Tuesday, August 9, 2016

A.R.C.H.- Handwriting Skill Development

We have made it to the third part of A.R.C.H. This series is thoughts about how we can support our children and span the gap between school and home as they enter the second half of early childhood.

So far we have discussed:

The value of outdoor play
Imaginative play in the classroom and at home 
Reading aloud

This week we consider Coaching the Academic Skills.  I like this turn of phrase and first heard it from Andrew Kern.  The idea is that most activities that end in -ing are actually skills: reading, writing, calculating, handwriting, etc.  That means that there are steps that students can be led through towards success.  It also means that if you go at the child's pace and introduce the next step as it comes they will feel successful as they gain these new skills.  We are familiar with skills in sports and realize that there is an order and progression to their development.  The same is true of academic skills and by understanding their development and progression we can be great advocates for our children.

This week we will consider the skills of handwriting, reading and calculating.  My goal is that by equipping you with some step by step skill based resources you can better oversee your child's development and talk with teachers and others knowledgeably.  In the end, I like this reminder that you can only teach three things:  skills, knowledge and truth.


My mom constantly wonders if this is even worth our time since we normally use computers as adults. I say YES.  It is worth the time and investment.   Basically, the brain activates differently when we write - it is a motor skill that helps us become better readers and writers - the act of typing keys does not have the same effect.  Writing and reading used to be closely linked together in teaching because we waited until kids skills were developed enough to teach these items at the same time (around 7) but I digress. 

I honestly don't know if there are handwriting lessons any longer (I know many schools have removed cursive).  Have they passed this down to preschool as well??  Regardless, you should consider handwriting lessons at home.  The goal is to help your child develop writing that is comfortable and legible.  We are listening to a book on tape about the American's who discovered the Mayan ruins.  One of the primary laments of his education was his poor handwriting- he said it was very hard to correct (and he wrote over 1000 published pages in his lifetime).  Doing it right from the beginning, like most skills, is very helpful.

Peterson's directed handwriting offers support (a more in-depth look) and ideas about how to do this. Here are all of the resources available from Peterson so you can pinpoint where your child is in the process.  I do admit that this handwriting is not the "prettiest", but I find it very functional (here is the chart to show how to form vertical print and slant print). Children can develop their own style as they get older. He nicely outlines the 6 handwriting skills and order of their development.

1.  Form
2.  Downstrokes/ slant
3.  Size 
4.  Spacing
5.  Smooth Rhythm 
6.  Control 

Now that you know what skill development looks like and its order, you can help your child regardless of the program she is using?  It helps you pinpoint where they need instruction and support.  Do they not know how to form their letters?  Teach them the strokes.  Do they continue to start from the baseline and go up? Reinforce which letters are downstrokes,  Can they form their letters but they aren't the right size? Show children understand how to use guidelines to form their letters.  Most agree that it is better to do a few letters or words "perfectly" than to fill a whole page with chicken scratch.  

Honestly, working on letter formation should take less than 10 minutes a day and not all of it has to be done pen to paper.  Air writing while standing in line at the grocery store or while in the car - is another way to redeem time and help build skills.  Invest in a white board and dry erase markers - they can draw them or you can draw them and they can erase them (following the proper strokes). Other ideas are easy to come by, although some are for younger children, a change of pace is fun for everyone.  

Don Potter provides a plethora of handwriting research resources.  There has been a lot made of handwriting over the years. Concerned about pencil grip - 140 pages of research! Want more practical ides for pencil grip.  For the long term writing well being of your child this might be a fight worth having.  Here is a great overview of pencil grip development. I can hardly watch my husband write his grip is SO horrible (I know his mom tried).  If you are looking for flashcards that have both print and cursive letters here is a set of free ones.  I have also found using the "clock face" for teaching when to turn and change direction in writing is helpful. Here is another link to clock faces for writing.  I try to shy away from straight tracing because it doesn't always help the child to think through the strokes necessary for writing.  To me, it makes more sense to spend more time on proper letter formation so that they have that down pat, than to keep moving forward just so that they can write words.  

I personally advocate for cursive first (here is someone even more passionate than myself).  There are a few key reasons for this: 

-   much less likely to reverse b and d because of the way they are formed
-   always begin and end in the same spot (almost), and starting at the baseline instead of somewhere else
-   over the long term it is much faster writing 
-   there are just a few key strokes (4 to 8 depending on the program you use)
-   being able to read cursive means they can connect with the past 

There are some downsides though: 

-   cursive writing is better when they can hold one whole word in their brain - rather than going letter by letter
-   not everybody can read cursive 

Obviously, your child will probably start with print in school- most likely with something like "Handwriting without Tears".  This is a great program.  However, if your child still struggles with reading and seems to be tending toward being dyslexic this font might be helpful.  Remember that until they start writing b, p and d are all the same figures - just facing different directions.  Not so in reading and writing.  

If you want the simplest way to teach cursive I recommend this little free booklet.  

Not all children begin crawling, walking and talking at the same time.  So lets remember that handwriting, reading and calculating are similar - children need to be developmentally ready to do these activities.  Knowing the stages of development can help us identify where they are and identify the next step they need to take towards mastering the skill at hand.

As children move beyond learning to write you might want to consider copywork for the next stage. Here is an introduction to help you move from handwriting to copywork.  Truly, it is an expansive topic for another time.

Tomorrow we discuss some key ideas about coaching reading.  

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