Almost every child will reverse at least some letters and numbers when they are going through the process of learning to write. It’s a natural part of the writing process and it’s not necessarily anything to worry about, depending on the age and stage of the child.
Typically, as children are learning to form new letters, they will make some mistakes. If you think about it, there is a massive amount of information to remember, capitals and small case letters, all those different phonetic sounds to remember and the way they all blend together… it’s a wonder that any of us learn to read or write at all!
Children’s writing usually starts to emerge through a series of scribbles and random marks before it starts to merge into lines, dots, and shapes. Basic letter shapes then begin to emerge. Sometimes this is referred to as the Emergent stage of writing. If your child is at this stage, the key is to give them plenty of encouragement when they are having a go at writing and not to put any pressure on them.
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How to Encourage Writing in Children
Giving your child a real purpose to write is always a good way to encourage writing. For example:
- Helping to write a shopping list.
- Writing a letter to a superhero or a friend.
- Writing a note for Mum or Dad.
- Writing a list of things to take on holiday.
Anything that will get your child writing with real purpose will help to motivate them. Don’t focus on letter formation at this stage. Simply let your child enjoy the feeling of being a “real” writer and let them believe that they are writing for a real purpose.
Why do Children Reverse Letters?
Remember that your child is having to remember twenty-six new letters and sounds, as well as the countless ways that the letter blends together so it’s really not surprising if they mix a few letters up or write them the wrong way around as they are learning.
Typically, the letters b, d, q and p will be reversed at some stage, and the letter s is also a common reversal, but they are not exclusive and some children will reverse other letters too. This is very common and almost all children will grow out of it as they become fluent readers. Experiencing lots of print in the environment can also help, as will making sure they have access to plenty of lovely books. Most children are taught through phonics programs in school and as they move through the program their understanding will develop and their reversals will decrease.
Children Reverse Numbers Too!
But it’s not always letters that are reversed. Many children will also reverse numbers as they begin the process of learning to form number symbols. Again, this is entirely natural and nothing to worry about, especially if it is early in your child’s writing journey. Number 5 is the usual number symbol to be written back to front, but again, other children may reverse other numbers.
The writing process is brand new for young children and we need to give them plenty of time and space to practice. Be patient and try not to pass on your worries. If a child senses anxiety around the process of writing, they are much more likely to grow into a reluctant writer so always try to keep it fun and interesting.
Helping a Child with Reversing Letters
As a child forms each individual letter, a lot is happening in their young brain that we as adults can take for granted because we have been reading and writing naturally for so long.
They are having to visually discriminate between lots of new letter shapes and it can be understandably confusing. There are lots of activities that you can do prior to starting to write to help develop your child’s visual discrimination skills. The simplest way to explain this skill is that your child needs to develop their ability to be able to spot the difference.
The more practice your child has at spotting the difference between print, the better your child will become at recognizing the differences between letters and numbers as their visual discrimination skills will start to improve.
There are many ways to develop this:
- Wooden board jigsaws are a good starting point for matching the same pictures together.
- Use matching picture cards – can they find two cards with the same picture on?
- Can they find all the matching pictures when laid out in front of them, for example can they find all the cats from a selection of animals?
- Can they pick out the odd one out from a series of pictures?
- Can they find all the differences between two similar pictures? (Spot the difference).
- When they are playing in the block area, can they find and order blocks that look the same?
- Can they find all the teaspoons in the home corner?
Using “spot-the-difference” picture books are another good way of getting your child to look at things really closely, and you can have some fun with this too.
Additional Ways to Help Children with Visual Discrimination
- Look online for a wealth of spot the difference games.
- Go for a nature walk and see if they can find similar groups of leaves, or flowers or patterns in buildings or architecture.
- Try air writing. Use your finger to form large letters in the air, to help practice formation.
A little bit of daily practice in visual discrimination is great as long as your child is having fun and enjoying the process. If not, stop, wait awhile and return to it later.
All of these activities will help your child to start to be more visually discriminating, but they are not a magic wand and all children are individuals and will need different amounts of time to learn to write so don’t be tempted to compare your child with another child who may be further on in the writing process.
When should I ask for help?
It is very common for children to reverse letters up to the age of seven. Even if your child is a confident reader and writer, don’t be surprised if they have lapses from time to time. There is such a lot to remember when you are first learning to write: letter formation, punctuation, not to mention the content of whatever it is they are writing about. It’s not surprising then, if you see some mirror writing or some reversals during this learning process.
However, if your child is older than seven and they have had plenty of opportunities to develop their writing skills, you might start to notice that problems with reversals persist. You may also notice mirror writing.
Every individual child is different so age seven is only a guide. If your child has reached the age of seven but has spent large periods of time in hospital, for example, or has missed a lot of school, they may just be experiencing a delay in the process and need more time to catch up.
Some children, despite a good grounding in reading and writing, may continue to experience visual discrimination problems. This might be because they have a poor memory for remembering and forming letters or numbers. They may find the skill of discriminating between two letters more difficult than other children. They may have difficulties processing visual information. If you feel this may be the case with your child, first speak to your child’s class teacher and seek help. There are lots of ways to support this. The earlier it is picked up the better the chances of mitigating the delay.
The earlier we can identify a delay of memory processing or a delay in visual discrimination skills, the earlier we can start to support children with specialist teaching.
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