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Handwriting: There's More to it than Putting Pencil to Paper

My blog was recently added to a homeschooling blogroll. You'll see the new blogroll listed in my side bar as soon as I learn the magic spell. I thought I'd celebrate with a schoolish post.

I was reminded today of how frustrating it was to teach handwriting in my early homeschooling days. At the time I didn't know I was teaching an Asperger's child.

Aspie kids tend to have sensory processing issues and once we nailed down what we were dealing with, Thursday afternoons were spent at the occupational therapist's office working on John's fine motor skills. I learned a great deal about teaching handwriting. John eventually learned how to type.

The first thing I learned was that we were using a writing program that was entirely inappropriate for a child with handwriting difficulties. Originally, I chose Italic Handwriting because it features a beautiful style of writing and the letters don't change much in the transition from printing to cursive. What the occupational therapist pointed out though was there are too many stops and starts in the cursive. The child has to pick up his pencil and think about where to put it back down again rather than flowing smoothly from letter to letter. Goodbye beautiful Italic. (To be fair though, I will say that Lauren used this program successfully.)

Before we began a hand writing lesson, I held John's feet and let him walk around the living room on his hands. This weighted action addressed his proprioceptive dysfunction. (Do take the time to click on these two links. This site has a wealth of information on improving fine motor skills.) He took apart and put together pop beads. He pulled marbles out of heavy plasticine. All of these things helped him to develop strength in his fingers and arms. If you have preschoolers at your house these are fun, developmental things to do with them.

Sometimes I let him lay on his stomach on the floor and prop himself up on his elbows to write. This gave him better control because the pressure from the floor helped him be more aware of where his body was in space. We got him a slant board to help him to see his work better. It's amazing how much better you can focus on something when it's tipped up at an angle rather than lying down flat on the table. I had him write on a chalkboard so he would be forced to move his whole arm. We had him write with weighted pencils so they would provide extra sensory feedback. We did these activities with him when he was seven and eight.

I took what I learned home to the other children and changed my approach to handwriting. The first change I made was to not stress about teaching writing at an early age. My kids learn to read fluently before I ever get around to working on writing with them. And when we do get to handwriting, the only thing I expect them to write neatly is their handwriting lesson. It's not worth the battle to turn a dictation lesson into a nit-picking session on which line the letter y should touch.

To help the kids learn how to form letters, we start by walking on them. Notice the silver duct tape on the letter a. It's there to identify the starting place. Here, Don Ho will demonstrate for you.
We drive cars on the letter.

We progress to writing letters in the air. When we start this step, I hold the child's hand and help him until I feel that he is starting to get the hang of it. We move to the chalkboard. At this stage, I am not worried about fitting a letter onto lines.

When we get to positioning letters on lines I make my own lined paper for the kids to start on. I use two colors of puffy paint to make lines. This way they can feel the lines.

"a...Start at the starting dot. Curve up and bump the red line. Curve down and bump the blue line. Curve along the blue line. Move straight up and bump the red line. Go back down the line you just made and bump the blue line."

"t...Start at the starting dot. Slide down. Bump over the red line. Keep going down and bump the blue line. Jump. Cross above the red line from the smile side to the star side.

Finally, we move into handwriting workbooks. At the recommendation of our occupational therapist, I settled on Handwriting Without Tears, a developmentally appropriate, easy to use program. The writing style is simple and easy for little hands to master. Claire (6 3/4) and Faith (8) are learning cursive handwriting together. Charlie (who is four) only modeled for these pictures. He's not learning any handwriting yet but he was quite happy to be featured on the blog.


Mama JJ said…
Okay, I really needed to hear this right now. I haven't been doing handwriting with my kids because they are not fluent in reading, but they still have to write when they answer the questions in their workbooks. Should I be concerned that they are falling into bad handwriting habits?

Also, Yo-Yo Boy has been diagnosed with ADHD. What shocked me was that he has no learning disabilities---there is a very high rate of co-diagnosis with ADHD. I am so glad that I have not pushed him with reading and writing---you know how hard it was for Mr. H. I still don't know what all I should be doing for Yo-Yo now that we know the diagnosis, but I do know that I plan to continue to tread lightly with his studies, at least until he takes off with reading.

Now chores, on the other hand, are a totally different issue. I drive them hard!


Ps. How do I do the blogroll thing? Think Baby Steps, here.

I do a lot of writing for the kids until they can write fluently. I also let them answer questions out loud and we never bother to write them down. The little ones do copywork to learn the mechanics of writing. (One or two sentences at a time)

Have you read The Charlotte Mason Companion by Karen Andreola? It is my homeschooling bible. She presents a very do-able approach to homeschooling.

Etta said…
Thanks for this! Jamie initially learned to write his name in all caps (bad school teacher Mommy) and he gets so frustrated now that his K teacher makes him use lower case letters. I think I will try this tape on the floor thing...after Hurricane Ike is through, that is. Happy weekend!
kittyhox said…
Wow, thank you so much for sharing this information. So interesting! I especially love the floor tape idea and using puffy paint for paper lines.

My little guy is approaching 2 1/2, so not reading yet, much less writing.

But I'm already researching homeschool philosophies/curriculums. Or is it curricula? Can you tell I was educated in public schools? I obviously do not have a "well trained mind."

I like a lot of Charlotte Mason's ideas - especially the concept of real books vs. textbooks and the emphasis on nature appreciation/time spent out of doors.

We're going to casually start Peak with Books this year and do some general readiness activities and fun projects together.

Anyhoo, I'm going to file away your post in my homeschool idea files.

Happy homeschooling!
Joy said…
This is very helpful. I was asking advice about handwriting from a kindergarten teacher the other day and she seemed shocked that my 1st grader didn't know how to write all the letters. We are really just now starting, though last year we used the capital letter pieces from HWT but little actual writing. Anyway I was discouraged talking with her but now more encouraged by this post. Thanks!
Maren said…
I admire your persistance. As the mom of a disabled child, I am constantly amazed at how many different ways there are to learn something. Most of my kids followed the textbook developmentally, but #6 always gives me a run for my money. Although I'm not a homeschooling mom, I do try to spend time teaching my kids, and adding to their education. Good luck!:)
ocean mommy said…
This is great. One of Emma's favorite lessons when we began writing letters was to write them in shaving cream. I would spray a foil lined cookie sheet with shaving cream and we would "write" our letters in the shaving cream. She still asks to do that sometimes. I think we are going to try it with math flashcards this weekend.

Have a wonderful weekend!
Girl that is helpful stuff. I need to email you about Hannah. I will do that soon! You are such a great mom. To God's glory!
Much love,
Mary@notbefore7 said…
Great stuff! WE are using HWT for K this year. I really like the boxes - they help her with sizing her letters. We haven't "stressed" about her writing in any other area, so I am glad to hear your opinion there...since you are a bit further down the road. Thanks!
LOL, Kate, at first I was thinking, "Why did she tell me to come look at a post that shows Charlie learning to write??? That's not encouraging! He's two years younger than Chloe!" So I was glad that you mentioned he was only posing for the pictures :)

Those are some great ideas, though. We have HWT, I've just put it off until holding the pencil isn't a battle.
I don't homeschool, but handwriting is something that I've always been a stickler for because my mom was a 3rd grade teacher and she drilled it into my brain. This helped me to see different ways to approach handwriting based on each child and their age. Thanks!

jodi said…
This was a perfect post for me to read. I am kinda solo on the homeschooling front in my circle of friends and do tend to get stressed when I hear what my friends children are learning in school. I immediately think I need to teach mine the same thing or they will be behind. This reminded me that there are many ways and also plenty of time for my kids to learn handwriting, among other things. Thanks!

Also...I read your 100th post and that is a beautiful story. :)
Mary@notbefore7 said…

How "picky" do you get on the pencil postion and hand postion. My daughter just does not hold it the "right" way...!!!! I bought her one of those special $2 grips and it helps, but she prefers not to use it. Do you push it at handwriting time? Any other time? Thanks...

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