A Tale of Two Boys: Learning How to Write, by Megan

 

PIGBY

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.

 

DIGBY

(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.

 

Megamegann–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.

 

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Handwriting: Learning Cursive First, by Briana Elizabeth

 

I taught my children cursive first. Not because I thought it was superior, or because I read the studies saying cursive made kids smarter. I taught them cursive first because it’s easier. Yes, that’s right, cursive is easier to teach than manuscript. Why? It has fewer strokes.  And it actually uses more of your brain, and is beneficial for cognitive development.  But mostly because I’m lazy.

My lefty son was the first child child I taught cursive (my older two learned cursive in their public school). It was very frustrating until I learned that his using a pencil made him ‘push’ and that a fountain pen enabled him to ‘pull’ like a righty would do. This lessened wrist fatigue and enabled him to write more and for longer periods of time. If you’d like to start a young child with a fountain pen, I recommend the Pelikano Jr which comes in lefty and righty. If you’re starting with older children, try the Platinum Preppy which is very affordable and comes in lots of fun colors.

Now, for teaching the actual letters, we went with the French styled cursive, which I am partial to.

The French Cursive book starts out with letting the children copy simple strokes, then moves them on to letters. I cheated a bit though, so let me explain. For example, the French styled ‘a’ uses three strokes, but I  taught them to not take their pen off the paper. So don’t be bound to it.

Once they graduate from the French stroke and letter booklet, we found Seyes ruled notebooks (which is the lined paper you see in the above picture) for their copy work. There are some free printables that you can use to practice on.

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We love doing copy work this way. My children are very proud of their handwriting and their notebooks which, when finished, will be beautiful books of poetry that they will be able to keep for the rest of their lives. Children can respect beautiful things, and they can be taught to use these tools with care. I taught mine that they were not allowed to scribble in their copy work books, and they were supposed to respect them.

There is something very reverential about writing poetry in a beautiful book, with a beautiful writing utensil, and the children actually are proud of being trusted to use them. But best of all there is a gravitas during that portion of our schooling, which gets done almost as a morning benediction for the day.

 

Brianbrianaa Elizabeth has been at this homeschool gig since her 23 year old son was in 7th grade, and his psychiatrist told her that he had to be homeschooled. Her son never went back to public school that year, and the following year, she pulled her 4th grade daughter out of public school. Her five other children have all been homeschooled entirely. It was baptism by fire, but she wouldn’t trade it for the world. Through the years, she has in the end, not only educated her children, but herself, and homeschooling has brought about a whole paradigm change of living for her family. The education that had seemed only possible for the elite was possible through classically homeschooling.

Review: Writing and Rhetoric by Classical Academic Press

by Lynne

There’s always one subject that is difficult for a homeschool family to accomplish. That subject varies from family to family and from child to child. Sometimes, the parent doesn’t feel completely confident in her ability to convey mastery of the subject. Sometimes, it’s just a subject that a particular student does not find interesting. In our house, the whole subject of writing has been the most challenging aspect of our curriculum.

Both of my boys struggle with the physical act of handwriting. My focus up until now has been maneuvering them through learning how to hold their pencils correctly and how to form letters in both manuscript and cursive. We’ve also learned about sentence structure and the mechanics of writing, such as capitalization and punctuation rules. Quite frankly, it felt like drudgery to all of us.

I do try not to compare my children with other kids, but I must admit that it was difficult for me to see homeschool blog posts with gorgeous handwriting and young children writing beautiful poetry and short stories. My kids have trouble writing a five sentence paragraph. I never had expectations for them to be doing a whole lot of writing in elementary school, and I’m of the opinion that current educational trends push students toward writing before they have the necessary skills. However, since my boys are approaching middle school age, I felt I really needed to do something about their writing skills.

I’ve been to the homeschool conventions. I’ve looked at many writing programs. I’ve gathered thoughts and opinions from my homeschool community, both in real life and online. I never found a program that just resonated with me. I liked pieces and parts from many different programs. For some programs, I just opened up one page of the book and knew that it wouldn’t work for my kids. I was very discouraged about writing and was planning to piece together a writing curriculum on my own.

Then, I discovered a new product from our 2014 sponsor’s website. Classical Academic Press has a program called Writing and Rhetoric. It is based on the ancient Greek progymnasmata exercises, through which a student learned to gradually increase his communication and writing skills. By the end of progymnasmata study, the student was able to start producing his own erudite speeches. So far, Classical Academic Press has available the first two books in the series. I purchased the first book, Fable, which is geared toward third and fourth graders. My sons are fourth and fifth graders this year, but with their writing difficulties this level is perfect for them. A younger student who has a good grasp of language and who is already writing independently might even enjoy this program.

The first phase of this program is all about learning to retell a fable. So far, we’ve completed four chapters in the first book. I take each chapter slowly and have the boys work through it in three to four days. They take turns reading each fable out loud to me. Some of them we’ve already encountered, so this gives them a new way to look at a familiar fable. The amount of writing they have to do at one time is minimal, but gradually builds up. They have learned about summarizing and amplifying stories. For each fable, they answer questions that are designed to illuminate the moral of the story, or to emphasize the purpose of the lesson. The questions are simple and not overwhelming. There are very nice illustrations for each story as well. All in all, each chapter is well thought out and easy to follow. You can see sample pages of the books on the Classical Academic Press website.

The only thing that didn’t work for us was the binding. I left my teacher’s manual as is, but since the boys needed to write in their books, I had their workbooks spiral bound at the local copy store. My boys have sensory issues, and trying to hold a workbook flat while writing is just too difficult for them. The spiral binding is easier for them to manipulate. Maybe in the future, the books will be offered with a different binding.

I like that my kids are learning skills one at a time and have those skills modeled for them in an easy and interesting way. For the first time in our homeschool career, we are all actually enjoying writing time. Now, I won’t say that my boys love writing just yet, but they no longer give me a hard time when I tell them it’s time for writing lessons. And that is a beautiful thing. I’m looking forward to continuing with this series.

Lynlynnene–Lynne has enjoyed homeschooling her two sons for the past three years, after their brief stint in the local public school.  Her older son is a humorous fellow with high functioning autism who thrives in a home education environment.  Her younger son is a sensitive soul with a great deal of patience. The boys, Mom, and Dad, along with the two guinea pigs, live in Northeast Ohio.  Lynne holds a Master’s Degree in French Language and Literature.  She is also a Harry Potter fanatic, enjoys line dancing and Zumba, spends hours scrapbooking, and loves organic vegetables.  You can visit her soon-to-be revitalized blog at www.daysofwonderhomeschool.blogspot.com.