Clever classroom trick for kids learning to write in the lines.

Oct 12, 2014

One of the things that children in Victoria, Australia are taught in their first year of Primary School, is writing between the lines in order to develop their handwriting. Despite the fact that it may seem handwriting is on the decline, thankfully it is still taught to our children.

Once children have developed their fine motor skills, worked on learning letters and practiced writing on blank paper and with other mediums to develop their letter formation, they are usually introduced to handwriting paper with dotted-thirds to assist them in writing letters of consistent size and format.

A little trick I used in my classroom to help children learning to write in dotted-thirds was, "Clever Cat." Clever Cat's bottom sits on the solid base line and his body takes up the first gap. His head sits on top, occupying the second gap up between the dotted lines and his tail dangles below the solid line, extending to the first dotted line below.

Clever Cat works as a fun visual aid to assist children in remembering where letters should sit between the lines and their sizing. When we write out all the lower-case letters, we can see that they all sit in Clever Cat's body space. Some also sit in his head space and some in his tail space. In the script we use in Victoria, our lower-case "f"'s sit in all 3 spaces. We end up referring to the letters as "body letters," "head letters" and "tail letters" once we are familiar with the concept. All of our upper case letters sit in the body and head space. They are usually easier for children to write than the lower-case letters.

We would draw and discuss Clever Cat when we did handwriting together as a class on the board, and then when children were writing in their hand-writing books, they or I would draw a Clever Cat at the start of their writing for them to use as a visual aid.

With my daughter (aged 5) now in her first year at school, I get to visit her classroom frequently. One day I was in there and suddenly saw a tin, full of Clever Cats drawn on craft sticks (popsicle sticks). GENIUS!! (Why didn't I ever think of it?)

I love that not only is this Clever Cat version a good visual aid for the children, it is something that they can hold and manipulate as well. Clever Cat on a stick can move along the page with children as they write, to assist in keeping their writing between the right parts of the lines.
Clever Cat can also be used as a spacer between words.

After seeing the craft stick version of Clever Cat, I made one at home and gave it to my daughter the next time she did some writing. "It's Clever Cat!!!" she exclaimed, gave him a hug (however it is that one hugs a popsicle stick) and took to her writing with new enthusiasm and confidence. :)

How to use Clever Cat

- Start by introducing the concept of "Clever Cat" to your children and discussing what each body part represents and how Clever Cat can help us.

- Draw Clever Cat on lined paper between the correct lines and let your children also practice drawing Clever Cat. Can they get his body sitting right on the solid line and up to the first dotted line?

- Brainstorm the different letters that sit in the same spaces as different parts of Clever Cat together.  Have the children identify and write all the lower-case letters that:

  • Only sit in Clever Cat's body space (ie. a, c, e, etc.)
  • Take up Clever Cat's body and head spaces (ie. b, d, h, etc.)
  • Take up Clever Cat's body and tail space (ie. g, j, p etc.)
  • Take up the space between Clever Cat's head to tail ( f )
  • Are a little bit different (ie. t. They may also include i and j with the added dots)

    (Please note that handwriting and the style of lettering differs from state to state and country to country. Here in Victoria we use the Victorian Cursive script)

- Depending on their control and fine motor skills, you may want to draw Clever Cat on the craft stick for your children.

- Use a wider craft/popsicle stick for younger children or for larger gaps if using as a word spacer

- Before each writing session, have a little discussion about Clever Cat as a reminder of how they can use this tool to both motivate them and to assist them in forming letters correctly between the lines. You don't need to tell the children, first see if they can tell you.

- To first begin handwriting between the lines with children, find the widest dotted-thirds that you can. As they get older and their control gets better, children start using lined paper with the dotted-thirds closer together, forcing them to write smaller. Maddie (aged 5) uses a "24mm Thirds Ruled" writing book at home. Buy them where you would buy school stationery (eg. Officeworks).

More fun ways for children to practice letter formation and writing:

Happy handwriting,
Debs :)

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  1. I haven't seen this before in SA schools but I can see why kids would love it. WRAP talks about making something a focus like 'sitting our letters on the line' or 'making our tall letters tall' but the visual would certainly be helpful for some.

    1. I think with any of the little tips and tricks that we use for helping children learn, they will be effective for some and not for others. This is just another way we can help children with a fun, visual and tactile aid. Thanks for commenting :D

  2. I love this portable clever cat. So helpful as kids move to learn to write using lines. Thanks Debs. Pinning. xo P

  3. oooh thank you! This might help my boy who 'hates writing' and 'can't do it' and 'always gets it wrong'... it frustrates him so much that he can read super well, spell super well, but struggles with writing!

    1. You're welcome Kate. Hope it helps your little one out :)

  4. I love Clever Cat (I've never heard of him before) but I LOVE him. My little guy is going to love him too :) And M's writing is incredible. She must really enjoy writing.

    1. Thanks Kate, so glad you like it :) Thanks also for sharing it on fb and instagram :) x

  5. I really love this! I love how it doubles as a spacer too! Like Nicole, I haven't seen it in SA schools but I'll definitely be using it in the future!

  6. How cute is clever cat! Such a good idea, I've not seen this one before. x

    1. He's pretty cute. Sometimes we'd get a bit a fancy with him and give him a top hat. His head had to be smaller though so his top hat wouldn't go over the second dotted line. haha x

  7. What a cute and clever idea. I've seen it before but not explained this well. Thanks!

  8. This is such a great visual aid! Thanks for sharing!-pinned and shared
    Katie @ALittlePinchofPerfect

  9. Saw this this morning and HAD to make some clever cats for our homeschool. So cute, and I think it may help make writing those letters click a bit better for my youngest!

  10. Such a simple way to teach kids to write in the lines. And kids love it!!! :D

  11. My little ones love clever cat - haven't used it on a stick though - great idea from a few who are struggling. I find ruling the solid line in another colour helps too. Like you said earlier, anything to help them!

  12. What a cute idea - I might have to try it with a bird (a parrot so it can have a tail) for my Avian obsessed stepson!

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