Playing with Letter Construction
"They're all lines!" said Isabel (age 4) while her preschool class was thinking about how to print the letter “A”. The letters of the alphabet are simply vertical, horizontal, diagonal and curved lines connected and positioned in agreed-upon configurations. Line printing is a concrete way to see, experience, and demonstrate these complex understandings on paper.
When printing letters of the alphabet, children develop and practice:
- hand orientation
- proper hand pressure and grip
- placement skills
- spatial awareness
- printing curved lines
- letter recognition
- letter construction
- awareness of upper and lowercase letters
- understanding differences between letters
- thinking ahead
- analytical thinking skills
Begin with the straight-edge capital letters since only one tool – the big cardboard line tool – is needed. Personalize the experience by choosing a straight-edge letter from each child's name and asking, "Do you think you could figure out how to print a _______?"
If possible, begin with the letters that are easiest to construct - those made from horizontal and vertical lines. Letters with diagonal lines are trickier to construct.
Sometimes children figure out how to print a letter with a curved edge, as Joe (age 4) did in this example. Be sure to reinforce this inventive way of working.
A teacher noticed that her kindergarten students were naturally repeating and designing with letters while exploring. She pointed this out the next day, and encouraged them to revisit their idea by making a design from their favorite letter. She suggested that turning the paper around while working might help the design process.
Some children printed patterns
Some children built with letters
This child printed a radial design using the letter B.
Constructing Letters with Curved Lines
The best time to add a curved line tool is when you observe that children have a need for it. When I held up the curved line tool for children to see I heard a chorus of children saying, "Now I can make my P… D… S… J…" They knew they needed a curve!
Cut the inside of masking tape rolls, or cut a curve out of a paper coffee cup.
Take time to brainstorm and play with strategies for constructing letters that are particularly difficult to print such as B, D, G, J, Q, R, S. Notice that once children figure out how to print a letter they naturally want to repeat this achievement.
Demonstrate some of the planning and thinking involved in printing a name. Encourage experimentation!
You will need the following for each child:
- A large piece of paper — 9x24 inches or 12x18 inches (longer is better.)
- A large straight line tool and a large curve for each child, or enough to share.
The First Letter
In order to print each letter — and especially that first letter — children have to use analytical thinking skills to figure out the direction, position and spacing of each printed line. Here a teacher helps children to focus before they go to explore.
Line printing activities can be used along with writing programs to reinforce letter awareness and writing skills.
Marlena (age 4) and Andrew (age 4) demonstrate practicing and printing the letter “R.” This is one of the most difficult letters.
Use long paper — at least 9x18 inches
- Practice constructing and spacing letters (no ink)
- Start at the left
- Print your name on practice paper
- Print again on another paper
- (optional) If children have short names, or if they finish quickly, they can try printing their last name too.
When I tried to replace Zoe's bent cardboard stamp with a new one, she told me that she was making “fancy letters” and that she liked the cardboard just the way it was. She was deliberately manipulating her printing tool in order to make a bolder, "fancier" effect.
In doing so, she has created a new font!
Kindergarten children had all four cardboard line tools available as they practiced and then printed name signs.
Some children only used one or two tools. Some printed only first names. Some printed first, middle and last names. Children find inventive ways to fit the letters of their name onto the paper!
White paint on blue paper added surprise to this second printing experience.
After name prints are dry, invite children to decorate their name prints.
Shannon (age 6)
Printing the Alphabet
After practicing a few letters and their names, children seem to love the challenge of trying to print the whole alphabet. Here a teacher has set up a table in the room so that children can work in pairs or individually.
Interview with Hannah (age4):
"There were a lot of tricky parts."
What was hard?
"The Q – the line – because I can't really make it go right. The W because you have to go up and down a lot of times. The R – I just remember it was tricky.”
*Notice that the teacher placed each of the 4 line tools into separate trays so that they would be easier for children to locate, use, and replace.
Playing with the Letters of the Alphabet
A kindergarten class takes the alphabet challenge." then add the sentence below the little girl in red., "Each pair of children....four line tools.
Each pair of children has a line chart as a reference, as well as a set of the four line tools.
Young children have so many great ideas! One child asks, ”Is it OK if I start with Z and print a backwards alphabet?”
Uppercase and Lowercase Letters
When children are ready for more precise options for constructing letters, they will need a set of all four line tools.
Notice that the line tools are proportional. The small line is half the length of the larger line. The width of the small curve matches the width of the smaller line.
Discuss and demonstrate the potential of the line tools by breaking down an interesting word into its components.
Helping Each Other
After printing an uppercase B, Ben (age 7) is having trouble constructing a lower case e. He sees the e that Alex has printed and asks, "How did you do that?" Alex explains his technique as Ben watches. After a long pause Ben says, "Now I have an idea."
"How did you do that? ..." "Now I have an idea."
When working in groups, children become resources for one another.