Unschooling: Learning to Print



After Sage taught himself to read he asked me to teach him to print. While he has "know how" for several years, He wants to write stories but tires quickly when printing in his self-taught style. Until now I have never taught him the proper way to print. To encourage his natural learning I allowed him to develop his own way to write, so he often starts and ends at points that are illogical when writing text. (His "S" ends at the top for example).

Now that he has a better grasp on reading and writing, it is time to correct his form. (In a similar fashion he – like most children – often wrote some letters and numbers backwards. This, too, is part of the journey to literacy to I did not often correct but instead allowed it to self-correct naturally, which it did.)



We started a homeschooling activity to meet his desire for learning the proper method of printing letters at an easy and playful pace.

I printed out a simple chart showing the proper way to write each letter including arrows (like this one). Each day we choose a new letter and practice writing it in both capital and lowercase on lined paper, using the proper form. (My lined paper is a thrifted ream of vintage kindergarten paper, but you can print out sheets from free downloads too). After 5 or 10 minutes of the letter of the day (which Lupine sometimes joins in on as well) we review the previous letters, write a few words that use letters we have already learned, and then make letter art!

The letter art is based loosely on what I heard teachers do in Waldorf schools, where the focus is one letter at a time and that letter is brought to life through stories and art. We have simplified it a bit, but the letters are very much alive to my children thanks to this activity.



The letter art is based on the visual of the larger, stronger capital letter and the smaller, more delicate lowercase. Together the children and I choose an illustration to represent each letter (a capital A-apple tree and lowercase a-apples or a capital B-bear and lowercase b-butterfly for example). Then using our colored pencils we create our picture in the shape of the letters.

It is a wonderful way for the knowledge of the letter to become permanent in the child's mind, and I find the kids both drawing on this activity when working on spelling or sounding out words.



We do a letter or two a week and the kids have both enjoyed the process immensely. Sometimes they lay in bed at night trying to decide what tomorrow's letters will become in their art. They are seeing their letter books growing (Lupine and I do her illustrations together), and by the time we are done Sage will have an alphabet book of his own creation as well as a deeper love and knowledge of letters and printing.

18 thoughts on “Unschooling: Learning to Print

  1. Lori says:

    Rachel what an awesome idea. And I must say the sunshine beckoned me yesterday so I took my Isaac out (with lexi’s help) and we walked around the back yard, crutches and all 🙂

  2. KC says:

    Thank you so much for share this and your other unschooling experiences. We’ll be schooling at home with our daughter (she’s only 16 now)and it’s really confidence boosting to see just how learning without schooling works out on a day to day basis. Please keep posting these!

  3. Robyn says:

    Thanks for sharing your unschooling journey. i am fascinated with the idea of unschooling, and have often wondering you it actually is accomplished, especially the bigger processes like learning to read and do math.

  4. Lindsay says:

    I love hearing your unschooling stories. My son is two so we don’t really have any schooling going on here. We really just play and I sneak some counting and ABC’s here and there when it fits. I plan on homeschooling/unschooling as well. I have a background in Elementary Education so I really need to unschool myself.

    My question though do you have siblings that have children as well, who are not being taught the way yours are? Do you compare where your children are at compared to them? Or do your relatives? I only ask this, because I’m in this scenario right now, where my sister has a child about 2 years older than my son and she’s in pre-school and going to be going to school. I know my parents are more for her way of going about raising her kids than my way.


  5. Renee says:

    Thanks for this timely reminder. My 4-yr-old does not hold his pencils and crayons “properly” and his well-meaning nursery school teacher has suggested visiting an OT sometime before kindergarten. Really, at this point though, I’m not concerned. I have this attitude that all will work itself out in due time if we let him develop at his own pace. So I feel encouraged by your unschooling posts that show your family flourishing on it’s own rhythm.

  6. Renelle says:

    Thankyou for this post. I have ds9 and dd3 and ds still struggles with handwriting but this is such a simple lovely way to make it more fun. I love it. We use sand, cookie dough, playdoh, cars and whatever we can find to shape letters for dd3 and ds9 always joins in ! It is so much better for them to do things when they are naturally ready, which we’ve learnt the hard way but I’m so thankful that I’ve learnt that at all. Blessings, Renelle

  7. Fimail says:

    @Renee I can highly recommend visiting a pediatric OT. Whilst not holding a pencil correctly isn’t a big deal in itself, the confidence my son gained from having about 8 sessions of OT support to improve his fine motor and planning skills is incredible. He has gone from being very reluctant to try new things, to being very very enthusiastic about learning, with a great drive to explore a whole range of things including drawing, reading and writing. His way of holding a pencil was very tiring for him, and he had to move his whole arm to draw, simply because he didn’t rest his wrist on the desk. His drawings are now recognizable which is delightful for him as he often negatively compared his drawings to other kids drawings. Some small simple exercises and tips made the whole process so much more natural and had a flow on effect to other things that require motor skills and planning. Sometimes we put pressure on things being learned ‘naturally’ to our detriment – holding a pencil in a way that is tiring, inefficient and that hinders a child is no way to encourage them to learn at their own pace. They MAY work out how to do it properly and they may never do and continue to hold it inefficiently, as with many many adults. Writing the ‘wrong’ way is similar – it is much easier to learn how to write efficiently in the first place than to have to relearn but really many kids do this (learn themselves and then relearn) so I’d say in that sense that it’s not unusual at all.
    PS lovely photos!

  8. Fimail says:

    I should qualify what I’ve said with – follow your own instincts regarding your child though. My son had a large range of things that were difficult for him and not just the pencil grasp and it felt like getting him support was the right thing to do.

  9. Rachel Wolf says:

    Thanks for your note! I watched my son teach a private-schooled friend, two years Sages senior, how fractions work. They were making a pie together and the fractions were throwing this other child for a loop. Sage patiently explained it to him. Fractions (and addition and subtraction and multiplication) are a part of our day-to-day. Wood working? Baking? Cooking? Plenty of space for learning math in real life. And because it is relevant (math for life, not math for a test) it really sticks.


  10. Rachel Wolf says:

    We are hurrying academics in this culture. From my parents perspective it seems premature to expect a 4 year old to properly hold a pencil. My son did it spontaneously at 2, my 4 1/2 year old has not figured it out quite yet. I agree with your perspective – in due time.


  11. Rachel Wolf says:

    Hi Fimail,
    Thank you for your input! My mom spent her career at an OT working in the school system so I certainly appreciate the value of what she was able to bring to the children in her district. That being said, many skills will come with time, assuming that the child is learning and growing at a normal pace. I think that most parents intuitively know if their child needs that extra guidance or if they are simply not quite ready. It sounds like you knew and made the right choice for your little one.

    Many blessings,

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