I recently discovered, quite by surprise, that my 4 year old daughter could write her name. We have been struggling to learn her ABC’s for some time. She’s been able to count since she was 2. Shapes and colors come very naturally to her. But letters don’t seem to stick.
After about a year of flash cards and games, she could recognize about 10 individual letters. Recently I noticed she struggles less when the letters are put into context. For example, she can recognize the letter T within the word turtle, but not be able to identify it on its own.
So I took this knowledge and tried something new. I had her hand write a series of words. We started of course with her name. Then just a few other common words and phrases, like I Love You. We only did this for a week, using the same words over and over. She was very excited, but except for the ones she already knew, she still wasn’t remembering any of the letters. She also didn’t seem to be recognizing any of the words as a whole. So we stopped. It didn’t seem to be helping. Or so I thought.
A couple weeks later I noticed pen marks all over her legs. Frustrated, I proceeded to wash it off only to discover it was her name, written over and over again. All scribbled in a child’s hand, but in perfectly legible and defined characters. Up until that point, she had not displayed much ability to write letters on her own, so I immediately thought that her brother must have written all over her.
But she proudly started pointing to her leg and said “I’m Éowyn! It’s my name mommy!”
“Did you write this?” I asked her.
“Yes. I’m Éowyn!” she replied.
I was a both amused and confounded. How did she go from not being able to recognize or write her own name at all, to labeling her self repeatedly, all on her own?
“Mommy,” she continued excitedly. “My room is Éowyn’s too!”
My heart skipped a beat. Mother’s intuition told me what this statement likely meant. I stopped trying to clean up her legs, dropped the rag, and made haste to her bedroom. Her door was shut.
She has one of those creepy squeaky doors. The kind that gives you goose bumps every time you open it. We keep meaning to fix it, but it makes a convenient escape alarm in the middle of the night.
I paused, staring at the handle, wondering if I even wanted to know the horror that might be behind that door. But my daughter had bounding down the hall behind me, beaming with giddy pride. “Open it mommy! It’s my room!”
Keeping my feet firmly planted on the threshold until I knew what I was dealing with, I turned the handle and pushed the door in. It groaned loudly as it swung in on its hinges.
There, on every surface, her name was scrawled in very determined and deliberate strokes. Her bed, her books, the walls. Every where I looked I found her name written in tiny little girl sized letters.
I was not sure how to react. I was very proud that she had learned to write her name. Not so happy about it being all over the walls and furniture. I wasn’t even sure if I should punish her, since technically this was a pretty major accomplishment, despite the vandalism. In the end, I basically told her just that. “Good job, don’t write on the walls.”
To my relief, she had graciously used a pencil for most of it, which made cleaning it fairly simple. She helped me clean up, and has since started writing in a less destructive manner. She has even made a drastic improvement in her letter recognition and drawing abilities since that day. Next time I teach her something new, I’ll make sure she has the resources at her disposal to practice on her own.