handwriting,  learning strategies

Working With the Handwriting Enigma

Through the last few months of school, I’ve been itching to work on J’s handwriting problems. With school going on, I couldn’t squeeze in the time or afford another homework battle when we had so many other things to do. Ever since he was three years old, J’s worked with an OT on his fine and gross motor skills. At three years old, he had already started Handwriting Without Tears (http://www.hwtears.com/hwt). He loves handwriting. He’s the only kid his age that I know who actually chooses cursive over printing. In fact, when I have my college students write in-class assignments, every single assignment comes back to me printed. Printed. Apparently kids these days don’t use cursive anymore.

J wasn’t always terrible at handwriting and printing. In fact, he was amazing. He entered kindergarten already knowing upper and lower case letters. Because he could print, we could get into his mind in ways we couldn’t through his speech because he’s much better at expressing himself through writing than he is through speaking.

Here is a sample of J’s printing right when he started kindergarten.

(This is J expressing his anxiety over light switches, shortly after our move to Fargo. It looks big, but it’s actually on a note card)

Printing and writing are a way he can process the world around him. Here is a map he drew of our neighborhood, including circles for Christmas lights and flags.

(This is about grade one or 7-8 years old)
(This is about grade one or 7-8 years old)

This is J’s writing today. I don’t know what happened. I don’t know if he needed daily practice on his writing skills, or just trying to keep up with new concepts in class was too much combined with the fine motor skills required for printing/handwriting, but his writing just exploded–literally–all over the page. And I’ve noticed in the last year or two it’s gotten worse and worse:

Copying out one definition
Copying out one definition
Sarah's Phone June 20 117
Word on top of words

Teachers tell me over and over that handwriting doesn’t matter anymore. That kids type everything now, and that J will be just fine (he can type more wpm than me). But I don’t buy it. There is much more to writing than just writing words down. Handwriting plays a crucial role in our lives. It forces us to synthesize information when we write it down (because we can’t write nearly as fast as we can type), while we tend to type things verbatim on the computer. Studies are finding our brains retain information better when we write things down than when we type them. http://www.npr.org/2015/05/27/408794237/in-a-digital-chapter-paper-notebooks-are-as-relevant-as-ever

J’s not developmentally at the point he can synthesize information, but he needs to write. The last two months of this school year I realized it was the only way he could study and remember his social studies words (like Peloponnesian Wars, Delian League, Pericles, etc). It’s like his brain needed to feel the words through his pencil in order to retain them.

And then there’s math:

He doesn't even have enough room to complete the next step
He doesn’t even have enough room to complete the next step

Handwriting requires visual spatial planning. J is really good at math, he knows every single step in answering an equation, but won’t get it right unless he dictates the steps and numbers to a para educator. In fact he’ll get it wrong every single time on his own because he can’t line things up.

So yeah, I’m going to say handwriting is pretty important to this kid.

Ever since school has been out, J and I practice handwriting every single day. He’s done it in the past, I know he can do it again. About a month before school was out, one of J’s paras ordered printing paper for him (like he had back in elementary school), he seemed to get the hang of it pretty quickly again. Math was still a problem. We’ve tried grid paper in the past, but it was just too visually overstimulating for him. There were too many boxes, and sometimes (like fractions) it was hard to organize it on the page. So I  decided to make my own paper. It was really crude, but I cut strips of construction paper, glued them on printer paper, and then took it to the UPS store and made $25.00 worth of copies. This is how it turned out:

My Paper

And this is J using it for math:

Three completed problems
Three completed problems

And this is J using it for handwriting:

I added bars in a different color so that he can see how he needs to account for spacing and how to plan the size of his letters

In fact, a few days ago, I couldn’t find a modified paper for him as we were studying geography so I pulled out a regular sheet of paper and it’s amazing!

(He still takes more than one line to write his letters, but HUGE improvement)
(He still takes more than one line to write his letters, but HUGE improvement)

Anyone else struggle with handwriting? What kind of creative things have you come up with? What problems do you encounter?

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