Letter Formation

Curly ‘C’ and kicking ‘K’ are here to stay!

Before little miss or mister can pen delightful handwritten poems to you they’ll need to learn how to draw pre-writing shapes (the circles, squares and lines that form letters), which are the building blocks for letter formation (writing letters using the correct sequence of directions).

It’s also important that junior understands the correct pre-writing patterns (the directions of top to bottom, left to right and anti-clockwise) as they start to learn their letters.

Knowing how to form their letters with the right sequence of shapes and directions is a crucial first step that will make all the difference to your youngster’s:

  • Writing speed, flow and quality (which is directly related to learning outcomes at school)
  • Approach to writing (e.g. whether or not they find it enjoyable or at the very least straight forward)
  • Ability to smoothly transition into cursive (joined) writing in their later school years

Starting with pre-writing shapes

Can your pint-sized human draw the following pre-writing shapes (the circles, squares and lines that form letters)?

Kids generally learn their pre-writing shapes in a bit of a predictable order and timeframe, though every child is different. Here’s a guideline that’s based off average milestones (so they’re by no means hard-and-fast deadlines):

  • 2–3 years old: horizontal lines, vertical lines, circles
  • 3–4 years old: crosses, squares, diagonal lines
  • 5–6 years old: triangles

Moving on to pre-writing patterns

After pre-writing shapes, next comes strengthening your child's pre-writing patterns (the directions of top to bottom, left to right and anti-clockwise that make up letters) so they move their pencil in the right direction to start and complete the shapes of the letters.

The general patterns are for the letter to start from:

  • Top to bottom
  • Middle to bottom
  • Left to right
  • Anti-clockwise

Introducing pattern families

Pre-writing patterns are much easier for kids to learn when they’re introduced in ‘pattern families’ (groups of letters that have similar starting points and writing directions).

  • Top to bottom: b, h, k, l, t
  • Middle to bottom: i, j, m, n, p, r, u, v, w
  • Anti-clockwise: a, c, d, g, o, q
  • Exceptions: s, x, z, f, e

There are always some straggling exceptions, aren’t there!

How do I know if my child is having difficulty with their letter formation?

Junior may need help with their letter formation if they:

  • Have illegible writing (i.e. hard to read and understand)
  • Size their letters inconsistently (e.g. some letters big and others small)
  • Get confused when writing letters
  • Pause to remember how to write letters
  • Struggle while using the top to bottom, left to right and anti-clockwise writing patterns

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Fun Activities

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Ways to help develop your child's letter formation skills

There are many ways you can teach little miss or mister their pre-writing patterns and letter formation – and have a surprising amount of fun while you’re at it!

Here are some entertaining activities and strategies for you to try with your whippersnapper:

  • Using a ‘multisensory’ approach where you foster learning through the senses of vision, touch and hearing (e.g. drawing pre-writing patterns and letters in playdough, shaving cream, sand and so on)
  • Drawing pre-writing patterns and letters on each other’s hands and backs with the pointer/2nd finger (or on a steam-covered shower screen, with chalk on the driveway and so on)
  • Using green dots to show where to start the letter and red dots to show where to finish the letter
  • Learning the letters in their ‘pattern families’ (e.g. the ‘top to bottom letters’ are b, h, k, l, t; the ‘middle to bottom letters’ are i, j, m, n, p, r, u, v, w; the ‘anti-clockwise letters’ are a, c, d, g, o, q; and the exceptions are e, s, x, z, f)
  • Practising letter formation in various forms such as mazes (drawing a letter outline so they can draw the letter on the inside) and ‘Dot to Dots’ (making a letter out of dots and asking them to connect the dots to form the letter)
  • Using ‘tactile cards’ (drawing letters on card and covering them in rice, sand or cotton wool for example, and then tracing the letters with the pointer/2nd finger)

Some additional tips for improving your child’s letter formation

We’ve put together some extra tips for helping you help your youngster to develop their letter formation skills:

  • Draw using large ‘whole body’ movements (e.g. moving the arms or torso) while your little one is first learning the correct letter formation before progressing to smaller and smaller movements in the arms, hands and finally fingers
  • Practise on a vertical plane (upright surface) such as a mirror, wall or shower screen and then move on to a horizontal surface such as a desk
  • Use verbal cues (e.g. “start at the top” or “pull down and stop”)
  • Demonstrate letter formation while you’re out and about (e.g. pointing out the directions for forming the ‘A’ on a billboard advertisement or the ‘M’ on a menu)
  • Start with mini-sessions of 15–30 minutes max so little miss or mister doesn’t get overwhelmed
  • Be patient – your child’s writing isn’t going to change overnight so take it one step at a time and celebrate your (and junior’s!) successes
  • Practise regularly and in a variety of environments (e.g. in the sandpit at the park or with chalk on the footpath)
  • Encourage your little one to take the time to learn how to form the letters correctly and carefully
  • Give your youngster extra encouragement and boost their self-esteem through positive reinforcement
  • Ensure your child uses the correct pencil grip (visit our Pencil Grip page for tips!)
  • Expose little miss or mister to as many words as you can (e.g. read regularly or point out words on street signs, product labels and so on)

Keep it fun!



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Combined Videos

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