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Let the hands flow naturally and the words with surely follow

PRE-HANDWRITING SKILLS: Patterns, Letters or Numbers. Early Handwriting Skills: Letters, Digraphs and Capitals. Barbara Hewett. Galt Educational. pound;23.49 each. Age range: 4+.

Handwriting is one of the bread-and-butter subjects of primary teaching, too often taken for granted and sometimes neglected in the pursuit of "creativity". It is subject to fads (remember how, for a long while, children weren't allowed to write on lined paper?) and fiercely held fancies (my own strong prejudice against loops is a perfect example - I'm trying hard to break it).

There are, however, certain tenets that all experienced early years teachers hold dear. One is that, in the early stages, motor control is best developed through large-scale activities such as painting at an easel using large brush strokes. Another is that overall motor control is a necessary precursor to the fine control needed for making fiddly marks in carefully prescribed ways.

Before children start writing, therefore, they need plenty of opportunities to develop confidence in arm and hand control and a reasonable degree of hand-eye co-ordination.

There will probably be some children who arrive at nursery school with sufficiently developed co-ordination to slog through the 135 handwriting worksheets in Galt's Pre-Handwriting Skills book (though whether they will benefit much from doing so is another matter). But the majority of three to four-year-olds just aren't ready for this sort of work.

They need to paint, cut and stick, model, thread and all those other "play" activities. When they start learning letters, they need to sky-write them with large movements from the shoulder, or finger-write them in a sand or salt tray. The occasional handwriting pattern is useful for assessment purposes, but nursery education should not be about filling inendless worksheets.

This book seems to be yet another example of an uninformed reaction to the Government's standards drive - the younger we start them on real work, the better they'll be in the end. As a primary teacher, I know how long it can take to recover children who have been put through this sort of mill and I hope less experienced nursery staff don't fall for it.

The follow-up volume, Early Handwriting Skills, is more in line with modern thinking, but the worksheets have an amateurish look about them - and there are far too many.

With several well-established handwriting schemes to choose from (the new edition Nelson Handwriting by Peter Smith and Louis Fidge reviewed in The TES last September 12, is particularly impressive), the only real attraction of this one is that initially it is comparatively inexpensive.

However, in the long run, handwriting is too important to do on the cheap.

* Galt Educational, Culvert Street,Oldham, Lancashire OL4 2GE Tel: 0161-627 5086.Stand E4

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