One of the most common motor skills students practice in school is learning to write their name.  Kids are asked to identify and write their name all the time in the classroom, on class work, tests, and other required activities.  Even as my students enter high school and transition, they are asked to write their names on job applications, timesheets, and banking documents.  As an OT working in the schools, I am often asked to support students when learning this skill.  Here are some of my favorite general tips that you can use to support your students as well. For more specific recommendations, reach out to your OT!

1. Use a Multisensory Approach

Just because we typically ask students to use a pencil and paper to write their names in school does not mean that is the only way we should practice!  A multisensory approach to teaching students to write their name is essential to incorporate from a young age.  The possibilities are endless!  You likely have a lot of great materials already to implement this at home or at school.  Some of my favorite ways to do this include: writing letters in shaving cream, using chalk, using playdough, putty or floam to shape letters, drawing letters in sand, salt or paint, using cheerios or other fun treats to practice forming letters.     

2. Start Big

When students are first learning to write their names, asking them to also worry about letter size and position can be overwhelming.  To truly focus on letter formation alone, let kids make the letters of their name on big surfaces as they practice the motor pattern.   Maybe instead of tracing all the letters of their name in a small space, have the student practice one letter at a time without worrying about size or line adherence.  This way, he can focus on just learning the basic formation.  Putting a large piece of paper up on the wall or using an easel would be great ways to provide a large space for students to practice their letters.

3. Use Visual Cues

Visual cues are super important when teaching new motor plans.  It is important to encourage proper letter formation, from left to right and top to bottom.  I like to use green ‘start dots’ as well as arrows to indicate start points and directionality.  Additionally, visual boundaries can be important as a student learns to refine their letters and keep them in a designated space.  I like to use Elkonin boxes, which provide a visual cue of the expected height and width of letters.  Finally, when tracing, I personally like to use a yellow or gray line as opposed to dotted lines.  I have found the dotted lines to be more confusing for my students.    Gray or yellow lines, combined with additional visual cues, provide a very clear expectation of what the student is supposed to do.

4. Consider What is Developmentally Appropriate

It is always important to consider the developmental sequence of writing skills.  Check out my previous blog about prewriting strokes here.  It is OK if a three year old is not writing his or her name. We would expect a child of that age to be able to make some simple lines and shapes.  Some three year olds may be able to write their names, but it is completely ok if they are not able to.  It wouldn’t be expected based on developmental norms.  Additionally, it is not expected for children to be able to form some more complex lines and shapes until they are older.  For example, diagonal lines are mastered closer to 5 years old.  A student who has a name with letters that require diagonal lines may therefore not fully be able to form those letters correctly until they are older.  It is also important to remember that typically, students learn to imitate first and then copy.  You may start by engaging your student in imitation activities instead of expecting them to fully copy a letter.  Consult with your OT if you are unsure what is the ‘just right challenge’ for your student.

Additionally, there are some students who may not be ready for pencil and paper practice.  You can still support them with some of the foundational skills that relate to learning to write their name.  In that case, I have had students working on matching letters in their name using laminated manipulative pieces, or even using magnetic letters to match or spell out the letters in their name.  Letter recognition is also important to the overall name writing process, so providing opportunities to work on that can be very helpful.

5. Supervised Practice

Practicing letter formation is super important when a child is learning to write his name.  Some classrooms may have student practice name writing daily by providing tracing or copying sheets.  It is essential that this practice is properly supervised.  Kids may appear to be tracing the letters correctly, but if they are not forming the letter properly it may have a negative impact going forward.  The adult supervising can provide feedback to the student in the moment that can positively impact the motor plan that the child is building.  Additionally, providing opportunities to imitate or copy letters with adult support and not just tracing can be even more beneficial to the child.

In summary, name writing is a super important skill that is used across the lifespan. By engaging students in a variety of activities at a young age, you can positively impact the development of this skill.  What are some of your favorite ways to teach name writing?

This blog is for informational purposes only.  The information provided is general in nature.  Please contact your OT for specific recommendations.  

Katie McKenna, MS, OTR/L
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