Circles and Handwriting

The foundation for handwriting is linemaking. When children can easily make straight lines, diagonal lines, curves and circles, they can begin to write letterforms. If children are pressured to write letterforms before they are adept at linemaking, handwriting will become a frustrating experience for them. Everything in education must be done in response to a child’s current skills and development, regardless of their age or grade. Representing lines and circles in art makes practicing these important pre-handwriting skills fun. Drawing lines comes first; most toddlers naturally practice making lines. Drawing circles takes more hand control and therefore is a great activity to do after children have experienced making lines.

IMG_5632My 3 and 4 year old students have been practicing drawing circles. I’ve shown them the difference between madly scribbling around and around and purposefully making a circle. We learned that a circle starts and ends in the same place. We also learned that a circle within a circle is called a concentric circle, an excellent art and math term, plus a cool vocabulary word. My students practiced making purposeful concentric circles with markers, then with their fingers in a tray of sand. The best way to learn and remember something (called “sticky learning”) is to teach the task from a multisensory approach. Feeling the soft sand in the hard tray and the tactile sensation of moving the sand helps cement the finger, hand and arm movements needed to make a circular form.

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Next we created circles with yarn dipped in glue. This is a bit tougher to do than making circles with markers or sand, and the progressive challenge is what makes learning interesting. Dunking pieces of yarn into a bowl of glue with your hands is one of those sensory experiences that children either love or hate. Some delighted in covering their hands in stickiness, and others struggled with the sensation. We absolutely have to let children struggle so they can succeed in doing things for themselves. When we do things for them we take their personal power away, and children learn that they don’t have to try. When we purposely construct opportunities for children to practice a challenging skill, they get better at doing it. Perseverance is an essential skill for success in life.

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We noticed as we made our yarn circles, that the ends of the yarn touched each other, just as the marker and sand circles begin and end in the same place. Some children constructed pretty good circles, and others made shapes that looked more like a pile of spaghetti, but the process and effort is what is important.

After the glue dried, we revisited our circles concept. I wanted to see how much the children remembered from our previous experience. They all remembered that a circle starts and ends in the same place and adeptly made circles with their fingers on the table. A few of them even remembered the word “concentric”.

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We then painted watercolor circles on our yarn circle papers. Many children painted concentric circles inside or outside of their yarn circles. We used bright liquid watercolor paint to create a happy, ethereal feel, as the colors blended, spread and mixed on the paper. We all agreed that painting a color on top of a color is okay, which gave the hesitant children permission to try it. Gentle painting, as when working with watercolors, increases hand control. My students were so enthralled with the properties of watercolor paints that I will be sure to offer these again soon.

Learning to make circles with a variety of materials bonds the concept and the movement involved into children’s consciousness, giving them a means to visually represent what they can see in their minds. This art experience is an opportunity to struggle and succeed, build skills through a variety of sensory activities, and in the process, prepare for academic achievement in handwriting. This is what art should do.

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