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

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Handwriting Readiness Pt.6 - Basic Stroke Formations

One of the hardest things for a child when learning handwriting, is fluency. He is so concerned with getting it right, that instead of a uniform curve or circle, it becomes a wobbly formation.

To help with fluency Danielle Dumont, an expert from France, teaches children using a ribbon and making waves and squiggles with the ribbon in the air (rather in the way that a gymnast uses the ribbon). Once the circles, waves and squiggles that the ribbon is making are fluent, transfer that same fluency with chalk to the chalkboard. This helps the student to feel that flow and to use it when working on a smaller area.

Proficiency in basic stroke formations is a tremendously important part of handwriting. What is an intelligent child likely to do, if you put some lined paper in front of him. with strokes done in dots - you then tell him to trace the strokes, but be careful not to go below the line? That's easy! He'll start at the line and go up the stroke so that he'll be sure to get it just right. It makes perfect sense to him, because he hasn't been told that this is practice for writing letters and they begin with a downward stroke and never an upward one. The solution to this is to explain this to him.

Except for v,w,x,y,z, which start with a slanted downward stroke or in the case of z a horizontal stroke, (none of which, by the way, begin on the line) all other small case letters start with either a vertical down stroke or a curve moving in an anticlockwise direction.

Children should never be taught how to write the letters, until they have considerable skill in tracing pictures or shapes. You can use ordinary cheap colouring books for this and textas or coloured pencils (thick, three sided ones). At this stage don't worry about the direction in which your child traces. The aim (or I could call it a game) here, is to trace without straying from the picture outline. He needs to be able to keep the texta or pencil tracing that line, for as long as possible, before he stops, lifts it up and then puts it down on the line, to begin tracing again.

Some of this can be done without you supervising. You'll usually be able to see the stops and starts and judge how proficient your child is becoming. It is wise though, to sit with him sometimes to observe and also the encourage - encouragement motivates! After the outlining is done, he may see the picture as being finished or he may want to colour it in further. Go with the flow. Colouring in also requires a certain control of the pencil.

Once he has shown proficiency (not perfection!!) with tracing, you can progress to formal pre-writing sheets. Here is where you need to sit with him and watch him like a hawk. It's good to verbalise with him as he does the strokes - 'start at the top and trace down'. He'll probably get sick of your verbalisation after a while and just want to get on with the job. Just tell him that you'll stop, but if he starts at the line and goes up, you'll have to help him again by verbalising. Children usually find this a fair bargain and it will motivate him to concentrate harder.

All the curved shapes on the pre-writing sheet must be done in an anticlockwise direction and again you need to watch all the time. Where to start when tracing circles?? Different writing schemes teach different ways, when the student begins on the letters of the alphabet. Picture in your mind a circular head with ears. Actually draw it, if you're working with your child. Some writing schemes teach that you form a,d,g,o,q by starting at the top of the head, or on the line, and drawing an anticlockwise circle. Then for f,s,c, you start just above the right ear, go up to the line and then proceed to finish your letter.

In theory this sounds fine, but what often happens is that students also persist in starting their f,s,c on the top of the circle, or on the line, too. It's so much easier to have an obvious starting point. You can imagine the finished product - it's long and skinny and undefined. I recommend starting all these letters above the right ear. It's much simpler in the long run and the letters have a better flow to them.

Okay! Getting back to pre-writing sheets - make a small mark on any circle just where the top of the right ear would be and get your child to begin tracing anticlockwise from there. If there are spirals, or any other curves, make sure they're traced in an anticlockwise direction too.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Handwriting Readiness Pt.5 - Utensil or Tool Manipulation

No! This doesn't mean that you get out the hammer, the electric saw and the drill set. It's just
psychologist's jargon for the level of skill, with which children use ordinary, everyday things like a spoon or fork, crayons, plastic scissors, glue brush, paintbrush, etc. Can they tie their shoe laces, clean their teeth properly, get a top to spin?

These are skills that can be developed. For those of us old enough to remember, there was junior mechano and the progression to the even smaller parts of the regular mechano, with the tools to join parts together. Most boys had a set of some size to make all manner of wonderful inventions. There were even small motors, that moved parts.

Then there were those kits with tiny pieces to build model, ships, cars and many other things. Hours were spent in this way and these were wonderful for creating exceptional manipulative skill with hands and fingers.

For girls, who had kind brothers, the mechano sets were often a favourite, but I also remember making pictures with tiny beads, learning to sew with tiny stitches, making little tea sets with clay, colouring, drawing, painting, or french knitting. I remember my brother was addicted to french knitting for a while. He ended up with a length that stretched all the way from the front fence to the back fence. We ended up making a mat with it.

And now the good news - all these things, including some great mechano are still available today, plus many more activities to get little fingers nimble and clever with manipulating tools - large and small - and increasing the strength of those tiny muscles needed to successfully guide a pencil.

Before we go any further, I want to stress, really stress, the importance of your prospective writer being given the thicker, three sided pencils to use. You can get them in plain lead and colours. I know they are more expensive and need sharpening more often, but they encourage the tripod grip and are much easier to manipulate than the thinner ones.

As in any kind of tool manipulation, there is a way to hold a pencil which has been proved to cause the least stress on hand muscles and help writing to flow more evenly. This is called the dynamic tripod grip. Children develop the habit of holding their pencils in ways different to this, for a variety of reasons. The most common reason, is participating in lots of writing before their hands are developmentally ready for it.

Other than forming a habit for the wrong pencil grip, the most common problem is how much pressure your young student is putting on the pencil. Some children press too hard, writing slowly and deliberately and putting great stress on the muscles in their hands and fingers. Obviously, this will prove to be very uncomfortable for them and they won't be at all motivated to practice their writing. To help them realise how hard to press, put their writing paper on a thin foam board. When they press too hard, their pencil will go through the paper into the foam. Make a game of it, to see if they can write without the pencil going through, but heavy enough to make the writing clear.

The opposite problem - not pressing hard enough - can be helped if you use paper with a carbon backing or just a piece of carbon paper stapled between two sheets of paper. If the writer doesn't press hard enough, the copy won't be seen on the sheet beneath.

Other ways to improve manipulative skills are:

1. String plastic, ceramic, glass or even beads you make yourself from paper mache etc, and decorate them.
2. Sew with wool to make felt hand puppets, pillows or clothes for dolls, little purses, marble bags or whatever your little creative genius desires.

3.Weave placemats with craft foam, coloured paper, craft ribbon, crepe paper or anything else you discover will work.

4.Make flower necklaces out of real flowers or the small craft ones.
5.Make pom-poms from two cardboard donut shapes and wool.

6.Make paper flowers from tissue, crepe or ordinary coloured paper. If you've used the type of paper, on which you can use glue, sprinkle with sparkle or decorate in some other way.

7. Check out a library book and learn to make origami animals. Best to check one out from the children's section if possible. Some of the designs can get very complicated.

8. Make paper chains as decoration. These can be used also to hang up and write the name of each book you've read together on a separate chain. It can cause great excitement and even motivate children to ask to have books read to them, to fill up the chain completely. Try having a blank chain for each month with a do-able number of links.