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Help! I need ideas for handwriting practice in class.

Dear Ask a Montessorian, help!  I would love ideas on handwriting lessons with kindergartners. Right now we have small groups. I write words on a dry erase board and they write them on lined paper, but what other ways can they practice?

Thank you for your question.  There are many creative and engaging ways that Kindergartners can practice refining their handwriting in the Montessori classroom.  Below are some ideas that I have enjoyed as a teacher, and you may want to try with your students.

Shelf Work:  In my classroom, the Kindergartners have tended to choose shelf writing work daily. They choose their age for the number of ‘writing sheets’ they do per day. Students can choose between patterns, numbers, letters, words, rhyming, songs and sight word work. They can also do a greeting card as their last writing work. There is often a group of them sitting at the writing table. This table seats 6 to 8 children. In a classroom of 24 students, the table is often full of both kindergartners and four-year-olds in their sensitive period for writing. Teachers can guide students that need help.

Writing Journal:  Once the writing sheets have been finished, students place them in their writing journal. Black composition books are used for this purpose. Students write their name on the front. Teachers are often surprised to see how they spontaneously want to and can write their names. I encouraged them to use the first page for a self portrait. The next pages are for writing sheets to be taped in once they are finished. This book then serves as a historical record of the child’s work. It stays at school throughout the school year.

Writing Process:  Keep in mind that in general, Kindergartners like to write. They like to do shelf writing work and have ‘writing meetings.’ Some will have mastered  formation skills and spacing. Some will still be working on formation. The materials on the shelf include labeled, sequenced writing baskets. Students choose their own work and work at their own pace. Teachers can guide them in making a choice and give lessons as needed. Students like to  trace patterns, numbers, letters and words just as much as they liked tracing the sandpaper letters. First they trace and then they copy. This is the step we as Guides often leave out. Giving students the ability to copy is an integral part of the writing process. This is what teachers do when they have meetings where students copy what is written on a whiteboard or chalkboard. If the student does not have the skills to copy the word yet, the teacher can write in in pencil or a yellow marker and have the students trace it. We want students to be successful, so scaffolding in this way is appropriate.

Picture Story Meetings:  Kindergartners look forward to group writing lessons.  They like the repetition of knowing that they will have a meeting every week on the same day and at the same time. If they are full-day students, it is easy to fit in two special writing meetings a week. I have always done one meeting on Tuesdays that we call Picture Story Day. This 10 to 20-minute meeting focuses entirely on learning how to write a story. At the beginning of the year, we write the title of a story and draw an accompanying picture. We learn to sign our name as the author and illustrator. We begin writing sentences – one at first and then two or three. Sometimes the teacher directs what the story will be about. If we are working with Africa in the geography area, for example, it could be a story about Africa. Sometimes students draw a picture first and then write their story. Sometimes they do the story first and write the story next.

Star Picture Story Example: The students arrive at the meeting with their writing journals and one marker. We sit at the table and take a moment to center our attention. We shut our eyes and take 3 deep breaths. I guide them to the work: ‘Today we will write a story about the stars. See stars all around you. Are they bright? Who is you with? Where are you? Now when you are ready open your eyes. Let’s write the title for the story. If you need me to write the words for you I will, and you can trace over them.’  Once they have all written their title, we move on to the body of the story by composing sentences. I can help and advise those that need it. I found that some students like to tell me what they want to write before writing it.

Dictation Meetings: Every week we would have a dictation meeting. Students bring their book and a marker. We center for a moment. I remind them that they write what they hear me say. I call off numbers, letters or words for them to write. As the year progresses, they become focused on listening and responding with ease. This becomes a favorite activity to look forward to.

I hope you will try some of these ideas in your classroom because you will see how the culture of writing begins to be the norm, and how the students’ refinement improves over the school year. Students like to practice writing with appealing, ever-present materials. A writing shelf with sequenced writing sheets allow students an opportunity to fine tune their skills.  Writing meetings are essential in empowering kindergarten students to grow and learn together. They are an effective way for teachers to guide students. Students in meetings guide one another with suggestions and ideas. They become a community!

Susan Scheibenzuber holds her Associates in Early Childhood and an Early Childhood Montessori certificate.  She is a retired teacher and now promotes handwriting skills and Beautiful Handwriting materials in her national presentations and at her website, www.LaughingStarMontessori.com