Thursday, July 24, 2014

Teaching Handwriting part 2

One common mistake that well-meaning moms make when teaching handwriting is starting too early.  Yes -- you heard me.
  • Starting handwriting before the sweet little hands are strong enough leads to poor grip.  
  • Allowing a little child to work on handwriting of letters before they can make the strokes easily or even recognize the shape of letters allows them to learn a wrong process which will have to be unlearned later!
  • Teaching your 4 year old to write their name, poorly, often instills bad habits if the letters they need to form are developmentally inappropriate.  Take the name Anna for instance.  It's short, but that letter A requires a child to make two diagonal lines.  Four year olds can't draw diagonal lines usually and so they tend to round the corners. 
So what should you do with a pre-school child.  For the very youngest child you should simply provide them with crayons and let them scribble. They will probably hold their crayon with their fist and that is OK.  You can encourage a proper grip by giving them small crayons or triangular shaped crayons (the small ones).   Let them make lines and color simple shapes.

Toddlers and pre-schoolers should also do activities that strengthen the hands -
  • play with clay - or playdough:  just make shapes; hide beans in the dough and let them knead them out (they can sort them after they are found for a visual discrimination excercise)
  • practice matching images (visual discrimination is needed to draw letters)
  • practice tearing paper (developing a pincher grip)
  • practice drawing simple shapes and tracing line patterns (there are books and worksheets for that)
To develop shape discrimination toddlers should
  • do puzzles
  • match shape
  • make patterns with colored blocks or beads
  • play with big plastic letters and also make letters with playdough or build them with sticks (a HWT activity)

The handwriting program which I think provides the most developmentally appropriate activities for this age group is Handwriting Without Tears.

The teachers guide for HWT provides you with the knowledge and the instruction you need to help your child develop proper handwriting form through ages 3 to 5.   Because it was developed by an occupational therapist, you can trust that HWT is paced at a developmentally appropriate rate.  For instance children begin with simple drawing activities and proceeds to letters being introduced at the kindergarten level in a sequence that builds skills and visual discrimination.

When I say it is a complete program I mean it includes physical exercises through songs and action
exercises followed by visual discrimination activities with a shape puzzle called Mat Man.   It also includes a lesson sequence chart and step-by-step lesson plans for the mom.

What I like most about Handwriting Without Tears is the consistency of presentation and the manner in which is guides the mom/teacher to teach using a modeling methodology called Wet-Dry-Try and to use multimodality methods (it is out load, hands on and celebrates the child - from the video on this page)

HWT also has introduced a keyboarding program and a couple of apps. Be sure that you look through the resources on this page!

 I realize that many people want to use Bible verses for handwriting and these are certainly appropriate practice.  However, it doesn't help to try to write sentences if you haven't mastered all the letters.  Save the verse practice and other copywork until elementary school years where the child is actually able to follow them easily to increase fluency.

I am not an affiliate of Handwriting Without Tears, but I am a certified HWT teacher.  I love this program and have never found any program for pre-school or early elementary grades that matches it.

Once your student can write by forming the letters appropriately and fluently it is OK to branch out into other types of copywork or dictation.  Dictation is a great means to practice handwriting along with other global composition skills -- listening, punctuation, spelling.  Personally, I found that I had a hard time working dictation into my homeschool unless I had a "turn key" program to help me.

The Build a Bundle Sale has several products I can recommend for this practice.    Remember that you can avoid waste by choosing your own products and 'building' your own personalized bundle.

I highlighted one program yesterday called Start Write.  There is a font in this program that is very close to Handwriting Without Tears.   The price for this product is less than half of the normal price.

Save 60% on Individual Products at the Build Your Bundle Sale!

In looking through the different products today I found several others that would either help your pre-schooler develop the foundation skills of handwriting, or help your elementary child practice.

There is a Bible verse manuscript practice product in this bundle:

Build Your Bundle - Homeschool Edition Sale - Up to 92% Off! 

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I am an affiliate with Build Your Bundle and I'm disclosing that according to the requirements of law.  If you click on the banners and subsequently make a purchase I will receive a small commission.   I was not paid to provide a positive review of any of these products.  All the opinions are my own.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

How to Teach Handwriting for the Average Mom and Child

There is something of a handwriting war going on in our school system now.  It has been building for the last 20 years as classroom teachers became more and more overburdened with new subjects etc and handwriting was the school subject that seemed less critical and was therefore dropped.  

As a result we see more and more students becoming adults with poor pencil grip and who struggle with handwriting fluency.  There is a movement afoot to drop all forms of handwriting instruction from the educational process in favor of keyboarding skills.  

While keyboarding is important and it does prove to be a lifesaver to many a struggling middle school student, shifting away from the proper instruction in handwriting is a big mistake because the very act of handwriting engage neural pathways across several different parts of the brain.  Those parts are needed for other tasks -- like solving multi-step algebra problems, reading a map, following any set of motor actions from memory.   The parts of the brain that are developed through handwriting practice are also important to recognizing the patterns used in reading.  (more about this later)

In addition, when students can write (form letters, words etc) fluently, they tend to compose better sentences and retain more information from taking notes.  

Keyboarding is NOT ever going to replace handwriting as a necessary skill.  A recent study also proved that when two groups of college students were tested the group that used a tablet to type lecture notes retained far less of the material than the group that used an old-fashioned pencil and paper.  

Combine that with the necessity of being able to read handwritten documents from history and being able to write history in situations where a tablet of computer will not work has to be considered (I'm not being an alarmist here - just looking into the future where the electric grid might not work seemlessly).  Writing -- putting words on paper is essential to retaining knowledge across generations.  

The key here is fluency

When considering the importance of handwriting, the most important characteristic to develop is fluency.   Fluency is the ability to form a letter/word/sentence through handwriting at a pace that is roughly equal to the speed of normal speech.  To be able to form the written symbols without using a lot of brain power so you can attend to "composition" - putting the idea into words.

Fluency is the most critical factor because if the brain is consumed with thinking of the shape of a letter and how to dictate the movement that forms it on the page, then less brain power is available to think of the spelling of the word, or the composition of the sentence. 

Here's an experiment I make parents who attend the live workshop on handwriting do:  
  1. put your pencil in your non-dominant hand.  Now don't forget to use the proper tripod grip!  
  2. First draw three vertical lines in the downward direction.  
  3. Then draw three in the upward direction.  
  4. Next write the sentence  The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.  (This sentence has every letter of the alphabet!). 
What does your handwriting look like?

More importantly, how did it feel to write that way?  Did you give up?  Did you cry?  Did you make the letter in the right stroke direction?

Here is an example of my daughter (who is very artistic and slightly dyslexic doing this exercise.  I'm amazed at how easily she wrote with her non-dominant hand. I do notice that she had trouble with spacing between the words, which was something she struggled with as a young child.

You can also see a picture of my trial - and you can see I gave up in frustration.  I also noticed that once I was using my non-dominant hand I started making the strokes backward (o's going clockwise rather than counterclockwise like they are supposed to in order to make cursive joins easier).  

Most moms report how much harder they had to think when writing with their non-dominant hand:
  • about letter formation
  • about which letter comes next
  • what was that word again?  
That need for increased focus and concentration is exactly what your young child is feeling as he begins handwriting.  If you have an older child still not fluent with handwriting, he's probably feeling the struggle in exactly this way as well.
Is is any wonder your young child avoids handwriting?   Cries?   Gets tired?  Misspells words when he writes?

Do you see now why your older child writes the absolute shortest paragraph possible or avoids composition with a pen at all?

I PROMISE you they are not whining just to get on your last nerve, they are doing what comes natural to us all when something is this hard and frustrating.

Once handwriting instruction is taking hold fluency comes with practice.  But fluency will never come without a foundation of proper instruction. Over the next couple of weeks I'll post several times about handwriting.  I'm currently doing a series of workshops for a local group so this information is fresh in my mind.  To start off this discussion, here is a list of some major no-no's when it comes to teaching your child handwriting, or helping your older child who is still struggling.

Major Errors In Teaching Handwriting

After working with homeschoolers for 20 years I have found several common mistakes that are made when dealing with YOUNG children and handwriting instruction.   

No instruction -- what?  Handwriting is not instinctive.  Left to themselves many children will learn to draw letters.  My own artistic 5 year old did this before I tried to teach him anything.  It didn't help him learn to read and he struggled with composition because of the difficulty in making letters.

Not using a proper curriculum.  Again -- you might know how to do handwriting, but it you are like me you don't know anything about teaching it.  There is an order to presentation that makes the process easier for a young learner and there are specific steps to follow to form the letters.  

Not watching the child AS they PRACTICE.   Left unattended, the student will generally default to the easiest way to make the letter.  Or the way their brain is "seeing" the letter (often reversed).   The more they practice the wrong way, the more difficult it is to correct later.  WATCH and REMIND them of the correct sequence as they practice.

Not using the teacher guide to the curriculum.  I know -- handwriting isn't rocket science so how hard can it be!  Just follow the pattern in the book!! Wrong.  The teacher's manual will have many tips and tricks that will make learning the process easier.  Do not skip the teacher's directions (like I did!).   

Next, I'll talk about my favorite full handwriting curriculum and why it is my favorite.    

However, because it is now on sale, I do want to call you attention to a program that saved my sanity when my youngest was small and wanted to write letters to Grandma or required to write "reports" for her 1st grade history.  

Start Write is a font program for the computer that allows you to make your own worksheets in a variety of formats. StartWrite is a wonderful tool for developing fluency in handwriting no matter what particular style you are following.  When my daughter had been taught the proper way to print, she still struggled with speed, accuracy and spacing.  I would have her verbally compose her letter, or her "report" as I typed it in the font we were practicing. I also made her copywork exercises with this program.  I printed the pages in a light full stroke format and she traced over them rather than using the traditional dotted lines and arrows which are actually visually distracting, especially to visual learners.  To encourage spacing I exaggerated the distance between words to train her eye to see the space.   This program saved the day for me because prior to StartWrite any type of composition or copywork took h.o.u.r.s!!! And many tears.  

While I do not believe StartWrite is a full curriculum for handwriting, I do recommend it to almost every elementary mom-teacher as a way to build practice sheets.   There are fonts to choose for almost every style of printing and cursive and you are also able to choose different lined paper formats and adjust the spacing between the lines. This was important for me because my daughter was never comfortable with wide-space paper.   It can also be used for both print and cursive, young and older students.

If you read yesterday's post, you know that there is a Build Your Bundle Sale ongoing for digital products and StartWrite is one of the premium projects on sale for more than 50% off the regular price.   It is a GREAT time to make this purchase and you get to start using it right away.  Just remember that the sale ends July 28th so don't delay.

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As a disclaimer I must tell you that the link to this Bundle Sale is an affiliate link and if you make a purchase I will be compensated in a small way for this sale.  That potential payment is not the reason I'm promoting this product though, I've recommended it for 10 years to hundreds of homeschoolers, but you have the opportunity to save a lot of money buying through the Build A Bundle sale.
How would you like to create your OWN handwriting worksheets? Many different fonts, styles, and options - yours forever for just $19.98 when you purchase StartWrite Software! Great for beginners or those needing extra practice!

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