Why am I Writing this Blog?

I am very concerned about the growing level of illiteracy among our children. This blog is for parents who are homeschooling, parents whose children are falling behind at school and they don't know how to help them, teachers who would like to bounce ideas off an experienced teacher or get ideas to help student with problems. I will do everything in my power to help anyone in the areas of reading and writing.

In this blog I'll be using the original English spelling forms, so please make allowances if you're American or have been taught the American spelling form.

Please be understanding about the advertisements on the blog. It gives me the opportunity to earn a little to add to my pension.

Related links for teaching training, lesson plans and worksheets:

Fantastic Free Video series on how to teach handwriting:
by handwriting expert Nan Jay Barchowsky
by handwriting teacher Matt Nisjak

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED: http://www.handwritingebooks.com/
101 sheets of lower case and 101 of upper case letters, plus a bonus book on numbers and another on words for $5.95 for the lot - A great bargain.

Information on Education and Homeschooling
EducationBug: Education Directory - articles, directory, newsletter and profiles on schools

Free Worksheets:
Eastside Literacy
First - Schools

Lined Handwriting Sheets:
Handwriting For Kids

Making Handwriting Sheets:
Handwriting Worksheets
Ed Helper

Videos About Teaching Handwriting:
Teachers TV

Free Lessons and Ideas:
The Electric Company
First 55 Come Alive
Literacy, Families and Learning
ESL Partyland

Ed Helper - Spelling
Ed Helper - Reading Comprehension
Ed Helper - Vocabulary
First - School
Sites for Teachers
Sites for Parents
Clipart for Worksheets
The Teacher's Corner
Teaching Made Easier
School Express

Membership Sites:
Ed Helper
Reading A-Z
ELSIE: Reading 0-6

Inexpensive Handwriting Books
Staidens Homeschooling

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Importance (and Simplicity) of Play

Hi Everyone,

I've found a great blog called "Literacy, Families and Learning" I wholeheartedly recommend it. It's got some great ideas on creativity and learning with young children. The blog is written by Trevor Cairney. I'll print the first part of the blog and you can click on the link if you're interested in reading more.

The Importance (and Simplicity) of Play by Trevor Cairney
I've written a number of posts about play and argued that it is important for many reasons. Broadly, it stimulates children's creativity while assisting their development cognitively, emotionally and socially.

It also encourages their imagination, fine and gross motor skills, decision-making, problem solving and risk taking. As well, it helps children to learn about themselves through success and failure and to build relationships with parents, their siblings and friends.

However, in this post I want to make just one key point - that simple play is best. Simple opportunities for play will always (well, almost always) capture their attention, that's why the box so often wins out over the expensive and complex toy.

Stimulating play does not require expensive equipment or toys, multimedia excitement or body numbing entertainment (though that stuff can be fun too!). In fact, I want to argue that children if given some control over their play will often choose the simple. What do I mean by this? I mean that they will often enjoy:

  • the repetitive and the predictable
  • the unexpected and surprising (yes, that's the opposite of the above - they can love both);
  • the silly over the serious;
  • activities that stimulate their senses (not necessarily all at once);
  • play that involves other people, both actively and passively (this is especially true of parents).

It is important as parents and caregivers to be on the lookout for opportunities to structure situations during the day that permit and encourage stimulating play. While its hard to do fancy stuff when faced by the demands of 2-3 children (or even more in the case of some readers of this blog), if children are engaged in stimulating activities they are less likely to be driving you nuts. And the simple stuff is the easy stuff.

One final thing, as I indicated in a previous post it's also important to allow your children to take lots of initiative - play is when they can take the lead and show you how to do things. Click here for the rest

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Great Escape - Does Anyone Relate?

An older, tired-looking dog wandered into my yard; I could tell from his collar and well-fed belly that he had a home and was well taken care of.

He calmly came over to me, I gave him a few pats on his head;
he then followed me into my house, slowly walked down the hall,
curled up in the corner and fell asleep.

An hour later, he went to the door and I let him out.

The next day he was back, greeted me in my yard, walked inside and resumed his spot in the hall and again slept for about an hour. This continued off and on for several weeks.
Curious I pinned a note to his collar: 'I would like to find out who the owner of this wonderful sweet dog is and ask if you are aware that almost every afternoon your dog comes to my house for a nap.'

The next day he arrived for his nap, with a different note pinned to his collar: 'He lives in a home with 6 children, 2 under the age of 3 - he's trying to catch up on his sleep. Can I come with him tomorrow?'

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Handwriting Readiness Pt.3 - Small Muscle Development

Large muscle development in a small child's hands takes place quite early. Any parent who's tried to take something away from a child who really wants it, will vouch for this. However, there are numerous smaller muscles in the hand that need to strengthen before a child can successfully guide a pencil. If a student is asked to begin writing before he has full control over these muscles, letter formation will be effected.

Following are exercises to aid in the development of the smaller muscles in a child's hand.
1. Colouring and drawing with crayons is a great way to develop these muscles. The resistance that a crayon gives, strengthens the fingers and provides tactile (feeling) feedback to the brain in a way that textas and pencils will not. Colouring with crayons on construction paper will provide even more resistance.
Construction paper is a stiff, heavy, inexpensive matte or eggshell finish paper. Made from ground wood pulp, it is available in a variety of colors, and its primary application is children's arts and crafts and school projects. It can also be called sugar paper and is typically available in large sheets and sometimes rolls. The texture is slightly rough, and the surface is unfinished. Due to the nature of the source material from which the paper is manufactured, small particles are visible on the paper’s surface.

To save money on crayons and make the exercise more interesting, let the student peel the paper from the crayon stubs or broken crayons, that can't be used any more (great fine motor control exercise). Place them in foil made into different shapes and melt them into new rainbow coloured crayons.
2. Squeezing and rolling clay, plasticine or play dough is also good for strengthening tiny hands. Children love to roll it into a ball and then pushing holes in it with their thumbs or rolling out long sausage-like sections and making shapes with them. If you're working with play dough or plasticine children can cut the lengths with their craft scissors. For clay a ruler separates the pieces quite well, as long as the clay is soft enough.

3. Make stamps from potatoes or other vegetables. A spoon can be used for this and if the vegetable is too hard, just stick a fork in it a couple of times to help out. Doing the carving and then learning how much pressure to apply, to actually use the stamp is a terrific exercise for tiny hands. Tip: use paint and not ink for this.

4. Make old fashioned tin can lanterns with a hammer and nail. Take an ordinary tin can and remove the paper from the outside. With supervision let your child put holes all over it with a nail and small hammer. Then put a candle inside the can and the light will shine through the holes. The student can paint the outside of the can if he likes, but make sure that he doesn't use anything that will melt.
5. Draw with chalk on a board or on the concrete pathways, steps, terrace, patio, outside brick wall - it will wash off with water. You can get packets of sidewalk chalk that's very thick so that your child won't scrape his knuckles on the concrete when he tries to draw.

6. Playing Jacks. Click here for a great explanation on how the game is played and there are other old fashioned games on this site that you might want to use with your child as well. Sometimes I think that the saying 'everything old becomes new again' is very true. For Jacks you can use flattish stones, you can still buy Knuckles or Jacks games from some games shops, or you can do it the way it was done fifty years ago by actually getting five sheep's knuckles from the butcher and leaving them on an ant's nest until they're nice and clean and dry and ready to be used - great natural science lesson. You can paint the bones different colours later or just leave them as they are.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Handwriting Readiness Pt.2 - What are Fine Motor Skills?

We take well developed fine motor skills for granted, but they are required for successfully completing simple tasks such as using a knife and fork, punching a phone number or texting on those tiny mobile phones. threading a needle or sewing, playing most musical instruments, playing computer games, gardening, using tweezers, putting on makeup and even tying your sneakers.

These fine motor skills are basic prerequisites for students to succeed academically. That's why helping children develop finger strength and tactile dexterity is so very important. Of course you can do this after they've tried to write well and failed, but it's much harder to turn a failure in any area into a success, than to put in the preliminary work necessary and go straight to success. The trauma of failure in front of all their peers, is not really something to which we want to introduce our children, in their first year of school.

If you take your child to a play group or preschool they will get some of the activities there, that are needed to develop fine motor skills. Don't, however, count on that!

Boys, especially, would in general, much rather be outside playing cars in the sandpit or climbing on the gym equipment, than sitting inside threading wool through a card or playing with the play dough. The preschool teacher will try to make sure that each child has an equal opportunity to develop both gross and fine motor skills, but don't just rely on that.

As a parent, keep an eye on your child's development. How skillfully does she use her knife and fork, can she tie her shoelaces properly - that doesn't mean eventually. If she need a few tries before she succeeds that's fine, but if she's up to number five or six and she's still not been successful, it may be a sign that she needs to further develop those fine motor skills. Another way to check is by doing some craft with her, where she needs to work with small items and note how nimble her fingers are.

There are so many fantastic activities you can do with your children at home, to help them develop great fine motor control. Some of them are messy, but aren't your kids worth that? If you're worried about the carpet, pick a fine day and take a card table or plastic table cloth outside. Maybe you'll have to move the daily grind around to make time for the activities, but just think of all the time you'll save later on in their lives, when you're trying to explain their homework to them and you're hitting a brick wall because failure has become ingrained in their minds.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Handwriting Readiness (Pt.1) in Children aged 3 - 6 years

"What's all this about handwriting readiness?" you might say. "You just give the kid a pencil and off she goes. Right!"

Well, actually, No! Giving your child pencils too early in their development, can quite often lead to illegible, untidy, badly formed and badly sized writing, which will take a great deal of time to correct later on - that's if it can be corrected. It takes a great deal of determination in a student to change a stongly ingrained bad habit and some find it just too hard.

Handwriting is a complex operation. Activities that use all senses (multi-sensory) and feeling and moving (kinesthetic), prepare students for letter and number formation before they begin learning to write.

Well developed fine motor skills are necessary for a student to write well and it is the very, very, rare three or four year old, who has these skills. A five year old, who has had sufficient pre-handwriting experiene may be ready, but sometimes a child may be even older before these skills develop.

Handwriting readiness is dependent upon the presence of seven foundational skills.

  1. small muscle development
  2. hand-eye coordination
  3. utensil or tool manipulation
  4. basic stroke formation
  5. alphabet letter recognition
  6. orientation to written language
  7. understanding of spatial relationships

Fomal handwriting instruction can begin as early as kindergarten year and some children will take off and never look back. Some, however, will struggle for the rest of their lives, because one or more of the above seven developmental stages had not been reached, when they were required to learn letter formation.

In following blogs, I'll explain more fully the seven prerequisites for handwriting readiness and give activities that can aid in the formation of each.


There also needs to be gross motor activities to get the brain going and give students more control over their bodies. Try dancing, little athletics, skipping, running around kicking a ball with them - get them moving and away from the TV and computer games. Not that these things are necessarily bad, but there needs to be balance.