Handwriting takes a very long time to develop and as with lots of other learning how quickly children pick it up and how ‘easy’ they find it to learn is dependent on their strengths and interests. Children aren’t expected to develop their own style of handwriting until they are in year 5 of Primary school, so no need to panic, but the sooner they feel confident to write neatly and at a reasonable speed then the more time they will have to be able to focus on what it is they are writing. It is a very personal thing, I’m sure you know lots of adults who have beautifully neat writing or those whose writing you can hardly read! Handwriting is a process and it’s learning begins from the baby years. Before even thinking about forming letters or numbers for writing, it’s about developing strength and co-ordination in their hands.

Strength and co-ordination –

All of the activities that babies do to develop grip strength and co-ordination will help them with their handwriting as they grow up. Practising big movements such as grabbing, throwing, catching, arm movements are called ‘gross motor’ skills. ‘Fine motor’ skills are things like pinching sequins and pom poms, using pegs, posting and lacing activities which focus more on the smaller and more detailed movements. Lots of pre-schools and schools especially in Foundation/ Reception class will have daily sessions or activities out all the time for this practise. The learning comes into the ‘Physical development’ part of the curriculum. You might hear the phrases ‘finger gym,’ or ‘funky fingers’which will be fun and playful activities set up to help your child develop strength in their hands and what we call ‘pencil grip’ – where they are able to hold a pencil, pen or painbrush effectively.

Pencil grip –

Pencil grip will develop at different times for children. Some will have mastered a ‘tripod grip or grasp’ where they use three fingers when they are around 3-4 years old and for some children this takes much longer. All of the above strength and co-rdination learning will help to get ready for developing pencil grip. 

Below is an idea of the stages which your child may go through when developing their pencil grip. As you can see a good tripod grasp can take until they are 7 years old. Schools may offer extra help for your child to develop this, they might call it an ‘intervention’ and should talk to you so you know how you can help at home.

Here’s a little video idea to help develop the tripod grasp. Lots more ideas on our instagram, facebook and pinterest pages.

Writing Letters or ‘Letter formation’

Children will learn to write lower case letters first. Often this happens alongside phonics teaching so they might not learn the order a,b,c,d they might start with s,a,t,p,i and n. 

Schools and pre-schools will have different methods for teaching letter formation. I will go into cursive and pre-cursive a little bit but I don’t want to bore you to tears! Many children will learn letter formation in the same way you and I probably did. Some letters start from the middle and some at the top. You might have learnt ‘one armed robot letters’ and ‘caterpillar letters’ or something totally different. I would advise asking your school or pre-school which method or ‘scheme’ they use so you can copy this if you want to help your child at home.

What is pre-cursive/ cursive writing?

Below are two ways to form letters. The top row is probably how you learnt to write them and it is still how lots of schools and pre-schools teach. Children writing in this way won’t join their letters until they can form them all, usually in year 2 or later. The letters start in different places, some at the top and some in the middle. In the picture the coloured dots show the starting position for forming the letter.

The second row of letters shows ‘pre-cursive’ formation. This is where all of the letters start in the same place (see the dots again.) Some schools will use this way of writing and it can seem really alien if you haven’t used it before. There is lots of research to say this way of writing is helpful. It means children don’t have to learn another way of forming letters when you start to join letters together because when you join you have to start all letters from the end of the last letter which is mostly on the line. It also means all letters start from the same place and this can be helpful for children who get letters the wrong way around. To counteract this, there is lots of research to say this way of writing isn’t helpful for very young children. I know that’s a bit of a pain and we’re not advising either way is better. Teachers will do what they believe to be best in each setting so really it depends on what your school has chosen but hopefully it’s useful to know the different ways.

The video below shows a being written in pre-cursive first and then in print.

Want to practise at home?

Some children will love mark making, drawing, writing, developing find motor skills and all of the activities involved. But as with everything some might hate it or find it really challenging and need some help. Our advice for practising at home is to keep it fun and low pressure. Children are always likely to do more and learn if they don’t realise it’s learning, if it’s packaged as play! Practise those gross and fine motor skills with everyday items:

  • string penne pasta or beads onto spagetti (dried!) or onto laces 
  • pegging activities – helping to put the washing out gets two jobs done at once!
  • using squeezy bottles with water, make shapes and letters on a patio if it’s sunny
  • playdoh – great for developing strength
  • Anything arty with sequins, stickers pom poms etc helps the fine motor development
  • Mark make or write with loads of different objects – this can really help children who don’t want to write. Try feathers dipped in paint, chalks, novelty pens, sticks, anthing you can think of that isn’t a pencil or pen but that can be held like one!

Here are a few resources and apps that you could use to help at home too if you fancy it!


Singalong Cursive Handwriting

A fun little tracing app with catchy songs and different levels – this is for teaching pre-cursive letter formation.

Writing Wizard

This is a really funky app with very engaging visuals. Lots of settings to practise letters and words. They do a cursive version too.


No letter formation practise but great for recognition and hearing sounds. There are loads of other paid for alphablocks apps and the TV programmes are fab if you want some help with phonics.


If you do want to buy some letters and numbers to use at home here are some we like. Lots of shops sell letter and number formation wipe clean books which can be great if your child likes these. Remember to check which sort of letter formation the school teaches so you can match this.

Tactile letters

A great little set to use in everyday play. Check our our instagram videos for some ideas!

Lowecase Sand Moulds

A lovely little set to use in sand, soil, playdough etc. Trace the shapes, fill the moulds, great for indoors and out!

Playfoam numbers set

I love playfoam, heres a little set to form numbers which is really practical. They do a letters set too which is capitals.

Hopefully this has helped out with some knowledge about handwriting development and ideas to help at home. Check us out on instagram, facebook and pinterest for more!

Blending and Segmenting

Blending and Segmenting


Breaking down words into their sounds (segmenting)

Combining sounds to read words (blending)

Blending is a technical term used by teachers when they are teaching your child early reading skills. During a phonics session, your child will initially learn single sounds relating to a single letter (or grapheme). They will learn, according to what phonics scheme your child’s school follows, a sequence of sounds and when they have learnt enough of these sounds, will be taught to combine them or push them together in order to read short words. Sounds tricky hey? It’s painful! Blending can take a while for a child to master and the key to success is to encourage your child to keep practising their sounds and slowly they will learn to blend them. The trick is, again, to feel confident with the sounds that the children are reading so you can help them blend or combine them to read a word. Watch out for those tricky words though!!

Our top tip with blending with your child when you are reading at home is just to be extremely patient. Let them have a go before you tell them the correct pronunciation! It can take a while to even read a page when children are learning this skill but just doing a little at home can help boost your child’s confidence.  If your child has made a mistake or is struggling with a word- perhaps read the sounds out for them and ask them to blend them together. Let them get it wrong and let them work out that they’ve done it wrong.

Alphablocks is just fantastic! Check out this video that demonstrates the blending process.

A selection of online games to support Blending

These games work well laptop or desktop but may not be phone or tablet friendly, sorry!

The read with phonics website has some brilliant games and works on your phone and tablet. To play all of them you need to pay an upfront cost (currently £7.99 but I’d say worth it for some great content if you like online games. The ‘build a phonics word’ game models blending really clearly!

Segmenting- funnily enough- is the exact opposite.  Children will need to learn how to do this in order to spell and subsequently write sentences. Your child will need to hear the sounds within a word and then break these sounds down and put them in the right order. Again, sounds outrageously complicated and it is really tricky, but through practise your child will grasp this quite easily. 

 During my daily phonics sessions I often say a CVC word and then ask the children to break it down into the first sound that they can hear when the word is said out loud, then the last sound that they can hear in the word and then – when they are ready- the middle sound. It is a gradual process and for those children that are new to reception you might want to just focus on the first sounds that they can hear when you say words. Have a practise when you are out and about; spot animals and see if you can work together to find out what sound is at the beginning of their name.

Towards the end of the reception your child will be asked to segment words when they are writing and match these sounds to their corresponding graphemes and this is the strategy that they will learn as they move through the school.


Here is a selection of online games to support Segmenting

Forest Phonics is mobile friendly!

The ‘teach your monster to read’ website (links below) has some great content too. Free access to a certain amount is in the teacher area. The songs are really catchy and help with remembering those letter sounds. The mini games have several options for blending and segmenting and it’s all mobile friendly!

Tricky Words

Tricky Words

To put it simply these are words that DO NOT sound out.

Want to know more?

 These badboys do not ‘sound out’ (yeh, so everything we’ve been previously telling you about systematically sounding out…it’s not necessarily true!) so you can’t rely on simple blending or segmenting to get these ones right.

How do our children get taught these? Well, they just have to learn them! Harsh, we know. Not only do they have to learn individual sounds and then recognise these sounds within a word and THEN blend them, they also need to spot and remember WHOLE words known as tricky words. Full on for any adult, let alone a 5 year old!

Oh and to throw another spanner in the works- your child may know these as ‘common exception words’ – it means the same thing just different terminology!

Your child should learn these words alongside their sounds during their phonics sessions. These will be taught from Reception and are split into different Phases and again increase in difficulty as your child progresses through school. It is useful to know these words when reading with your child so that you do not try to sound them out (as they don’t follow the rules). 

To help spot these tricky words, we have created a table (to the right) that contains most of the tricky words your child will be learning within Reception and Year 1 with the corresponding phase (don’t worry, we will talk more about phases soon). Look out for our Instagram stories this week with more of these words.

The more exposure your child has to these words, the better they will become at recognising them in a text or using them within their written work. As mentioned a million times before, reading is everywhere; on the back of your child’s favourite cereal, at the supermarket, at the park, road signs…everywhere! If you know what you are looking for you can easily spot these words and help your child recognise them.

All of our posts and stories this week will be based on tricky words and we aim to provide you with lots of interesting activities to help support your child at home. If you haven’t already, please give our Instagram page a follow. We REALLY appreciate your feedback- let us know if there is anything that you are stuck with.

Happy tricky words week!!


First 18 Tricky Words: free download

Click here to get an easy printable sheet with Tricky Words

Here’s a free download with the first 18 tricky words that your child will learn at school, aren’t we lovely!

Just click to download the PDF document. Print out and then cut up the words to use with all of the great game and practise ideas. Ideas on Highlights on instagram and facebook! Yay, happy practising.

Let us know if downloads like this are useful, we can offer more!



                  Digraphs are two letters that make one sound

Want to find out more?

Digraph is yet another new term that I doubt any of us have ever heard of! I certainly hadn’t come across it before phonics lessons. To put it simply, it’s just two letters that together make one sound. These are harder for children to spot whilst reading and your child will only be taught these after they have learnt Phase 2. This typically happens during your child’s reception year at school and could be recapped during year 1.

Rain is a fine example of a word that contains both digraphs and single sounds. Reading the word out loud you can (maybe you can, or maybe you can’t but hopefully after reading this it will be a can) hear 3 sounds: R , ai  and n. So the r and n are the single sounds, the ai is a digraph; it’s two letters that are making that ai sound. So your child needs to spot that those two letters that are sitting side by side are making that sound rather than the single sounds that a and i make. You may notice the dots and line underneath the word; the dot represents a single sound and the line represents a digraph. We use these ‘sound buttons’ a lot at school to help children distinguish between single sounds and digraphs.

Here is a list of all the digraphs that you child will be taught during their first few years at school.
Still confused?

Phonics is particularly hard to get our heads round! We recommend that you listen to a few Youtube videos that identify each digraph and familiarise yourself with these. These are a few of our favourites:




As ever, we will be posting stories on our Instagram page that will provide you with some activities for you to try out at home. If you have any questions, queries or concerns please contact us on our page or in the comment section below. 




We’ve all heard of it…but does anyone actually know what it is? Ever wondered what the heck teachers are talking about in your child’s report or during parent’s evening when they mention phonics? Well, quite simply, phonics is HOW children are taught to read and write. It’s basically words broken into sounds (a bit like syllables). The children then use this information to read words and spell words. Simple, hey?….Well, in principle it is! But I was never taught like that I hear you cry!! No, but learning sounds help children spell and read by breaking down each word rather than just learning rules.

During the course of the first few years of school, your child will learn all of the sounds that are needed to help them spell and read words. Phonics is grouped into levels of difficulty and these groups are called Phases (we will be covering this in a separate post that’s coming soon). Your child will be taught the sounds in each Phase and taught rules that apply to these sounds. There are, of course, a few words that we cannot apply these rules to and these are called Tricky words or Common Exception Words (we will also go into this in more detail). What is helpful is that for most schools the book(s) that your child brings home from school should only feature words that they have been taught during their phonics and literacy sessions. Lots of schools use coloured book bands which show different levels of sounds that have been taught and they get harder as they move through the bands.

There is a wealth of resources to help support your child’s learning of these sounds on the internet. If you pop into google ‘Phase 2 (where’s Phase 1, don’t you worry, we’ll come back to that) phonics’ it will provide you with enough material to keep you going for weeks!! Just have a listen to some of the sounds and this should help you understand what this process is all about.

Here’s a short video about some of the sounds that your children will learn during phonics:

Tactile letters

These little letters just shout out to be played with. The rough texture helps with tracing and practicing letter formation. There are even little dots to show you where to start the letter!

More posts will be coming soon with information about the phonics jargon. Each post will give you a simple explanation of each term and signpost ways to support your child at home through fun activities or online resources.

Any questions just comment below or contact us via Instagram.




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