Friday, June 10, 2016

To Write or Not to Write. That is the Question!


Back in the Day:

When I was in elementary school, developing a nice handwriting was one of the most competitive skills in our curriculum. Our teachers would grade us meticulously, making sure that every little jot and tittle was true to form. My best friend, Susan, and I often compared our work. She was quick to point out my shortcomings. Unfortunately, she was right most of the time! But this competition between us and our classmates encouraged the development of not only legible handwriting, but beautiful print and script--so beautiful that I was sure Hallmark should hire us to pen their cards!

The years passed; I grew up and became an elementary school teacher. Everyday, I looked forward to the thirty minutes assigned for handwriting practice. I confess, my motives were quite selfish. During that time, the class was quiet and everyone was on task. I could sit down and take a breather! (Not a small thing!)

What's a Mother To Do?

But when I became a mother, my attitude changed. My oldest son is a lefty. I had never taught a left-handed person how to print or do cursive. To complicate matters, he was dyslexic. Fortunately, the public school he attended at that time utilized D'Nealian, a style of writing that combined cursive and manuscript. It is a derivative of the Palmer Method. The beauty of this style is that the child cannot reverse letters, so it is perfect for the dyslexic student. It also made for an easy transition into cursive. Chris flourished with this method and grew up to have a nice handwriting.

Geoff,  my youngest child, struggled with handwriting in school. Selected in fourth grade as one of the first students in our town to attend the talented and gifted academy, we were shocked when we received his report card and discovered that he had the equivalent of a C in Penmanship. In spite of having all A's in math, science, English, etc., he was prevented from being on the school honor roll because of his handwriting. After much discussion with his teacher, we gave up and resigned ourselves to his never being an honor student, at least in that environment. He just couldn't seem to improve. We were all frustrated.

Enter Home Schooling--Stage Write, er...Right!


Soon afterward we decided to home school. It was during this time that I discovered the real reason for Geoff's handwriting dilemma. The child was a perfectionist, and thanks to his experiences in the gifted academy, he hated handwriting. If he made a mistake, he would wad up his paper and throw it away in frustration, and then have to start all over. This eventually led to his having stomach aches and a phobia against handwriting. I puzzled about it for weeks, reading everything I could get my hands on about penmanship. I knew there had to be an answer. 

One day, while browsing in a small town bookstore, Geoff discovered a penmanship book that he liked and begged me to buy it for him. Upon careful examination, I realized why he liked it. This book did not require the child to write an entire page of one letter, which was totally boring. Instead, there was a simple five day plan. Instead of being cluttered with lines of dotted print, there was plenty of white space on the page, which made it less intimidating. The illustrations added to the book's appeal. Since it was a Christian book, it centered on a Bible verse for each week of the school year. On day five of each lesson, there was a coloring sheet for the child to decorate and pen the verse, perfect for display on the family refrigerator. That school year, my father, at age 79, also learned to write using this series. Together, he and Geoff practiced forming and connecting their letters until they had mastered the art of cursive handwriting. It was a very special experience! (Note: This series of penmanship books was known as A Reason For Handwriting, by Carol Ann Retzer, and is currently available for purchase on Amazon.com) For those of you who remember The Classics Curriculum that I created for home schoolers, this is the series I recommended for the children who were in our program.



Modern Education


Unfortunately, today, thanks to Common Core, many primary and elementary schools are discontinuing the teaching of penmanship beyond first grade. With the onslaught of computers in our lives, those who support this "no handwriting" craze believe that cursive is as antiquated a skill as churning butter. (Common Sense is definitely NOT a part of the Common Core and it is obvious to me that they have NOT read the most current research on the topic!) Learning to write is not just a mindless task. It develops parts of the brain that increase learning abilities, which will never be accomplished by typing on a keyboard. We used to sum up elementary school curriculum as consisting of "Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic".  I'm not sure how one would sum it up today. Our kids struggle with reading, they don't learn to write (either handwriting or creative writing) and they cannot remember their math facts because they aren't required to memorize them either. My, but this soapbox is expanding!

What Can a Person Do?


As parents and teachers, it would behoove us to make sure that our children do not miss out on learning the skills necessary for life. If that means teaching your child to pen the letters of the alphabet at the kitchen table, so be it.

Which brings me to my book recommendation for the week. My dear friend, Peggy Borel, has written and illustrated a wonderful picture book entitled, Teach Me ABC. The illustrations alone are worth the purchase of this book. But the text is just as beautiful, employing alliteration to teach the letters in a very unique fashion. This book should be on every preschooler's bookshelf. 


And now, Peggy has produced an activity booklet to accompany her picture book. Filled with practice pages and artwork for the child to color, this booklet will delight children, teachers and parents alike. It is scheduled to be available for purchase within the next two weeks. To order your copies, or to contact this author, go to her website: www.peggyaborel.com or you can also find it on Amazon.com.




Fun with Food: Have Your Cake and Eat It Too!


Practicing writing basic letters is not a new activity. Those of us who were classroom teachers have utilized all sorts of hands-on methods to help young children embed the shape of the letters of the alphabet into their brains, from using shaving cream to making macaroni letters. One of my favorites (although this is very messy) was to write words either in cursive or manuscript using liquid white glue and then sprinkle them with glitter. They always left a sparkle (sometimes in my eye!).

These kinds of activities help build connections for kids because they utilize the senses of sight and touch, in addition to invoking the creative side of their brain. But for an added advantage, food that helps a child learn to write adds a third sense to this equation. Here are some fun and edible things you can do:

1. Bake cupcakes together using a boxed cake mix. (This activity enforces many skills, from reading and following instructions for older kids, to measurements.) Frost with canned frosting. Purchase "Edible Pens" at the local grocery store and let each child write something on each cupcake. Little ones could write the letter of their first name.

2. Using a packaged mix or sugar cookies from the refrigerator section of your local supermarket, cut out and bake cookies in the shape of the letters of the alphabet (You can find alphabet cookie cutters on Amazon.com. I liked the very inexpensive Wilton 50 Piece ABC & 123 Set.). Have the child/ren practice "writing" their initials or even messages using these cookie letters. (This could be a great spelling lesson too!) When the lesson is over, eat your cookies! Yummy! Alternate Idea: Make one huge cookie from the sugar cookie dough and use cake decorating frosting tubes (available in the baking section of the grocery store) to write a message, i.e. "Happy Father's Day" or "Hurray for Aidan!"

3. Purchase a package of blank cards. Practice writing thank you notes and invitations.  This doubles as a lesson in good manners.

4. Decorate a plain composition book using colorful Duct Tape and a favorite photo of the child and make it into a "Diary". Even preschoolers can practice their lettering skills. Older kids will enjoy making lists, writing short stories, or even drawing and captioning their own cartoons.

To Sum it Up

As a mother, educator and writer, I value the importance my parents and teachers placed on penmanship. I am capable of hand printing a beautiful poster, writing a legible thank you note and reading and comprehending the Constitution, all because of my past education. This is one skill that we must salvage from the brink of extinction for our children's sake. I challenge you to the task.