This week, our ProSquad brings prewriting help for parents of young children, and advice for families who need help starting bedtime routines with an elementary-aged child.

Writing Readiness in Preschoolers

How will I know when my preschooler is ready to start writing?

So many toddlers these days are given a pencil and paper long before they are developmentally ready to write. When it comes to writing readiness, there are several prerequisites that need to be mastered before handwriting instruction should begin.

Prewriting: First Things to Learn

  1. Your child should recognize the letters in his name.
     
  2. He should know that each letter represents a sound and that sounds combined make up words.
     
  3. He should be able to a copy the following: a horizontal and vertical line, circle, square, triangle, and diagonal line. Copying is the ability to look at the shape or form that is already printed on the paper and duplicate it.

If your little one hasn't mastered all of these skills, it's best to teach these before moving forward with writing. Just remember, teach these concepts and strokes in a playful way, because preschoolers learn best through play.

How to Teach and Encourage Writing Skills

Teach your child to recognize the letters in her name

Post her name around the house and label her belongings when possible. Point to the letters occasionally during daily routines and ask, "What letter is this?" When she begins to recognize a letter, go ahead and begin to teach her the sound that the letter represents. For example, "T makes the t-t-t sound. Can you make that sound?" It's also fun to play the "go find the letter game." Just write the letters on sticky notes, place them throughout the house, and send your child on a treasure hunt to find a particular letter.

Teach your child to copy the prerequisite strokes

Begin by modeling how the letters are formed. Be sure your tot is watching! Once she sees you form the line or shape, you can take her hand and guide her through the motions while talking about the stroke as she is forming it. "You are making a straight line down" or "You are making a circle."

Most importantly, your child's first writing does not require a paper and pencil!

In fact, it's better to let your child imitate large strokes writing with her index finger in a variety of different media, such as shaving cream, pudding, or finger paint. Bathtub markers are also fun. You can even use a flashlight in a dark room to "draw" the forms on a blank wall. Don't rush your little one by giving her a pencil too soon. If the muscles in her hands aren't developed and ready, she may use a poor pencil grasp. Once a poor grasp is established, it is difficult to improve that grasp.

Get ready to have some fun with your preschooler as she's developing her prewriting skills!

Developmental Pro, Anne Zachry

Anne Zachry, Ph.D. is a pediatric occupational therapist, child development specialist and mother of three. She's had articles published on Parenthood.com, Pregnancy & Newborn Magazine online, has written a parenting course for Daily OM, and writes for a variety of regional parenting magazines.

Dr. Zachry's research has been published in national peer-reviewed journals, including The Southern Medical Journal, The American Journal of Occupational Therapy, and The Occupational Therapy Journal of Research, and she's had articles published in her profession's trade magazines, Advance and OT Practice. She is a member of the American Occupational Therapy Association, and she has also given numerous presentations to parents and teachers on a variety of topics related to infant and childhood development.

Her websites are Dr. Anne Zachry and Pediatric Occupational Therapy Tips.

 

Too Late for a Bedtime Routine?

Our 8-year-old son has never had much of a bedtime routine — OK, any bedtime routine. He always just runs around until he crashes. But we're starting to see that tiredness is affecting his behavior at school, and our pediatrician has advised us to start putting him to bed earlier with a bedtime routine. Since he's not even close to being a baby anymore, I'm not sure what to do for a "bedtime routine." He doesn't really enjoy being read to and he likes to take showers in the morning, so bedtime stories or a bedtime bath are out. Did we miss the boat on a bedtime routine?

It's never too late to begin a healthy habit. Baths and bedtime stories are nice for babies and tots, but once kids outgrow these rituals, there are other ways to cue bedtime.

Anything your son does regularly that helps him unwind before bed can become a regular bedtime routine.

The key is to choose activities that are calming instead of exciting — so intense television shows or video games are out. Bright lights, computer screens, and homework also stimulate his brain just when he should be winding down for sleep.

Don't stress that you're starting a "bedtime routine," which he may find babyish, and don't simply create an arbitrary routine and expect him to stick with it. Instead, try asking him what activities he thinks might make it easier for him to sleep. Research shows that kids are more likely to comply with rules that they help to create.

  • Try starting his bedtime routine with a snack of his choosing.
     
  • Let him make a list of healthy snack options, and shop together to stock your kitchen with nighttime nosh.
     
  • Dim the house lights — darkness helps stimulate the brain's production of melatonin and cues sleepiness — and tell him that he's free to choose any quiet activity for 20-40 minutes before bedtime. Even if he doesn't enjoy being read to, he may enjoy quiet reading on his own, listening to music, or playing in his room.

Sleep Pro, Malia Jacobson

Malia Jacobson has been helping tired families sleep since 2007. She is a writer, editor, nationally-published sleep journalist, and author of "Ready, Set, Sleep: 50 Ways to Help Your Child Sleep, So You Can Sleep Too." Her sleep articles reach millions in respected print publications.

Malia's articles have been featured in over 70 news outlets and publications, including ABC News, Women's Health Magazine, Costco Connection Magazine, Seattle's Child Magazine, ParentMap Magazine, Seattle Business Magazine, San Diego Family Magazine, and Cincinnati Family Magazine.< She is a contributing writer at Family Time Magazine and Broward Family Life Magazine.

She holds a bachelor's degree in communication and a master's degree in business administration/marketing. When she's not writing, she organizes a popular attachment parenting group in her hometown of Tacoma, Washington, digs in her garden, and explores the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two young daughters.