are able to correctly form all uppercase letters they are quickly able to switch over to lowercase letters. So the research backs you up! I teach special needs PK and usually put their picture on their card also, but I like your idea of assessing if they can id their name and document that skill. Your blog is great! Very informative!
Thank you, Kathy! I’m glad to know I’ve been on the right track!
I like the idea of marking them with ID if they identify their name. It seems like a great way to keep track of this without adding another checklist to my pile.
One idea I wanted to share with you is Sign In Surveys. Toward the end of the year last year all of my students were able to write something pretty close to their actual name so I started putting out a large laminated T-chart with 3 columns and I would write a question at the top (ex: “If you could have a super power what would it be?”) and I put 3 options just below that (ex: flight, invisibility, super strength). The first couple of kids in I would read the question to and have them sign their names below their answer. They then took over “reading” the question and options for the rest of the children. Then during circle time we would graph our results using unifix cubes. Then for the next day I would just erase the t-chart (hooray for laminate!) and come up with a new question or have a student come up with a question.
I love this idea, Emily! Thanks for sharing!