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.