When should I teach my child to write their name?

For Children, writing their own name is a huge milestone. They can identify themselves, they can identify their belongings and… if they are anything like most kids, they can graffiti it on tables, walls, toys and beds and then blatantly deny it to your face!

But even we, as parents, feel this sense of achievement when our child can write their name, it’s one of the first literacy milestones they make and there is a big stigma around it…

But did you know we can actually hinder the process if we teach them to write their name before they are ready!

The norms for learning to write your name differ significantly amongst our young people and we need to acknowledge this as every child develops at a different rate! Age is not the deciding factor for knowing if your child is ready to write. There are developmental milestones that aide the process – things like midline crossing, visual perception skills (including memory), fine motor skills, understanding the concepts of letters and functional gross motor skills all need to be at a certain level to be able to learn writing.

Some children will learn to write their name when they are 2 or 3 (this is rare, don’t feel like your 3 year old should be able to write their name) while others are still having difficulty when they are in year 1 (this is something that I would certainly be working on, but I see it often enough to know its common).

A general rule of thumb is that by the time they start kindergarten we would LIKE children to be able to:

  • Identify their name (find it amongst others, even similarly spelt names) and
  • Write their name so that adults can recognise it – It doesn’t have to have correct letter formation (although that helps) and it doesn’t have to be written on a line or anything formal like that (in fact I would encourage them not to have a line to write on initially – just a blank page).

What happens if they learn too young? 

If a child is encouraged to write before they are ready you will often find:

  • They write in individual vertical and horizontal lines to form the letters they see rather than using curved and intersecting lines.
  • Due to this, letter formation habits are formed incorrectly and bad habits have started. Keep in mind that the longer a child writes for with incorrect letter formations the harder it is to correct and in the long term their writing is harder to read.
  • When a task is hard for a child they often give up – so if a child isn’t ready to write and they find it hard,they will end up not liking writing and the task will have a bad stigma in their mind!
  • A child needs to have appropriate ‘visual perception’ skills in order to perceive the letters they are writing – this comes with development, its not something parents can rush! otherwise you get reversals or flipped letters (vertically flipped.)
    But please note letter reversals are typical up until the age of 7.

How do I know when my child is ready to learn to write? 

Children will be ready at different times and we need to accept that (My twin boys, who had exactly the same exposure and upbringing had about 5 months between the time the first twin was ready and the second twin was ready to learn to write.)  Generally speaking – children tend to let you know when they are ready here are a few clues:

  • Their drawings start to actually look like what they mean to draw (not just random marks and scribbles)
  • They can copy basic lines (vertical, horizontal and sometimes diagonal),
  • They can copy basic shapes (circle, square, cross and sometimes triangle) with some resemblance.
  • They become interested in letters and will verbalise the letter names and/or sounds or ask questions about letters and numbers they see in their surroundings.
  • They orientate pictures the correct way, if your child is handing you pictures upside down they are not ready for writing (this is common in children who are 2 and 3, so don’t panic, just don’t start writing yet.)
  • They can differentiate between similar letters like b,d,p,q. When a child can identify that a stick and a ball at the top (p) is different to when there is a stick and a ball at the bottom (b) this is a good indication that their body awareness and understanding of positioning are developing ready for writing.
    But please note letter reversals are typical up until the age of 7.

What should I do if my child is taught too early by mistake?

If these occur, stop the process and take a step to the side – depending on your child’s age there are different strategies you can use:

  • Go back to practicing letter formations in isolation, just 1 letter at a time.
  • Then put them back into their name and other words
  • Stay calm, don’t make them stressed about the process
  •  Rubbing their work out all the time doesn’t actually help very much it may in fact hinder the process, keep their mistakes there for them to see so they can correct them.
  • Ask your teacher for ideas
  • Seek out an Occupational Therapist for ideas!

How do I help my child get ready to write?

As with most OT skills Fine Motor skills are essential for holding a pencil and writing.

Always work on your child’s fine motor skills first before asking them to control the pencil. Fine motor games such as threading, playdoh, coin manipulation, posting (coins in a money box), pegs in a peg board, independent tool use (forks, spoons, kid safe knives, kids hammer etc).

However, as well as fine motor skills we also require a lot of gross motor skills too! I like to call these skills ‘functional gross motor skills’ as they are essential for learning. Activities like climbing a tree, climbing on play equipment, ball skills – throwing, catching, bouncing, rolling etc, balance games, coytes, running with skill, skipping and following basic body movements are all great activities.    

If you feel your child is falling behind in terms of their development functional development, talk to our OT team!
We are always here to help 

Now, the next step is actually teaching them to write it – stay tuned for the second part of this blog coming soon!