We know that words are powerful. Toddlers, despite not knowing how to read yet, also understand the power of words. Think about when they first learn the all-powerful and dreaded word, “no.” From birth, babies are constantly building connections with the words we use around them. But guess what their favorite word is (hint: it’s not “no”)? Their name. It’s no surprise – after all, we spent countless discussions, debates, and deliberation when selecting our little one’s perfect name. After all the thought put into choosing a name, parents and caregivers should be eager to teach their children to write their names.
Toddlers love their name because it’s theirs. Young children are egocentric by nature and think the world revolves around them. Toddlers are still learning to establish their identity and their name is the first component of that process. Below, I’ll outline the 3 stages to helping a toddler learn and write their name and how each stage contributes to teaching your toddler how to read.
Stage 1: Teach Your Child Name Recognition
If you’ve ever learned a new language or entered a print-rich preschool classroom, you will see a lot of labels everywhere on everything! Creating a print-rich environment primes a young child to associate printed letters with words and meaning and is a precursor to reading. Using the same concept, to teach a toddler to write their name, they must first recognize their name in print.
To help your child build name recognition, it’s pretty easy: personalize everything with their name. Write their name in books, label their water bottle, their seat in the car, and anything that belongs to them. When you pass by a sign with your child’s name on it – point it out and say their name. With practice, they’ll learn to recognize their name pretty quickly.
Bonus Idea: label other family member’s belongings around the house like siblings, pets, mom, or dad. This will help a toddler to practice recognizing that different letter combinations yield a new word. As an example, my children’s names are Jayden and Jaxson. It’s pretty similar, but my toddler was able to recognize that his name has an X in it. As your child tries to find their name, they may recognize mom, dad, a pet, or a sibling’s name in the process. They’re on their way to learning how to read!
Stage 2: Teach Your Child to Spell Their Name
In stage 2, the effort you made to personalize your child’s belongings in stage 1 will pay off. For children who do not yet know how to read, reading words is like looking at a painting. If you think about it, letters are basically symbols and are a form of art. Your pre-literacy toddler can recognize their name because of a very specific combination of symbols. Stage 2 is helping your toddler break down each letter of their name. This is to help toddlers understand that only with that specific combination of letters in a certain order lies their name.
Before your toddler can write their name, they have to first know how to spell their name. For many toddlers and even older children, writing is a complex skill. Writing requires both physical and cognitive capabilities to work at the same time. Physical because you need the fine motor skills needed to manipulate a writing instrument and cognitive because a child will need to know how to form what they intend to write. If your toddler does not know the letters to form, it can be a frustrating endeavor for them.
The key to teaching a child how to spell their name is to make it fun! Instead of having them memorize it by spelling it out loud, provide your child with loose letters of their name to arrange in order or purchase a personalized name puzzle. Use manipulatives like play dough, stones, or sticks and let your toddler form their name. The benefit of using manipulatives is to help your toddler strengthen their fine motor skills needed for the next stage: writing.
Stage 3: Teach Your Child to Write Their Name
Here we are. The grand finale! When your child masters stages 1 and 2, they’re ready for the last stage, which is why you’re here in the first place: to teach your child to write their name! This stage is fairly easy because you laid out the groundwork in the previous stages. Your child should be confident in recognizing and spelling their name. Now, they just have to focus their efforts on forming the letters of their name with a writing instrument. Stage 3 just requires time, patience, and a lot of practice.
Ideas to help your child practice writing their name:
- Provide your child with a tracing sheet of their name using dotted letters font.
- Practice forming letters by copying freehand on a blank sheet of paper or dry erase board.
- Use a highlighter to write their name on a sheet of paper and let your child trace over it.
- Use a paintbrush or use chalk on the sidewalk to write
- Cover a tray with salt and let your child use their fingers to form their name.
Selecting the Right Writing Instrument For Your Child
When selecting a writing instrument – we tend to automatically think of a pencil. A pencil is my last choice because it takes a lot of effort to write with a pencil. You need to press down on the pencil for it to show up on paper, but the tip might break if pushed down on too hard. Finding that balance will definitely frustrate a toddler who is just learning how to write.
A crayon is more durable because it won’t break as easily. A crayon does require effort to push down hard enough for it to show.
I would recommend using dry erase markers on a dry erase board. A washable marker will work well too on paper. Markers are sensitive and show up easily once it makes contact with the board or paper. A benefit of dry erase is that your child can easily wipe off mistakes without having to start all over.
When toddlers are learning how to write focus on their effort instead of the stroke order, size of their print, or perfection. The key is to build confidence so that they will continue practicing. As an example, when my toddler was learning how to write his name, he usually wrote out J-A-X-O-N, and often forgot the S. The S is a tricky letter to write! He would realize afterward, and just write the S after the N or under his name he misspelled. I focused attention on his effort on practicing writing the S rather than the misspelling of his name.
Your Words Matter
Now that you’re armed with understanding the stages to teach a child to write their name, I want to arm you with some teaching tips so that you can raise a confident learner. At TigerKubz, I’m a firm believer that how you teach your child is just as important as what you teach your child. I suffer from imposter syndrome and recovered from needing external validation during adulthood. Raising my children to be confident and to self-validate, their efforts and achievement is something I want to instill in them throughout their life.
Our children naturally want to please us. That is their way of connecting with us. When your child looks to you for validation of their handwriting, we may often validate their efforts with, “I love it” or “I think that turned out so great!”. Instead, try asking them “are you proud of it?” or let them know “you did that”. When my children ask for my validation, I like to ask them “are you proud of it?” or “is it your best work?”.
I noticed a change in my toddler when I taught him how to self-validate his efforts. He worked more independently and would try again and again to make it his “best”. Only when it was his best, would he show me. I’d respond with “wow, I can tell you tried really hard to write that. You should feel so proud of yourself!”
Tools to Teach Your Child To Write Their Name
A recurring theme you probably hear a lot at TigerKubz is to keep practicing. I designed a personalized name learning mat that has been toddler approved so your child can practice over and over the three stages of learning how to write their name. The portable and reusable “My Name Is…” learning mat makes it easy for your child to practice writing their name whether you’re on the go or homeschooling.
In summary, here are the three stages of teaching your child how to write their name and how the learning mat addresses each stage of development:
Stage 1: Name Recognition
The beautifully designed and colorful learning mat can be framed and displayed so your child can learn to recognize their name.
Stage 2: Name Spelling and Formation
For pre-writers, practice arranging their name in the right order with the removable Velcro letter pieces. Use the name model as a guide to spelling their name.
Use playdough or other manipulatives to form the upper and lowercase letters of their name on the front. Flip the mat over and use the open-ended space to form their name using manipulatives.
Stage 3: Name Writing
Using the included dry erase marker, trace over the dotted lined font in the front. For seasoned writers, flip the mat over and trace their name by following the stroke order of each letter using the special font developed by a Kindergarten teacher.
Sheryll is the proud mom to 3 boys (1, 5, and 12-years-old) and wife to her better half. She is the founder and CEO of TigerKubz and is on a mission to empower parents with tools to easily engage their little learners. When Sheryll is not thinking of creative ways to make learning experiences of everyday life, changing diapers, or chasing after her kids, you may find her in the kitchen trying out new recipes, attempting to fish on a nice day, or jamming out to Disney singalongs with Alexa.