Monthly Archives: June 2016

Lakeshore Paper Strips Make Summer Writing Practice Easy and Fun!

 

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Make writing vibrant and fun!

These paper strips, both the short (shown) and the long versions, are great for summer writing practice.  Here are a few handwriting tips to make writing on these strips really fun:

  1. They have two different sides; use both of them.  There is a single baseline side which can be much less confusing for the Pre-K set.  Trim the width so that the top of the paper is the top line. You don’t need to write a top line in.  If you find that a child really cannot or will not stop at the baseline, make the baseline thicker with a wide marker and then cut off the space under the baseline.  You won’t need that room for uppercase letters.   I tend to agree with Handwriting Without Tears about too many lines for little kids.  The kids finishing kindergarten can handle a variety of lines, but the 4’s just get confused.
  2. Use these as affordable nameplates in your home for kids who are just starting to read print or cursive.10 Easy Ways to Prepare Preschoolers to Write
  3. Make a treasure hunt that requires them to copy a word in order to receive the next clue.  Don’t forget that if the child is a lefty, the word they are copying is to the right side, and the space they are writing on is on the left.  They need to see your word clearly without twisting their wrist.  Take a look at The Two Differences in Teaching Lefties to Write That Teachers Forget for another secret of teaching writing to lefties!
  4. The paper colors are wonderful, so for children who cannot effectively copy from a model yet, use a gray crayon stroke like Handwriting Without Tears, then have them trace your writing in black.  Use the single baseline side.  Their work will be vibrant.
  5. Write a story using the long strips, taping each sentence together.  Vary the colors and it will be a wonderful graphic as well as a treasured creation.
  6. If you are a big fan of HWT, you can add in the midline to the side that just has a baseline for lowercase letters and cursive.  Remember, kids like to know grown-up things, so be sure that you instruct them on the real name of each line (baseline, midline, topline).  Not to be too critical of Fundations, but even though the “worm line” sounds cute, the kids I know are not into cute as much as they are into being 5 going on 15.  They want to know what grown-ups know.
  7. You could just buy the long strips and cut them shorter if you have a steady hand.  I think they are very affordable, but it is possible that you wouldn’t go through 75 short strips and 100 long strips by the time school starts again!

 

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How Young Can You Teach The Skills That Develop Grit?

I love the concept of “grit”, probably because I see it in so many of the special needs kids that I treat.  Meeting major challenges of living either crushes you or makes you stronger.  Researcher and author Angela Duckworth has championed the study of grit, and schools are even adjusting their teaching curricula to try to encourage a combination of perseverance and conscientiousness.  As an occupational therapist, there is nothing like the triumphant grin from a child that accomplished something difficult through their perseverance, patience and focus.  But how early can you see grit, and how early can you support the development of grit in children that do not seem to have it naturally?

I think grit is present earlier than the kindergarten stage, but it has to be viewed through a lens that corresponds to an earlier developmental stage than originally thought.  The famous “marshmallow test” study by Walter Mischel in the 60’s looked at 4-to-6 year-olds.  Spoiler Alert:  the kids that could use suggested strategies or come up with their own to avoid eating a marshmallow while alone for 15 minutes (in order to be rewarded with a second one) had better self-control later in life.  They got better grades as a group, completed more advanced educational levels, were more financially successful, and had fewer relationship and workplace difficulties.

One of the general conclusions of professionals since then has been that you really don’t see that kind of ability in kids younger than those in that original study.  I believe that they haven’t recognized the earliest stirrings of grit.  Just like a flower and it’s bud, it doesn’t look the same as full-blown grit.  Being able to avoid eating the marshmallow until the examiner gets back isn’t the appropriate test for grit in a 2 year-old.  Being able to wait for even a minute or two for goldfish crackers might be.  So would calmly picking up toys before bedtime.

Toddlers who have mastered Patience Stretching, Dr. Harvey Karp’s simple method for building patience in children as young as 12 months old, are showing some grit. Stretch Your Toddler’s Patience, Starting Today!  I also think that kids that have learned alternative expressions of emotion instead of resorting to defiance have sown seeds for grit.   Kind ignoring, in which defiance and negative attention-seeking is responded to with a brief withdrawal of interaction only, makes it more likely for toddlers and preschoolers to generate positive strategies for attention.  Toddlers Too Young For Time Out Can Get Simple Consequences and Kind Ignoring  Using those methods requires them to have more focused attention than throwing a fit.

Grit alone is not going to guarantee a happy and successful life.  But grit can support kids when life throws them a curve ball.  Dr. Karp didn’t create The Happiest Toddler techniques to develop grit, but I think it can help create a solid foundation for it to flourish!

Transition to Kindergarten By Beginning With a “C”

This isn’t about the grade “C”.  It is about the benefit of writing a circle by starting with the letter “C”.  I just taught a dad how to build his son’s handwriting skills without teaching him any letters or numbers.  His son will be starting kindergarten in the fall, and although there were few worksheets in preschool, we all know he will get lots of worksheets in September.  Many of those will ask him to circle the correct answer.  If this child and his dad use my suggestion on practice sheets this summer, he will be improving his pencil control and start/sequence automaticity for handwriting.  Without ever writing a word.

All he needs to do is to circle the target on his worksheet by writing a letter “C” around it, then continuing the stroke from the bottom to the top to close the circle.  Handwriting Without Tears talks about the “magic c”.  It is pretty magical the way that children who begin letters this way develop faster formation recall and better speed/control for “O”, “G”, and “Q” in preschool, and “a”, “d”, “g”, “o”, and “q” in kindergarten.  The initial formation of a “c” for these letters is exactly how HWT’s preschool book teaches drawing a circle.  Making the leap from drawing circles to circling answers on classroom worksheets sometimes gets lost in translation. It shouldn’t.

Combining motor skills with visual search/discrimination,literacy and math skills on a worksheet is where the rubber meets the road in kindergarten.  You will start to see which kids are mastering writing and which are struggling with one or more components.  Many of my kids will look pretty good with one-on-one instruction in letter formation, but then when perceptual skills, spelling and line placement are expected, they crumble.  If their start/sequence and formation is rock-solid, it frees up attention for learning where and how to look, thinking about the correct answer, and marking it with a circle or writing a response.

Children that start a circle on the bottom or the side of a target, or start at the top and turn to the right side (a backward “C”), will then have to think briefly every time they begin writing one of these curved letters.  It isn’t automatic for them.  Every type of manuscript writing will start these letters in the same manner, so if your school teaches D’Nealian or Zaner-Bloser, and not HWT, you are still following the correct formation.

Don’t worry about letters and numbers that reverse this pattern, like “D’ and “3”.  When you use the HTW chalkboards or Gray Block Paper, you avoid reversing these letters.  The magic “c” letters appear more frequently as a group in early literacy (excepting “Q q”) so they are more essential for legibility at this early stage.  All will be well.

Preschool is the perfect time to introduce this idea of using a “C” to circle things, since most kids are excited but a bit nervous about making it in the big time.  Teaching them that circling their answer this way is the more “grown-up” choice makes them feel confident and mature.  You don’t have to mention the part about how much better it is for their writing.

The Two Important Handwriting Teaching Strategies For Lefties That Everyone Forgets

Teaching left-handed children to write in a right-handed world (estimates for right dominance varies, but always hovers over 80%) isn’t really all that different.  However, there are two specific actions that parents and teachers need to make while teaching that rarely make it to the blogs and articles on the web.  Read on.  I will highlight the basics of lefty teaching, and then explain the missing moves.  They can make all the difference in the world to a left-handed child.

Tilted paper placement and using the non-dominant hand to stabilize the paper apply to both righties and lefties.  Left-handed kids will often want to tilt their paper to a more extreme angle to see their writing.  Let them.  They need to use a mature grasp pattern with their fingertips on a pencil.  Lefties who do not do either will twist their wrist so that they can see what they are writing.  This makes for more fatigue and less comfort.  The likelihood of hearing “I hate to write!” goes up dramatically under those conditions.

Make sure that the printed model on a worksheet is not obscured under their hand.  Most worksheets usually give one letter model on the far left side of the page.  Add more models in locations that they can see. Handwriting Without Tears does an excellent job of supporting left-handed kids in this way.  They give all children multiple models across a line on a worksheet, so that kids don’t have to pick up their hand to check the spelling and letter formation/placement of a model.

The two comments that very few bloggers or professionals mention when giving suggestions relate to the almost-forgotten art of teaching children to write by demonstrating how to write.  This starts earlier than you might think, as your curious 3 year-old watches you write his name.  He is taking mental and motor notes on this skill, and is practicing with crayons to copy circles and other shapes.  If you have a lefty, you are going to change HOW YOU WRITE to support their learning:

  • Teach kids to cross their letters in the direction that is easier for them, i.e. not the way righties do it.  The letters that they can cross more easily from right-to-left are: A, E, F, f, G, H, I, J, T, and t.  There are plenty of letters that are harder for left-handed kids and cannot be altered easily, such as “U”, “L”, and “B”.  Don’t make even more of the letters tricky for them.  I have a few preschoolers in tutoring or therapy that have already created a habit of writing with the right-handed cross.  When I ask them which is easier, and they admit that the right-to-left cross is easier, they still go back to the way they were originally taught. The right-hand way.   I am sad that I did not meet them earlier and make these letters a bit easier for them.
  • If you are right-handed, sit to the right-side of a lefty when teaching so the they can see what you are doing, and you can see what they are doing.  You are already writing upside-down if you are sitting opposite them, right?  Where you sit as you write matters.  Imagine if I were teaching you to dance and you had to mirror all my moves, versus having my back to you so that you could move exactly as I do.  So much easier.  Let’s make this easy for everyone.  If you are teaching a small group, where the lefties sit so that they can see your writing matters as well.  It isn’t a criticism or at all negative to tell the other children that you care so much about every child that the girl who writes lefty needs to sit in a particular spot so that she can see you.  Delivered properly, your comment coveys that the difference is no way a problem for you, nor should it be for anyone else.  We accept everyone for what they are.

Not sure if your preschooler is a lefty?  Two words of advice:  watch which hand they use for utensils at mealtime and with skilled play like LEGOS. Since it is very hard to alter dominance, it should become apparent over time with fine motor skill development.   If a child is wired for dominance of one hand but you have been demanding use of the other, she may comply, and then she will switch the pencil or spoon to the hand with which she feels has the most control.

Unless you are very vigilant and unbending, you will see natural dominance emerge between 2 and 5 years.  So far, I have had just one client who did not develop clear hand dominance in this period.  He had ASD and many other issues, so it wasn’t a total surprise that dominance did not emerge even at 7.  We watched him carefully, and saw that he was slightly more right-handed.  That is what we supported, but it was only after a lot of observation and targeted fine motor play.  He was encouraged, not forced.

Please feel free to comment and share your strategies and challenges of left handedness in pre-writing and beginning writing instruction!

 

 

 

First Father’s Day? You Might Be the Best Baby Calmer In The House

Fathers are often the partners that jump right into practicing the Happiest Baby on the Block techniques.  They “shush” loud and long, they do the quick jiggle (for swinging) with enthusiasm, and they can usually use just one arm to support a newborn on it’s side to calm them.  Moms are in awe of their guy who couldn’t stand to change a diaper and was too nervous to even hold that baby a few weeks ago.  Go, Daddy!

Women do not have the corner on the comforting market.  Yes, they can nurse a baby to calm them, but not every fussy baby is a hungry baby.  Men can be a warm, yet rock-solid, source of physical comfort for children.  The Happiest Baby techniques seem more intense than a standard soft cuddle.  It’s because they are more intense.  Not dangerous in any way, but designed to give newborns a replication of the more sensory-rich womb experience .  Dr. Karp’s awareness of temperament and early development refine that basic concept to give newborns what they need to pull it together, get calm, and get some sleep.  Giving them more touch, more movement and more loud and steady white-noise sounds all together is the key.  The fact is that learning these techniques are new to moms as well helps a father not be intimidated by the “natural” knowledge of women.  The truth is that no one is born knowing what to do, and you can’t google it either.  The parents I teach are pretty much on a level playing field for this stuff.  And the men sometimes amaze me with their new skills.

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads who have stepped up their game, and mastered the easy way to calm their newborns!

 

How Early Can You Use The Happiest Toddler Approach?

Something happens to babies between 12 and 18 months.  The adorable little child that could be easily distracted from grabbing your earrings, ate anything you offered, and smiled when you praised him is replaced by someone whose favorite word is “NO!!”, delivered at astonishing volume for a person who weighs in at only 23 pounds.

Welcome to toddlerhood.  Get ready, it is going to be a bumpy ride!

Dr Harvey Karp’s Happiest Toddler techniques are usually discovered by frustrated parents of two year-olds who are tearing around the house, taking hostages.  But these effective behavior management methods can be cherry-picked to be used with younger toddlers.  In fact, starting early with patience stretching and the Fast Food Rule Taming Toddler Tantrums Using Sympathetic Reframing is a smart way to grow a toddler.  These techniques really do teach patience with kids Stretch Your Toddler’s Patience, Starting Today! and teach them that their complaints will be heard without always getting their way.  Dealing with bad habits later takes longer than instilling good ones any day.

You just have to be aware of which methods work for tiny minds and start planting the seeds before things get out of hand.  Some methods, like Giving It In Fantasy, will not work.  Young toddlers do not have the capacity to distinguish reality from fantasy.  Too many words, as well.  Same with Gossiping About Good Behavior.  They think that you are talking to them and don’t get the full effect of “overhearing” a compliment.

Not sure you want to “time-out” a 14 month-old?  Use Kind Ignoring, in which you momentarily turn away from the whining or defiance of a very young child.  Ignore the behavior briefly, even move 10-15 feet away without saying anything or making gestures or even a negative facial expression.  In fact, doing nothing at all but removing your self from the banging or throwing of toys sometimes works better than a statement or a look.  Your action coveys that this is not going to get your attention, it is going to remove you from their presence.  So much of the time, the littlest toddlers are doing these things to engage you when they don’t have the words to do so.  Don’t take that bait, and you have avoided what the Baby Whisperer would call “accidental parenting”.

She is a big believer in “start as you mean to go on”, and so am I.  Consistency gives all children a bedrock at home and at school.  They know what to expect, how to gain attention and how to successfully communicate even at an age where they have less than 20 words.  If you want more peace, don’t think that you have to wait until you can have a conversation about behavior with your child.  The door to communication is open way before that point!

 

Will White Noise Harm a Newborn’s Hearing?

This question doesn’t come up as often as it should when I do Happiest Baby on the Block consultations.  The short answer is that common sense goes a long way to protecting a newborn’s hearing.  The longer answer is that understanding sound conduction and newborn development will help parents use white noise confidently.  Here we go:

White noise, selected carefully and used with some knowledge, can be a powerful way to calm newborns and it can be a go-to sleep cue for the entire first year.  Babies that recognize white noise as a cue that it is time to sleep are easier to calm when the going gets rough.  When that first cold, first tooth, or sibling tantrum comes along, the baby who calms automatically with white noise will be easier to soothe.  The gift that keeps on giving!  Is it addicting?  Only as much as your cozy pajamas are on a chilly night! Are Babies Addicted to White Noise? Yes….and No

Sound characteristics for safety and effectiveness are volume and pitch.  High pitched sounds are the more dangerous type, especially when used at high volume and close to a sleeping child’s ears.  High pitched sounds are also less effective at calming.  Examples of high and low pitched sounds?  Think about the difference between a whistle (high) and a vacuum (low pitched but loud) or water from a shower head (low pitch and moderately loud).  Everyone has heard stories of babies who stopped screaming only if they were next to the clothes dryer or when someone ran the vacuum.  Those newborns aren’t excited about housework; the rumbling low frequency sound at a moderate volume helped calm them.  Thank goodness that Dr. Karp’s Happiest Baby organization sells while noise CD’s and apps that replicate those calming sounds.  I like to vacuum, but not that much!

Babies who scream can easily reach 100 dB (decibel ). That is as loud as a lawnmower!  To use white noise to help a screaming baby calm down, you are going to have to turn up the volume temporarily to about 80-90 dB for white noise to have an effect.  Remember, I said tem-po-rarily.  Once a baby is not screaming, but is still fussy, it is time to lower the volume down gradually to a soft shower level. It is not recommended to use white noise at the volume level above 70dB all night long.  

How close should the sound source be to the baby?  It depends.  Obviously if it too far away, the effect of sound is diminished to the point where it does no good at all.  You will realize that quickly as you watch your newborn continue to scream and fuss.  Too close is not acceptable either, as the volume of sound will be too high.  By the way, Dr. Karp encourages families that want to use a cell phone for white noise to put it on Airplane Mode to diminish the amount of radio waves from the phone.  Most phones have tinny speakers that don’t deliver great low pitched sound anyway.  The most accurate way to know that the sound is a safe distance is to download a decibel meter app or buy a free-standing meter.  Place it next your child and adjust the volume so that the level for an all-night session is 65-70dB.  That is about the level of lively conversation, and a safe level for full-term babies.

Should you use white noise all day and all night?  Absolutely not.  Babies need white noise to sleep and calm, but when awake and interacting, they need to hear your loving voice, experience the quiet stillness of a peaceful home, and listen to the wonderful sounds of nature and family!