I’m worried that this post will make me sound a like a fairly uptight or perfectionist mom. (More so than I really am, because I sort of am.) I tried not to be that way when my oldest son, Pigby, was doing “preschool” with me. He demanded I teach him how to read, so I did. He never showed any signs of wanting to write, and anytime I tried teaching him it led to struggles, so I backed off. For several years, I didn’t push the issue at all; I didn’t want to kill his love of learning.
When he was five, I figured it was time to start in earnest. I thought most kids learned how to write in kindergarten. I vaguely remember being able to write all my letters as a kindergartner. We struggled big time. We started with one program that offered no instruction in how to form letters. It just provided the dotted lines and expected him to copy the letters over and over and over and over. Oh my word, just remembering it makes me want to pull my hair out. He could not copy them well. Some of his letters were so skinny, some were so fat, and most missed their marks on the three guiding lines. I was struggling so hard not to freak out about it in front of him. “How can this be so hard for him? All he has to do is recreate each letter?!” I was figuratively pulling my hair out every day.
I ended up switching him to Handwriting Without Tears. It started with using gross motor skills and would eventually translate those same motions into fine motor skills (writing the letters on paper). Someone pointed out to me that he disliked anything to do with fine motor skills and he always had. That was why at age three he’d had no interest in stickers, buttons, shoelaces, glue, scissors, or coloring; he avoided them all. In fact even now, at eight years old, he still struggles; he’ll try to get me to do lots of things requiring those pesky fine motor skills. When he was five, people recommended that I help him build those hand muscles, then it wouldn’t be so hard for him.
We started by coloring every day. I was advised by one person to use crayons because they require children to push harder, which would build the muscles. Another person advised me to use colored pencils, because they required more control and precision. I compromised by having him alternate colored pencils and crayons every day.
As time went on, I had to adjust the way we did school to accommodate his hatred of writing, while still working on that particular skill. Some of the things we did:
• I used Handwriting Without Tears to help me teach him how to break down the formation of letters. This program really did stop all of my tears over teaching him. Copywork wasn’t enough; he needed to practice creating each stroke.
• Once we completed the first two levels of HWOT, he wanted to learn how to write in cursive. I bought the StartWrite software and created my own copy pages. I created pages of one letter filling the line. The letters were dotted so that he could trace them. After he got proficient at copying, I’d leave space in between each letter so he could try to recreate the letter next to the one he had traced. Then I started doing the same things with his spelling words. Then we moved on to sentences. We took as many baby steps as we needed.
• In subjects other than handwriting, I would often write for him. I wrote for him in math, grammar, writing, spelling, science, and history. That way his progression in certain subjects wasn’t hindered by his desire to not write.
• We used phonogram tiles for spelling. We do use the program All About Spelling, but I got my phonogram tiles from Mama Jenn, printed them on card stock, had them laminated and put some magnets on them. Using the tiles greatly cut down on the amount of whining because as with math, his abilities in spelling greatly surpassed his progression in writing.
As we took these little baby steps, I was often worried that he’d never be able to write on his own. I worried that I would fail him somehow. It was all for naught because now at the end of second grade, he does almost all writing on his own. I’m glad we took it slow and steady and I’m glad I took the battle out of this issue.
(All his letters in green, mine in gray)
Teaching Digby to write has been a completely different story. Whereas Pigby was reading at three and avoiding handwriting, Digby showed no interest in reading, but was extremely proficient in all things involving fine motor skills. He was very proficient with scissors, tape, stickers, buttons, markers, etc. I first started giving him pages of letter outlines made with StartWrite because he wanted to do school like big brother. I would show him how to write one letter, then he would do the next.
Last year, I found a fun app for my tablet that gets kids to make the correct letter formations by having them start at the green dot, trace the line, and end at the red dot. If they veered too far off the line or didn’t start and end at the right place, they had to do it over. This app pretty much taught him the correct way to form letters. Now all I do is make sure he writes them properly on his own (he often writes a backwards “N”). I plan on starting him with more formal HWOT work in the fall when he starts kindergarten.
Megan–Megan is mom to three children: Pigby (boy, age 7), Digby (boy, age 4), and Chuck (girl, age 2). She loves history, ballroom dance, and crocheting. She made the decision to homeschool when her oldest was three and they’ve been on this journey ever since.