Two weeks ago, I visited one of my student teachers in a room of young three’s. I noticed one of the activities on a table was tracing their printed names on strips of paper with pencils. During most of my hour there, I also noticed that only two of the thirteen children chose this activity, despite one of the teachers manning the table and repeatedly asking who wanted to join in this “fun activity.”
The two children who did come over showed considerable awkwardness getting control over the unwieldy long pencils in order to trace the letters. I called my student over to join my observation. Here was a great example of trying to skip some crucial steps towards a goal, which usually never works very well. And, when a child struggles with an activity, he will generally tend to avoid it in the future.
The hand and finger muscles of these young children are still pretty weak. Before they can successfully manipulate a pencil (or even a marker), they need some work using their whole hand and pincer grip. It’s kind of like learning to crawl before walking.
So, we still want them to practice making marks on paper, but not with long, skinny objects. What, then? Well, chubby crayons can be the answer here. But not a whole 4” chubby crayon. These should be chubby crayons with their jackets peeled off… broken into three pieces. My student immediate asked, “Why so small?” Good question!
We want the child to use a pincer grasp with whole-hand control and pressure on that crayon. This will be their only option with a short piece of crayon. And, it would be pretty impossible to use a fist grip on such a nub. So, there will be a quicker move toward a more skilled and mature grip when presented with longer implements.
But right now, they are making shapes, marks, and scribbles… no tracing letters yet. After a couple weeks, start adding a few chubby pencils on the table and watch the magic.
This technique also gives new life to all those naked, broken crayons that are usually tossed out.
I asked my student to try something the next time she was with these children... Tape a large sheet of plain paper to a table top (no chairs), set out a handful of crayon stubs, and write down what happens. The end of the week, she reported back in an email.
“All the children wanted to do this activity! Sometimes there were six or seven at the table at once!”
In the rush to teach young children new skills, we can’t overlook or ignore the developmental facts of the matter. Some things just can’t be hurried.