Why Does Printing Matter?

After school on Thursday, my teaching partner, Paula, and I were chatting with some parents, and actually stayed outside for a little extra time talking with one mom. We were discussing some learning options for her child over the summer. This is a child that is an incredibly strong reader and writer: decoding almost anything, comprehending even more challenging texts, and sharing numerous thoughts and ideas through writing. But this child prints almost exclusively in capital letters, and usually quite large. Looking ahead to Grade 1, we suggested to mom that her child (I’m purposely avoiding the use of ‘he’ or ‘she,’ as it doesn’t matter if this child is a boy or a girl) work on some printing over the summer: writing with the use of more lowercase letters and in a smaller size. Mom mentioned that printing exercises are not something that her child enjoys doing (which we’ve also noticed at school), and we provided some suggestions that might be more enjoyable and meaningful for this child. This parent was open to the ideas, and while the conversation ended on a great note, it was one that I couldn’t stop thinking about for the rest of the day and even days later. Why did this discussion stick with me? Because I continue to ask myself, why does printing size and the use of uppercase and lowercase letters really matter?

I know how hard it is to break the habit of printing in all uppercase letters. Most students learn how to print in uppercase before starting school, and once they do, they seem to continue. Even if they can form lowercase letters, most don’t. Paula and I have been trying to change this habit throughout the year. Just this week, Paula worked with numerous students on this very thing.

On one hand, I love that these students are becoming more aware of what they’re writing and how they’re writing it, and that they are pausing to consider the use of uppercase and lowercase letters before writing. On the other hand, I worry that students will get so caught up in the printing that they’ll miss the important focus on the ideas

As a Kindergarten educator, I see value in students …

  • identifying the names and sounds of uppercase and lowercase letters. This is a skill they need to have in order to blend sounds together to read words or segment sounds in order to write words.
  • knowing how to form the letters of the alphabet. At some point in time, we all need to print something, be it a grocery list, on a label, on a test or exam, in an agenda, or on a sign-in list. 

I realize that some of these printing options require students to print in smaller spaces, but I can’t help but wonder if the size of most students’ writing would change with just repeated opportunities to write. I also wonder if some of these “places to write” could change to meet the diverse needs of students. What if there were fewer questions on a page, bigger labels, larger spaces in agendas, and bigger boxes on sign-in lists? I can’t help but think of myself. As much as I use technology for almost all of my writing, I do still print To Do lists. I always write these lists on blank pieces of paper, usually with a marker, and in large print. Does this really matter? 

In terms of capital letters, I understand the issue if students cannot recognize lowercase letters. Almost all of the printing in books is written in lowercase, and this would certainly impede on reading. I also understand why students need to use lowercase letters when composing emails or texts to people, as writing in all uppercase implies screaming. But this is not something that our students are doing: they tend to type almost exclusively in lowercase letters, and usually need reminders about capitalization. 

So I’m wondering, why do capitals matter that much when it comes to printing? If it doesn’t change the message of the text and doesn’t impact on how others interpret the text, then does it really need to be a focus for us?

I keep coming back to this question because I think about all of the writing that we do in class, almost all of which is done on paper.

  • I love how our students are eager to write during play.
  • I love how they understand the importance of communicating messages in this way.
  • I love the excitement that they experience when writing.

I worry though if correcting capitalization and size will change this eagerness. Will it negatively impact on an important “love” that we’ve seen growing all year long? I know that there’s a time and place for everything, and we will continue to model smaller print and the correct use of uppercase and lowercase letters, but thinking back to the conversation we had on Thursday, I question “why” this has to be a focus for this child … or any child. 

Then I ended the day on Friday with this great conversation with one of our students. Two children created a new form for our vet office, and after school on Friday, we photocopied the form together. While we photocopied. I spoke to one child about her printing on the form. Paula mentioned to me that this child didn’t like how part of it looked. Here is our conversation.

As I listen to this conversation, I realize how metacognitive our students have become. 

  • They reflect.
  • They solve problems.
  • They approach tasks differently in the future.

This child recognized the problem, thought about why it was one, and figured out a way to make it better without re-printing the sheet. I know that she will be even more aware of the size of her writing as she continues to write at school and at home. Maybe getting students to regularly reflect on letter-size and why uppercase and lowercase letters matter, is the best way to approach these issues. Let them own it, and then support them as they start to change. What do you think? With a new Kindergarten Program Document that does not encourage the use of worksheets (for good reason), should we even be considering them — or similar alternatives — for home use? 

I know it was my experience as a Grade 1 teacher that led me emphasizing what I did on Thursday, but knowing what I know now, I wonder if I would see things differently, even if I was teaching Grade 1. 


2 thoughts on “Why Does Printing Matter?

  1. I wonder if part of our obsession with small, neat printing stems from a time when paper was far more expensive and scarce, and almost all information was transmitted in text. When the school system in North America was forming, it was still a time when people wrote from edge to edge on the paper – sometimes then turning the paper and writing overtop of old writing – in an effort to save paper and space. Is small writing part of that legacy?

    It’s not to say that we shouldn’t model it for students so their writing becomes more efficient and legible over time. But is it really so crucial that they can write letters between narrow lines by six years old?

    Good questions to ponder!

    • Thanks for the comment, Sharon! I never really considered this history of printing. It does make sense. In our class, we’re constantly talking about ways to not waste paper, so I can relate to the desire to at least make the most out of the space on the paper: be it for writing, drawing, or both. 🙂

      I definitely think there’s value in modelling smaller printing and the correct use of uppercase and lowercase letters, but maybe it doesn’t need to be the big focus for this age group. My gut says that with repeated, meaningful practice and modelling, size, legibility, and correct combinations will happen. All of this being said, I know that printing is often a big focus in Grade 1, and as a Grade 1 teacher, I was forever trying to change the desire for children to print “all in capitals.” Now though, I’m questioning “why” this mattered as much as it did, and if it’s really that important. I think it’s definitely worth a conversation. Thanks for adding to this one!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *