Tag Archives: Teaching handwriting

How To Write Numbers And Letters To Avoid Confusing Young Children

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One of the common questions children will ask me when I am working with them on handwriting is “Why is your “6” different from my book’s “6”? , or why is your ” M” different from my book’s “M” ?

This is an EXCELLENT question.

Here is the answer: because a computer made those numbers and letters, not a person’s hand. We don’t write the same way a computer does.

If you understand the development of hand control skills, and you understand the development of cognition and visual-motor skills, you will realize that using the fonts on books is a foolish way to teach handwriting. A good example is the “K” in the above photo. This is a more challenging letter to write, as the writer needs to be able to start the second diagonal stroke at exactly the right location and at the correct angle, while still connecting the stroke to the baseline.

My private clients know that I strongly prefer Handwriting Without Tears to teach young children. The simple style and the developmental progression of the teaching sequence make learning easy, and therefore, make my job easy.

HWT teaches something they call an “easy 6”. It begins with a vertical stroke, not a curve. This is because the earliest and easiest stroke a child can execute is a vertical stroke. What about the more mature method of writing a “6”? It comes naturally to most kids, as they develop better pencil control and greater desire to copy the style of their older siblings and adults.

The same happens with the HWT “M”. It has vertical and diagonal lines that extend all the way to the baseline, to assist kids in learning to touch the baseline and develop symmetry. See the “M” in the photo above. The D’Nealian “M” has two diagonal lines that extend partially to the baseline. If a child can execute this letter with control, I will not stop them. But few young children can do so.

There is no reason to make learning to write difficult. None.

School administrators rarely know how to select a handwriting program, and they often choose as if they were playing darts. I know a local district where they homes start in the low 1M range. They use one program for kindergarten, then switch to another for 1st and up. Insane. Great for my private practice, but absolutely nuts.

Is Automaticity The Key To Handwriting Success?

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I know that this is a bold statement.  Handwriting is a complex skill, with visual-motor coordination, perceptual, cognitive and postural components.  But when I evaluate a child’s writing, and I watch them having to think about where to start and sequence movements to form a letter and place it on a line, and then decide how far apart the letters and words should be, it makes me think that the lack of automaticity is often a child’s biggest hurdle.  Even if their motor control isn’t terrific, they can still have legible and functional writing if they make fewer errors and write fast enough to complete their work in a reasonable amount of time.  Slow and labored writing isn’t functional, even if it is beautiful.

Think about how important it is for any visual-motor skill to become automatic in order to be efficient.   You cannot hit that ball if you have to think about it.  You just can’t.  It has to be a smooth and automatic response that comes from practice and refined feedback loops developed by experience.  While practicing, professional athletes drill down on minute aspects of the swing, but during the game, they choke if they “overthink”.  Ask anyone who has done a ton of free-throws in basketball (you get an unimpeded chance to drop that orange ball into the hoop) for practice but cannot make it when the game is on the line.

In this current culture, teachers have so many skills to impart.  Handwriting is still a skill children need.  Paper workbooks and worksheets are still used extensively until 3rd or 4th grade.  You cannot wait it out until kids get old enough to keyboard.  And a struggling writer in second grade is already feeling bad about their abilities. Sometimes so bad that they don’t want to do the language arts work that develops spelling, vocabulary and creative expression.   So waiting until they can type isn’t the answer.  You want excitement and enthusiasm for reading and writing early on.  Nothing develops excitement like success.  Nothing kills enthusiasm like boredom and failure.

If automaticity is the key to handwriting success, how do you develop it in children?  I think the folks at Handwriting Without Tears have figured it out.  I no longer use any other handwriting materials.  Their workbooks and pre-K multi-sensory learning tools are just too good.

  1. If you look at the pre-K and early primary workbooks carefully, you will see that the left-to-right, top-to-bottom orientation is embedded in everything.  Even the cute animals for little kids to color are all facing left-to-right!
  2. The two lines (baseline and midline) are simple to use.  No wondering where to place letters.   The pre-K letters are at the bottom of the page, creating an emerging automatic sense of baseline.
  3. The developmental progression (versus the alphabetical progression) builds slowly from vertical and horizontal lines to curves and diagonal lines.  Letters are grouped by the way they are formed, making automatic movements emerge early and consistently.
  4. Workbook pages aren’t overwhelming with activities, but the skills are repeated to intentionally develop writing automaticity.

For example, instead of writing 12 letter”B”s and 12 letter “b”s,  uppercase letters, with their larger and simpler hand movements are taught together and earlier.  Letters “b” and “d” aren’t taught together since they can easily be reversed.  Letters “b” and “h” are taught together since the formation is very similar.  Fewer reversals, more success without having to go back and re-teach letter formation.

Take a look at the best “pre-K into K” book I have ever seen, HWT’s KickStart Kindergarten.  It is the perfect summer bridge activity for your preschooler or your older special needs child.

Happy summer writing!

 

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Have More Fun When You Use Drawing To Develop Pre-Writing Skills

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Why should learning to write mean a pile of boring worksheets?  It shouldn’t!  This week, try teaching your preschooler to draw fun shapes that mirror correct letter formation, start/sequence and connections, and watch their handwriting skills take off!

Why draw?  Because some kids need more practice, avoid writing due to fear of failure, or simply need their pre-writing practice to be more fun than traditional worksheets.  Handwriting Without Tears (HWT) does a terrific job of teaching pencil control skills in their preschool and kindergarten books, but their pages often don’t offer enough experience or variety for kids that struggle with pencil control.  I tried using multiple copies of their worksheets, but the kids I treated in occupational therapy sessions got bored too quickly.

I decided to develop tracing pages that naturally expand into guided and independent drawing practice.  As an example, kids have more fun drawing multiple large volcanos that imitate the correct formation of the letter “A” (two diagonal lines that start at the TOP) than writing the letter “A” on a worksheet ten times.  Connecting the lines at the bottom is also an easier way to teach children that they are aiming to connect the diagonal strokes when they write the horizontal line, not slashing wildly across them.

Kids usually enjoy embellishing their drawings.  This gives me more opportunities to work with them on pencil grasp and control skills.  Lava rocks are drawn as circles, and dripping lava curves down the volcano like the letter “S”.  Exploding lava can shoot out of the top of your volcano, curve and drop down onto the ground.  This drawing stroke is very similar to the tricky initial stroke that forms a lowercase “f” (a letter that trips up more kindergarteners and first graders than I can count!).  Beginning a crayon stroke at the top of the volcano is actually an important motor control skill needed for all the letters with top connections such as “F”, “D”, and “P”.   Children will work harder to make this connection because they think it is so cool that volcanoes explode!!

I use gray tracing lines for my beginner drawings for the same reason that HWT uses gray crayon strokes in their preschool workbooks.  Tracing, not connecting dots, helps kids understand that letters and numbers are made of  a sequence of strokes.  The alternative?  I see four year-olds writing the letter “L” without creating a sharp angle at the bottom; it’s a swoop.  I also see the letters “A” and “M” starting at the bottom, then curving up and around in a single line.  Oops!

An important goal of learning uppercase letters first is that these larger, simpler strokes are required motor practice for the finer movements needed to execute the trace-backs and reversals of lowercase letters such as “a”, “b”, “d”, and “p”.  I know exactly what happens if a child doesn’t have the control necessary to learn lowercase letter formation.  If I had a dollar for every letter “a” made from a little circle placed next to a short line….!

Incorrect letter formation and poor control are two of the most common reasons that children in first or second grade are identified as slow or sloppy writers and get referrals to OT for handwriting.  Not every child is able to or interested in re-learning correct handwriting skills later on, and why should anyone have to re-learn handwriting?  Don’t teachers (and OTs) have better things to do?  Teach it correctly the first time!

Drawing gives kids the visual-motor practice they need while providing a fun, creative experience that adds depth to classroom lesson plans about nature, holidays and other subjects.  Try drawing flags, birthday cakes (always a favorite), ice cream cones and more!

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Why Gifted Preschoolers Should Be Taught Handwriting Early (And With The Best Strategies!)

guillaume-de-germain-329206Gifted children are identified by their asynchronous development.   The three year-old that can read, the two year-old that can play a song on the piano after hearing it once at music class, the four year-old that can complete his sister’s math homework…from second grade! These children have one or more advanced areas of skill that classify them as gifted.  One of the skills that rarely emerges early in the gifted population is handwriting.  More often, gifted children have problems with handwriting. Some are just sloppy, some produce illegible products even after trying their best.

A few theories exist to explain this phenomenon:  gifted children are more concerned with expression and ignore handwriting lessons, their typical motor development doesn’t keep up with their advanced cognitive skill progression and they give up, or perhaps a gifted student with poor handwriting has an undiagnosed motor and learning disabilities.

I am going to suggest an additional explanation:  gifted children are not given effective early pre-writing instruction and are often taught to write using strategies that create confusion, boredom or frustration, turning a fast learner into an underachiever.  Gifted kids like novelty, complexity and intensity.  Tracing a dotted-line “A” over and over isn’t any of those things.  Gifted children often remain so focused on their passions that it is easier to let them go and shine in their chosen areas than to make handwriting fun and appealing.

Yes, it is true that children with advanced cognitive skills could have average or below-average motor skills that don’t allow them to independently write a complex original story.  Writing details down may take too long for their quick minds, or they need to use letters they don’t yet have the skills to execute.  A child with an amazing imagination and vocabulary may find standard writing drills dull in comparison to the creative process.  Gifted children may even be averse to the unavoidable failure inherent in practice that leads to mastery.

What can be done?

  • Good pre-writing instruction is essential to build the foundational motor control and spatial skills.  This includes teaching grasp rather than waiting for it to develop, purposely building two-handed coordination and drawing into play,  and using other pre-writing tasks such as mazes, puzzles and tracing/dot-to-dot (not for letters, for drawing).  See Why Dot-To-Dot Letter Practice Slows Down Writing Speed and Legibility to understand why dots aren’t a great strategy for any child.  Learning to draw balloons, birthday cakes and Christmas trees is fun.  It is also a great way to practice writing the curves and intersecting angles that letters require.
  • Use multi-sensory, multi-media methods to develop pre-writing and handwriting skills.  Many gifted children love sensory-based experiences.  Their natural drive for intensity and complexity can be satisfied when letters are made from pretzel sticks or Play-Dough.
  • Create a fun, open environment for learning, in which challenge is expected and success is both celebrated and beside the point.  If children are taught that they are expected to know all the answers since they are gifted, exploration can be suppressed.  If they learn that failure is anticipated and shame-free, it allows them to try again and invent solutions to the problems they face.
  • Harness the skills a gifted child possesses to advance their handwriting development.  Children that have great spatial awareness notice letter formation similarities and proportion rules.  They transform an “F” into an “E” and chop two vertical lines in half to make an “H”.  Children in love with language can use fun mnemonic devices or little “stories” that help them form letters correctly.  When the letter “S” starts as a mini “C” and then “turns around and goes back home” they remember the formation of this tricky letter more easily than copying or tracing alone.

As an occupational therapist, I use the Learning Without Tears program (formerly known as Handwriting Without Tears).  The materials are high-quality, the learning progression is developmental and builds one skill on top of the previous skill, and the early levels are more sensory-based than most writing programs.  See Can HWT’s Flip Crayons Transform Pencil Grasp in Preschoolers? and Why Do You Start (Uppercase) Letters at the Top? Speed and Accuracy for some HWT strategies that really work.  Gifted kids usually want to be creative and expansive when learning, so take a look at Have More Fun When You Use Drawing To Develop Pre-Writing Skills to make teaching a gifted child   easier.

If you are the parent of a gifted child, or if you teach gifted preschoolers, please share your best strategies to support handwriting here!!!  If you suspect that your young child is gifted, read  Is Your Child Bright or Gifted? Spot the Differences   to have some new ways to think about the behaviors you see.  If you are wondering if you should tell your child that their advanced skills have a name, “gifted”, check out Should You Tell Your Gifted Child About Their Giftedness? for some good reasons why they need to know and how to approach this issue with them.

If your gifted child is driving you nuts, or is driving their teacher nuts, read   Gifted Child? Try “How Does Your Engine Run” For More Peace at Home and SchoolWhy Gifted Children Aren’t Their Teacher’s Favorite Students…. and Is Your Gifted Child A “Troublemaker”? to better understand what could be going on.

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Why Dot-To-Dot Letter Practice Slows Down Writing Speed and Legibility

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These beach umbrellas look like a dot-to-dot picture!

Most workbooks feature dot-to-dot practice for writing letters.  They shouldn’t.  Why?  The answer is obvious if you know how to teach handwriting.  The biggest problem is that so few people understand how children learn to write, and what gets in their way.

There are 3 stages of learning:  imitating an adult, copying printed materials, and independently writing a letter.  When the first stage of instruction is too short, poorly attended to (imagine a distracting preschool room) or nonexistent (“go practice at the writing table during your free period”), children end up drawing their letters, unaware of how letters are correctly constructed.  Dot-to-dot worksheets encourage drawing letters. They do a very poor job of teaching correct formation and a good job of encouraging bad habits in handwriting.

Dot-to-dot worksheets, even the ones with a starting dot or arrow, cannot be followed correctly by most very young children.  Start and sequence of writing strokes is essential to creating automaticity and control. Young children look at the letter “a” in the same way I look at a Chinese character or a hieroglyph.  I could probably copy it, but I have no idea which lines make a single stroke, which to write first, second and third, and no sense that it should be similar to other characters.  Children really don’t follow a tiny arrow or understand that numbering the strokes means that a tiny number two at the top means “This is your second stroke”.  Older children do, but they aren’t the ones laboring over the dot-to-dot letter pages.  There is a better way.

To make my point clear, look at the letters that Handwriting Without Tears calls the “magic c letters”:  c, o, a, d, and g.  By the way, are you wondering why “q” isn’t in the group, since it is formed in a similar manner?  They add “q” later in instruction, due to the potential confusion with “g”,which is a more commonly used letter in English.  I have seen a single child write the letter “c” made starting at the baseline and curving up, then make the letter “o” correctly by first writing a “c”, and then write letters “a”, “g” and “d”  by drawing circles and adding straight or curved lines.

This method of letter formation never looks neat once children have to write full sentences with some speed.  It can’t look good, as the pencil control required to write well with these strategies is too challenging for young children once they have to write more than a few letters.  Ooops! Where did they come up with all those different methods of writing letters that should be made by starting with the letter “c” and then continuing to form the specific letter?   They figured it out for themselves, since no one was watching!

The “Magic C” approach is brilliant because it is simple to recall and it creates control and automaticity, two hallmarks of legible handwriting.  Dot-to-dot writing leads children down a path riddled with possible bad habits.  Want a terrific HWT book for your preschool child that is advanced, or your struggling kindergartener?  Check out KickStart Kindergarten: Get Your Child Ready for Kindergarten Writing The Easy Way!.

What about tracing?  Well, I am not a fan of tracing letters or numbers, but I do use tracing for fun.  Read Try “Rainbow Tracing” to Build Pre-Writing Skills With Creativity to learn more.

So, are dot-to-dot pictures a terrible idea?

Not at all.  I love the way children have to control pencil strokes and visually scan the page for the connecting number or letter.  They are great visual-motor fun.   There are complex dot-to-dot pictures with over 200 dots that really challenge kindergarteners who can count.

Just don’t teach writing letters and numbers this way!

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Avoiding Letter Reversals In Preschool

Are letter reversals in preschool normal?  Yes.  Can you avoid them, and thus speed up the accuracy and automaticity that are hallmarks of successful handwriting?  Sure!  This post will explain why reversals are slowing kids down unnecessarily and how to limit letter and number reversals right from the start.

Writing letters backward is very common in preschool, and is not considered abnormal if a few letters or numbers are reversed if a child is under the age of 8.  So why bother even thinking about how to teach letter formation without reversals?  Common Core, PARC, and all the other achievement tests have contributed to less classroom time made available to focus on handwriting, while demanding independent writing skills earlier and earlier.  Teachers in grades 1 and up expect that learning to write letters and numbers has been accomplished, and now it’s all about content.  That means that preschool and kindergarten teachers need to spend time on writing instruction, and they need to choose the most effective methods to do so.

That sounds so simple, but understanding how to avoid reversals without doing constant drilling is hard.  That is how your grandma’s learned to write: kids practiced daily and knew that good “penmanship” was a thing, a thing that mattered.  Today’s preschool teachers generally don’t have much (or any) instruction in how to teach handwriting, and certainly don’t review research on how to teach it the most efficiently for the fastest results.  They are asked to teach kids with learning differences, some of which make it difficulty for kids to perceive that they have reversed a letter, even when it is pointed out to them.  Their budget includes glue and posters, not training programs on something as targeted as writing instruction.  For some teachers, the best they get is a thick packet and some worksheets from their director.  That’s it.

Handwriting Without Tears does a terrific job of attacking reversals where they begin, with the start and the sequence of strokes.  To simplify it:  They start letter instruction with the letters that are easy to write and begin in the same manner without risk of reversals, use a style of writing that is less easily reversed, and they have great beginner tools which replicate the same cues throughout the program.  Their smiley-face icon for orientation while writing is a good example.  The repetition on workbooks and writing materials remind children where to start so many letters supports correct orientation right from the beginning.  They also use meaningful but simple directions.  No tree line, no worm line and no dangly tails that could go either way.  Letters such as “S”, “J”, and “Z” have specific cues to help children prevent reversals.  They are also among the last letters taught.

Kids have lots of practice with start and sequence before they hit the harder letters.  The kids with perceptual issues learn a motor plan that is so automatic that they may write a letter perfectly even if they struggle with object manipulation.  Their hands are telling them how the letter is made, not their eyes!  Should they still get practice with these skills?  Yes, but they need to be successful writers now.

In my opinion, the push for increasing demands in early grades is here to stay.  The smartest thing teachers and parents can do is to pick materials that fast-track kids toward handwriting independence and then use them consistently.  It is also the kindest thing to do.  Kids don’t need more pressure, they need more success!

 

How Do You Teach Word Spacing?

Kindergarteners need to learn to space their words correctly.  But how exactly do you do that?  Most teachers are using the “put your index finger next to your last word as a spacer” strategy.  This isn’t a terrible idea, but many children can grasp the true spacing measure.  Here is why you should attempt to explain it to young children.

First, children are often smarter than we think.  Secondly, they like to know what adults know.  And finally, picking up your “helper hand” off the paper to space words will often result in paper shifts or postural shifts that result in the next word being written incorrectly.  Out of the pan, into the fire!

As children progress from kindergarten through elementary school, they are likely to have less and less handwriting instruction.  Quite frankly, I am seeing even kindergarten classrooms trying to race to language arts, while their students are still unsure of how to write lowercase letters.  That is going to create some interesting substitutions and compensations.  Children know that they are expected to produce written materials, and will substitute uppercase letters in the place of the harder-to-form lowercase letters, or search for a different word with letters that they recall.  What they won’t do is ask for more instruction.  They are kids!

OK, here is the skinny on spacing.  Regardless of the size of the letter, the correct amount of space between words is the width of a lowercase “o”.

That’s it.  Large or small, cursive or print.  One of my sharp students asked why I had left more space than this between the sample words on her homework.  Easy answer:  beginning writers often write larger than the sample, or they make errors.  If I used standard spacing, when she copied my sample and wrote a few of her letters too large, it would be harder for her to fit in her writing directly below my sample.  Her letters would extend past my sample.  Having to move her eyes up and on an angle to see the sample makes it even harder for an early writer to do a good job.

Achieving correct spacing is really not expected until late kindergarten.  Well, it isn’t expected by OT’s that understand the developmental progression of handwriting.  If a teacher asks me to work on spacing at the beginning of the year, I tell them that we have some other things to work on first.  Have they already assessed whether the child knows how to write all 56 letters?   First things first…..!

Teach Your Kindergartener How To Erase Like a Big Kid

Does it matter how a child erases their mistake?  You are probably thinking that I ran out of topics for my blog this week.  Not exactly.

I was thinking about what makes my handwriting posts different than other bloggers that publish posts on early writing skills.  I like to look at all the details when I work with struggling writers.  I search for every way I can build a child’s skills and confidence.   Knowing how to control an eraser is a simple but important skill for children in kindergarten to master, and can save a homework assignment from the trash bin.

Controlled erasing prevents removal of well-written characters.  This means more work and more time to complete an assignment.  It prevents paper destruction.  If your child struggles to write, imagine how he would feel if he accidentally tore the paper and had to start over.

Why would children struggle to control an eraser?  Kids with limited hand strength and stability often press too softly or use too much force.  Children with sensory discrimination difficulties do the same.  Kids who have difficulty focusing, are impulsive or are defiant can make the same erasing mistakes.  Finally, kids with motor or orthopedic issues can have the same difficulty controlling the eraser that they experience with their pencil.

What can you do to help?

  • Select the right eraser.  Although pencils usually come with erasers, some children do much better with a larger eraser or one that is shaped for easier grasp.  A larger eraser can also have more textured edges and even more weight, giving children more sensory input with use.  My favorite eraser is the Pentel Hi-Polymer latex-free eraser.  Super at cleanly erasing, and easy to grasp.  Beats every pencil eraser I have ever used.  Here it is:Problems With Handwriting? You Need The Best Eraser.
  • Demonstrate how to hold the eraser for control.  If a child uses a fisted grasp, they are erasing with elbow or shoulder movements.  These large movements are likely to be harder and less controlled.  Demonstrate that using a mature tripod pencil grasp will result in more control and faster erasing.
  • Make eraser practice fun.  Write awful letters, your worst products, in between good examples on a page.  Have your child erase your mistakes.  Draw mean faces and have them get rid of the “bad guys”.  Draw “coins” and see who has the most money left.  Bonus round:  have them write in the amount on the coins.  Larger number, more money!!

 

Does Handwriting Have An Uncertain Future in School?

I have read two reviews of Anne Trubek’s book The History and Uncertain Future of Handwriting, one of them in the New York Times The Story of How Handwriting Evolved, and May Soon Die Off.  I have not read her book yet, but since I work with young children, I spend plenty of time with “boots on the ground”, in the trenches with early writers and readers.

My first thought after reading both book reviews was “If handwriting dies off, does she predict that 4 year-olds will be typing?”.   I have not seen the amount of physical writing in early education diminish.  In fact, I am certain that kindergarteners are writing more now than we saw in first grade only 10-15 years ago.  Kids are working on tablets as well, but the flood of worksheets hasn’t slowed down at all.  If you have a child between 4 and 6, you know what I mean.  It is a lot of paper!

So much for handwriting dying out in the near future.  In fact, we are expecting kids to learn to write earlier and to learn it quickly.  That is hard enough, but no one is teaching educators how to accomplish this feat.  My local preschools change writing programs faster than they change playground schedules.  We now have large numbers of children moving into elementary education that were not taught to print correctly, and educators who want to help them but don’t know how. I will only briefly mention the children with autism and learning differences that are mainstreamed and expected to keep up under these crushing conditions.   No wonder business is booming: Sharp Rise in Occupational Therapy Cases at New York’s Schools .

Frustrating children, by not teaching them well (which often prevents full language expression) because you don’t know how to help them, is not the answer.  I spend part of each day working with children who feel bad about themselves as learners because they cannot write clearly.  They believe that the problem is theirs and theirs alone.  I help them build their skills and restore their self-esteem.  In most of my sessions I am not using extensive therapy techniques. I am teaching them to write in a developmentally-ordered, practical and logical manner.  I am observing their errors, and showing them how to succeed.

Brain research from education, psychology and neuroscience has suggested that children who physically write letters, rather than clicking them, will display greater ease of recall and improved legibility. Children with physical limitations have no choice but to write digitally, but that doesn’t make it the more desirable method for children without motor issues to learn letter recognition, spelling, and build literacy skills.  Kids with autism and learning differences deserve handwriting instruction that makes things easier and simpler if they are expected to keep up.  But is handwriting dead or dying?  Not if you are in the age group in which you still need a carseat to go away on vacation!

 

 

Why Writing An “M” Like a Mountain Slows Handwriting Progress

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I had this conversation with a very sharp grandma this week.  She was curious about why I did not teach her granddaughter to write an “M” this way, since it is so much easier than the standard formation.  Here is my answer:

  1. Teaching it incorrectly? No! None of the common handwriting styles (Zaner-Bloser, D’Nealian, Handwriting Without Tears or HWT) use that formation.  She will be expected to use standard formation later in kindergarten or first grade.  Teaching her a formation that isn’t correct then changing it later, especially for this little girl, (who resists even gentle redirection) is likely to frustrate everyone later.  She may never make this letter correctly.  At the very least, teaching her one way now and another next year is a waste of my time.
  2. Automaticity. Teaching the standard formation, in which she is required to write a long vertical line and then move her crayon back up to the top of that line, reinforces the automaticity of what HWT calls the “starting corner capitals”.  These are the letters such as “E”, “N”, and “P”.  There are 11 capital letters and one number that start with this long straight line, and 8 of them jump back to the top of that line.  Teaching similar letter start and sequence builds automaticity and speeds learning.  One of the hallmarks of people with legible handwriting is automaticity.  They don’t have to think about how to make letters, they can think about what they want to say in their compositions.  It is not a good idea to slow down the development of automaticity in writing.
  3. Time saved in the future for educators.   A child can certainly learn an immature style and then learn that there is a grown-up way, but Common Core and all the testing have turned classrooms into testing training rooms.  Teachers are not able to take the time to evaluate each child’s handwriting and do spot corrections.  They will say it once and then move on.  Learning correctly now will save everyone time later.

Color Wonder Paper Will Boost Creativity and Save Your Walls

 

 

Nothing ruins the fun of scribbling like the frustration of discovering that clothes, skin and walls are also covered with “creativity”.  It is important to teach children that we color only on specific surfaces, but messes will happen on the path to full comprehension and compliance.  Crayola has just about solved this problem for parents of kids 12 months and up with their Color Wonder line!

There are paper pads, fingerpaint, markers, and coloring books in the Color Wonder line. The markers and fingerprint will only work on their specially-treated paper, but I have a suggestion for those of you who are as frugal as I am:  use regular markers on the back of this thick paper, and then use it for scissor practice!  The fingerpaint is really only safe for children that do not put their fingers in their mouths.  I imagine that the chemicals that allow the paper to react with the paint are not to be swallowed.  The coloring books are widely branded.  If you have a fan of “Frozen” (who isn’t?) or “Cars”, you are in luck.  My strong preference for kids under 3 is the blank pad and markers.  Why?

Perceptual skills are very immature before 3, so the black-and-white line drawings in the coloring books appear to them as just a mass of curved and angled lines.  The little ones get so much more creativity out of plain paper or coloring on your drawings.  If they need a simple graphic, you can draw them a face that they can scribble on, or an ice cream cone like mine above, on which they can add colorful sprinkles.

The magic of Color Wonder is that the markers will not leave a mark on anything but the paper.  Not skin, not clothes (maybe silk, but who wears silk in the presence of toddlers?), not sealed wood furniture, and not walls.  The fine print on the products says that there will be a mark on unfinished wood and some fabrics, but in my experience it has been unable to leave a mark on most everything a toddler can reach.  If you are willing to allow a toddler near a 10K designer sofa, then maybe you can afford to buy another one next year.  I can’t.

This no-marking feature makes it safe to bring to public places and relatives that do not appreciate their home being attacked by young artists.   Not everyone decorates in “toddler chic”.  You probably know that style, where nothing is white and nothing exists that cannot be scrubbed clean? The grandparents have redecorated since you left home, and they will not thrilled to see their home drawn on.  Make them happy and make your toddler happy too, with these Color Wonder products.

Once a toddler realizes that they cannot draw on themselves or you with Color Wonder, they usually give up decorating themselves and your home.  They color on the paper without an argument.  But not always.  One of my families with an almost-2 year-old did get the plain paper pad and mini-markers on my advice, and the mom reported that her son didn’t scribble with her as much as he does with me in our sessions. The reason?  We figured out that he really enjoys getting a negative reaction out of her when he tries to color on the walls or the floors.  Deprived of her strong response, he wandered away, searching for another way to get her attention.  I guess I should link her over to Turn Around Toddler Defiance Using “Feed the Meter” Strategies for some methods to engage him in more positive ways.

I very much prefer the mini-markers, with the caps removed (not clicked onto the ends) while coloring to the standard size markers.   The short shaft promotes a more mature writing grip, while the longer shafts encourage children to use a fisted grasp. There are pastel and bold color sets.  One feature of these markers is that they take a few seconds to react with the special paper.  Young toddlers may think that they don’t work.  Demonstrate that they do indeed work, and even count it off:”One, two, three….magic!!”

My trick for impulsive or impatient kids?  I keep my markers top-off in a small, well-sealed, zip-top plastic bag.  They don’t dry out and I can quickly grab a few markers to offer to a child before she races off to find something else to do.  Clean-up is faster too.  Since the markers don’t stain fingers, I can just scoop and dump them in.

Try these products and see how easy it is to color this summer when you don’t have to clean your walls, skin, and clothes!

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!

 

 

 

Why The Switch to Single-Line Paper Creates Handwriting Problems

It seems so simple:  if a child can write all of her uppercase and lowercase letters independently, she should be able to use paper with only a baseline as an anchor.   I see too many kids in kindergarten and first grade go from proud writers to discouraged writers when the “training wheels”  of extra lines come off too early. Why does the loss the of the midline and top line (or the mid line of Handwriting Without Tears) totally blow their minds and destroy their legibility?

I think I have the answer to this one.

These kids have not been taught, or have failed to grasp, the proportion and placement rules of letter formation.  They don’t have an internalized sense of placement.  This is what adults do automatically.  You can draw a midline and a top line through any adult’s writing easily.  A child that can’t place letters correctly will get a lot of red marks on their compositions.  My suggestion?  Emphasize placement as early as late pre-K, and avoid handing back all those papers covered in red!

Placement on the baseline and proportions of lowercase letters are handwriting details that don’t get enough attention in our world of early test prep for all.  Even for preschools that teach lowercase formation well, teaching sizing and placement concepts are often overlooked or taught too quickly.  Sometimes it is because half the class of kindergarteners are still shaky on mental and perceptual concepts of  “middle” and “left/right”.  They haven’t fully mastered those important pre-writing skills.  It is also very, very hard to teach children to write using only the baseline if they do not know the correct start/sequence.  Correct sizing and placement are only dreams if a child is struggling to remember if the letter “r” starts on the midline or on the baseline.  What do you see with single-line handwriting if a child has’t been taught lowercase/uppercase proportion and placement?

  • the letter “t” will be the same size as an “i”, and crossed in the middle, since even 4 year-olds have mastered a vertical cross.
  • letters like “t” and “l” will start on the baseline.  Kids are looking for an anchor spot to start their letters, and since they don’t have those other lines, they go for the baseline.
  • the letter “l” as a huge straight line, and if it is D’Nealian, add a curly tail that makes it look like a backwards “j” without the dot.
  • The tails of both “Y” and “y” sitting on the baseline.  Sometimes the “y” is half above, half under as the child remembers there is a difference but can’t recall exactly what it is.

You get the idea.

Simply put, letters like “t”, “l”, and “h” are twice the height of “a”, “e’, and “o”.  Stack two “o’s” and you should be at the correct height for the letter “t”.

If a child can stack two LEGOs and visualize the ratio, than they can learn this principle with writing letters. If they do not have the physical control to write lowercase letters this way, go back to writing uppercase letters.  Use those larger letters to refine control, getting smaller and smaller, removing starting points and lines along the way.  Just don’t make red marks all over worksheets and wonder what is happening…

 

Teaching Handwriting To Kids with ASD

Handwriting still matters, and it matters just as much to kids on the spectrum. Teaching handwriting to kids that have difficulty focusing and that learn better with individualized instruction can be a challenge for any teacher, including special education teachers in a self-contained classroom.  For teachers in an integrated classroom, it can be an overwhelming struggle.

Some kids with ASD are even discouraged from working hard to improve their handwriting.  It sounds unbelievable to think of educators discouraging learning a foundational skill, until you talk to teachers. They are pressured to prep for standardized testing and need to show progress in math, social skills and behavior management.  Handwriting instruction just doesn’t seem to be that big a priority.  Some teachers will say  “Well, he will be keyboarding next year, and maybe he could use voice recognition software soon.”   Often what they are thinking is that they mostly use worksheets and writing programs that they were never trained to use, let alone adapt for these students.  They have minimal staff who can teach keyboarding and software use.  They don’t know how to improve a child’s handwriting when they don’t know how to teach it well to begin with.  What they need is a method to teach handwriting that can adapt to each child’s needs.

My answer is the Handwriting Without Tears program, adapted to be learned slowly and with more repetition.  Children with ASD can have any of the other struggles that are seen as impediments to handwriting:  poor pencil grip, difficulty with visual-spatial skills, poor bilateral (two-handed) coordination, etc.  The colorful and abundant lines of Fundations will fail the kids that cannot focus and aren’t able to incorporate the imagery they offer.  Tree, grass and airplane lines are hard to keep straight and translate onto a page.  Top, middle and bottom are concrete and simple phrases.  Worksheets that bounce back and forth between a single baseline and two or three or even four lines are confusing. Connecting the dots?  Don’t get me started on how poor a choice that is for kids who micro-focus and miss the big picture.

HWT workbooks and concepts are simple, and the principles of good writing are clearly said by the teacher and repeated directly and indirectly all the way through to cursive.  It turns out that cursive might even be easier for some of these kids to master. Their simple form of cursive is so much like printing that they can possibly use it by the end of second grade.

Take a look at this handwriting program (you can get free downloads on their website!) and consider the possibility that handwriting could get a lot easier for kids with ASD when the curriculum supports them well.