Sense-ational Writing for Beginners

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We learn with our whole body. The more senses we use to absorb and manipulate information, the more likely we are to remember it. My kindergartener is at the very outset of his reading/writing journey. Those typical handwriting papers full of solid and dotted lines are still novel, but I know they won’t be for long. So, I encourage myself to break loose, teach handwriting with more than just a pencil, get messy, and make it sensory.

My second son, age four, tried desperately hard at the beginning of the year to do everything big brother was doing. We began by learning our vowels and vowel sounds with pictures, poems, songs, and written letters. A few weeks in, I added sign language to our alphabet lessons, and BAM, my second son caught on instantly. As soon as he could use his hands, it clicked in his mind. He’s kinesthetic.

Is yours auditory? Linguistic? Naturalistic, responding strongly to the great outdoors? Visual? Tactile? Spacial? The truth is that, to varying degrees, we are all of them. Use them all! The following are some of my favorite ideas for learning letter formation.

I take no credit for any of these ideas. As Solomon said, “there is nothing new under the sun,” and these ideas have come from friends, family, and years of wallowing online.

1. Finger paint with pudding, shaving cream, salt, or sand. Spray shaving cream or plop pudding directly onto the table. Use a cookie sheet to contain salt or sand. Let them taste a little pudding while they write. Will a tiny taste of salt make the lesson more memorable? The unique texture certainly will.

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2. Try paint in a bag. Do you prefer the mess contained? Squirt paint (or even ketchup and mustard) into a large ziplock bag, and squeeze out all the air bubbles. Tape the bag to a window and let them use their fingers to write. One thing I love about this method is that you can use a permanent marker to draw the solid and dotted handwriting lines on the outside of the bag.

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3. Use washable markers or dry erase markers directly on the window. This is fabulous for those of us who don’t own a whiteboard. You could even use your own breath. Breathe on the window, make it foggy, and write in the condensation. I feel a science lesson coming on. And, you can teach them how to properly wash a window when you’re done — good home ec credit!

4. Convert a breakfast bed tray into a dry erase lap board. Any opportunity to use a variety of colors will help a visual learner.

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5. Go outside with sidewalk chalk. Feel the sun on your shoulders and enjoy the change in scenery. If you prefer artwork-free sidewalks, give your child a paintbrush and a cup of water. It’s fun to write with the water and it evaporates in a few minutes. I’m teaching a little perfectionist, and one of my favorite elements about some of these is that it takes away the eraser. You can’t erase sidewalk chalk. It forces him to accept the line he just drew and move on, continuing his practice.

6. Use a stick in the dirt. What a simple treasure that is to the naturalist child.

7. Wax sticks, sometimes called Bendaroos or Wikki Sticks, are colorful wax-coated strings that bend and stick to paper.

8. Get out the play dough or modeling clay. Kids can form “snakes” and bend them into letters, or they can flatten “pancakes” and cut the letters out as negative space. SO much fun if you have alphabet cookie cutters!

9. Food! Nibble letters into shape with strings of licorice or pretzel sticks. You can even make fresh pretzels and form them into letters before baking.

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10. Use liquid school glue on 3×5 cards and make your own 3D flashcards. This was our favorite last year. I wrote a letter with pencil, he traced it in crayon, and then he traced over that with the bottle of school glue. Those glue skills used a lot of big muscles. The glue dried into bumpy letters, and we used them for multiple games.

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11. The Leap Frog writing pad was a nice gift from a grandparent. As you use the electronic pen to write in the book, it responds with words and sounds and tells you where to start, when to stop, if you did a good job, etc. It’s good for the auditory learner and is a nice form of independent work when the teacher is busy.

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12. Another high-tech option is the Boogie Board LCD writing tablet. I don’t promote going out and buying the latest-and-greatest, but I do recommend looking around the house and viewing toys or tools with new potential. That was the case in our house with this item. Scribble away and then press the white button on the top for a fresh, clean screen. Remember those Dollar Store Magic Slate Paper Savers? Same concept. This used to just be a quiet-time toy, but now it makes handwriting class exciting.

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The God who gave us colors and textures and tastes and sounds gave us a brain that thrives on variety. Explore!

Know Yourself… Know Your Child

“You’re not doing him any favors…”

How many times have I heard that sentiment? So many people think they know better than I do how to raise or school my sons. In the last year at least two separate people — professionals, parents of friends — have said it to me… So, I ask myself, AM I helping him or harming him in how we “school”?

My boys have special needs. Getting those needs diagnosed and treated can be more challenging when you are homeschooling. In particular, I’ve experienced a lot of difficulty getting people to even look at my younger son for assessment, and when I finally found someone to assess him, they were so focused on the fact that I homeschool, I didn’t feel they truly did their best assessment — they simply didn’t know how. When I went to them and asked for an assessment, I stated that I observed and believed that he had ADHD, anxiety, and a learning disorder of some type that I needed help identifying. At the end of their assessment, they diagnosed him with ADHD, anxiety, and “learning difficulties”…and then they decided that he should be in school so he could be assessed in two years. They intimated it was my fault he wasn’t reading at a third-grade level, and that I “wasn’t doing him any favors” by reading to him. (Recently had him assessed by a speech-language pathologist, and her advice was to read to him until he could do it for himself.)

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How is he to learn how to do math and other subjects if I don’t read to him, since he doesn’t read for himself? Am I to simply let every other subject fall to the wayside until he can read for himself? How is that “doing him a favor”? For me, I read the questions with words in math, and I read his science and social studies work to him so he can continue learning in the areas he is excelling in. He’s advanced in math by at least two years. Shall I halt that process simply because he has a learning disorder in reading? That is the joy of homeschooling him. If the task is to work on reading, to learn how to read, then HE does the reading, but if the task is to learn something else and reading gets in the way, why restrict him? Why should I hold him back from learning what he is interested in simply because he is not at that reading level?

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My eldest son has ASD (autism) and DCD (developmental coordination disorder). This means that he struggles with gross and fine motor control. When we aren’t home, he walks into walls, trips over carpets, and stumbles into light switches, etc. He feels like he’s always getting hurt. In addition, it’s simply exhausting for him to maintain a pencil grip. DCD affects his hands, his legs, his arms, his posture, his eyes. We work with an occupational therapist, and a behavioural/developmental aide. Last year I was able to get him to write three to five words before he gave up. He was more willing to draw — squiggly lines, curves, trucks… But, he tires easily and it’s evident in his work.

I was feeling pretty proud of him because the amount of handwritten work he can do has increased by three to four times…until a friend’s parent saw us working on school — and all of a sudden I’m “not doing him any favors.”  What made her comment? I do most of his writing. He does all his reading, he does all the work, I am simply a tool to help him complete the work and get it done. I don’t like using computer programs — he tends to figure out a way to guess or cheat for the answers, and he doesn’t learn as much as he does when I write for him. It’s a teaching opportunity and it helps him focus better. Sometimes I hand him a voice recorder so he can dictate his answers for me to transcribe and mark later. He’s learning typing, he uses an iPad, and I anticipate that when he’s of employment age almost everything will be electronic. I don’t want him to rely on that, though. I want him to believe and to know that he needs to have the ability to write. He knows I can’t always be there to be his pencil. I can’t always be his voice. We’re working on those things, and, in the meantime, I don’t want his struggle to write to interfere with his ability to learn. He absorbs knowledge like a sponge…until he has to interpret or express it with his hands; then writing absolutely interferes with his comprehension. He writes when the task is writing and penmanship. We’re building his endurance. In the meantime, I don’t mind being his pencil.

There is always going to be someone who thinks they know better than you do, someone who will imagine they have a better method of teaching your child, someone who can’t understand how what you are doing could possibly work…

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The message today? You know your child. You know how they learn; you know their struggles and their strengths. You know where they need to be challenged, and you know where they need to be helped. It’s good to get feedback from others, it’s good to see where maybe you could offer a little more challenge to your child, but FIRST you must trust that your instincts are right. First you must believe in yourself and your ability to teach your child what they need to know. When we lose faith in ourselves and our children, everything becomes a bigger struggle, a harder challenge than it needs to be.

Know your child. Trust yourself.

Handwriting and the Friendly Letter

My son deeply dislikes handwriting. I run up against his resistance a lot when I give him an assignment. Recently, it was time for him to learn how to write a letter. I pulled out the books, the curriculum, and we worked, we cried, and we fought. I was unhappy and he was unhappy. This was not a great way to begin our adventure in letter writing. Something had to change!

10929058_10152766772003299_8271002488453607597_nThat night we were sitting on the couch together watching Treehouse Masters. My son loves Treehouse Masters, and he was deeply engaged in watching it. At the same time, he also had a notebook in which he was designing his own tree house. He was excited and conversing with me about his tree house plans. That is when my lightbulb switched on and I began to make MY plans.

The next day we approached letter writing in a whole new way.

We started the day with watching another episode of Treehouse Masters. That, of course got Tim excited and thinking. Afterward, I explained to him that he had an opportunity to write a ‘fan letter’ to Pete from Treehouse Masters. This made it personal for Tim and he started talking so fast that I couldn’t keep up!

We set to work! First, I helped him decide on three to five things he wanted to tell Pete. He dictated to me a whole bunch of ideas that he was excited to share in his letter. I let him brainstorm freely and I wrote down everything he said. Next, we took his ideas and I read them back to him. We were able to verbally combine many of his ideas, delete others, and finally we end up with an interesting list of things he wanted to include in his letter.

I introduced to him the Friendly Letter Freebie from Teacherspayteachers.com. https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Friendly-Letter-Freebie-964399

This is a great packet that helps to introduce the different elements of a letter in a very friendly and low key way. I did not use it cover to cover, but just as a guide for him to refer to. I made a quick little memory game of greeting options and salutations that we played. This helped him to remember and decide what greeting and closing was appropriate to use.

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Finally, we were ready to put his letter together. He researched the address and wrote that in the appropriate place on his paper.  Then, he took the sentences he wanted to write and put them into the body of the letter. Finally, he ended the letter with his chosen greeting.

I encouraged him to do punctuation and capitalization corrections and by the end of the week he was ready to do his final draft. He was pretty tired of writing it at this point so I was happy that we had taken our time to do each step according to his ability to stay focused.

After he addressed the envelope, we were ready to take a field trip to the post office that I had arranged. He purchased his stamp and mailed his letter. 11136723_10152858570468299_2633289733339705099_nHe was very excited and was super hopeful that Pete would write him back.

(Unknown to Timothy, I slipped in my own little note explaining that Tim has autism and had been working on this letter for two weeks. I requested that someone please write him back. As a special needs mom, I do whatever I can to help with my son’s success.)

A few weeks later a special package came in the mail. It was a letter from Pete, personally written to Timothy. It included a postcard that was signed and few other goodies. Timothy was so excited. He enjoyed the return letters so much that he decided to write more letters, and now he is an expert letter writer!

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