What’s in a name?

Rebecca Reynolds is an independent early years literacy consultant. This is the second of a series of 3 posts she is writing for us on the subject of children’s handwriting.


For a child, the ability to write their own name is one of their most noticeable achievements, one which they become very proud of.  It tells the world, ‘this is me’ or marks the ownership of a picture they have drawn. It is something that children show a great deal of interest in. This is possibly the first time they will connect with the significance of writing, as opposed to the printed word. Children who are read to, will have connected with the significance of the printed word through story books.

There are many, many stages a child goes through before they will be able to write their own name. To begin with, just recognising what it looks like can be tricky enough. There are dozens of fun activities, games and songs which early year’s settings employ so well, which pave the way towards this.

Handwriting is a multisensory activity. As you form each letter, your hand shares information with language processing areas in your brain. As your eyes track what you’re writing, you engage these areas. The same goes if you say letter sounds and words when you write” (Horowitz, 2018).

But, once a child joins a reception class, how does a teacher, faced with a huge range of abilities, backgrounds and experiences start to identify who is ready to write their name. What does ‘readiness’ look like and how do we cater for every level simultaneously? How can each child travel at their own speed at their own speed?

In my previous blog, I talked about gross and fine motor movements and how to develop a repertoire of actions which will support a child’s move towards handwriting when the time is right. This can indicate a ‘physical readiness’. Once a child can recognise their own name, and identify it from amongst a group of others, then you have some visual discrimination skills and developing of identity. Once a child is mark making with purpose, possibly naming their drawings, attempting to create the first letter sound as a means of ownership, then you have a need or desire to learn how to write your name. From there, the practitioner can informally assess what the next step could be. It may be sequencing their name with pegs marked with letters, which peg onto a lolly stick with their name on. This further develops fine motor strength, at the same time as sequencing the letters of their name. Possibly, tracing over simple pictures or lines, loops or waves, to improve hand eye coordination. Those children able to demonstrate these skills might move on to tracing their name with verbal support from an adult, sometimes this can take many weeks to become embedded learning. Once, this motor planning is established, and a child can do this without verbal support then progression on to close copying is possible.

There are many indicators that a child is ready for progression, one important one is whether these skills are being transferred to their independent activities. Do they write letter shapes whilst in the role play shop, café or hospital? Are they labelling people in their pictures, are they naming their own work unprompted?

There are a huge number of progressions to move on to from here, full name, numbers, letter families and capitals, but each needs to be addressed at the child’s own speed. This applies both to print and cursive script. Some children will master these stages quickly, becoming independent relatively easily whilst others will take much longer and need much more support. The important thing to remember is that everyone needs to travel at their own speed!

Managing all these stages simultaneously for the teacher, could be very labour intensive. Preparation is the key. Many resources can be made in advance and selected at the appropriate time for each child. This ensures that the teacher does not need to spend time writing in individual books, weekly or even daily.

If you would like to find out more about Rebecca’s work, please visit her website or email her at rebeccareynolds@literacyconsultant.org



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