Over the last year I have taught “Fun with Letterforms” to five-year-old students. Fortunately, the children are too young to look askance at a course with “Fun” in the title (usually a bad sign), or to wonder what a stuffy-sounding word like “letterforms” means. They simply know that in Letterforms class they get to twist their bodies into shapes of letters and get to use crayons, markers, paintbrushes and chalk to make all kinds of pictures out of patterns. And that also someone usually gets to ring the mindful bell.
By the kindergarten year, children can make marks with writing tools: crayons, markers, and pencils. When presented with a large white sheet of paper, some like to make recognizable pictures of things (of people, flowers, raindrops, cars), but many more will fearlessly fill the space with all manner of zigzags, spirals, and squiggles:
The goal in “Fun with Letterforms” is to guide the natural human tendency to doodle—which often is swift, flowing, and rhythmic—toward the patterns of strokes that make up the letters of the alphabet. A hundred years ago a British teacher named Marion Richardson acquainted students with a series of simple rhythms (‘down-up’, ‘up-down’, ‘bump’, ‘swing’, ‘curl’) and taught them different positions to place them in: touching, superimposed, alternating.
Combining given movements in unscripted ways was the key, Richardson believed, to a child’s gaining “a simple, swift running hand which she never has to unlearn, but will grow into something that is increasingly her own.” In this way, students form letters through play and experimentation—and understand that letter-patterns are dynamic and have personality, just like they do.