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!

Five Things to Help Kids with Sensory Processing Disorder Learn

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1. Chew, Chew, Chew!
My son is orally stimulated. We went through what seems like hundreds of shirts, chewed at the collar, before I learned about sensory processing disorder (SPD). This year Tim is in fourth grade, and although he doesn’t chew up his shirts anymore, I still find pencil tips chewed or fingernails being bitten. I recently found a couple of really cool options that help him. His favorite is a chewy necklace. We own five of them now, so he can choose the one he likes daily. They are either a pendant or an actual necklace made of silicone that he wears around his neck and can chew on it as needed. The other is chewing gum. I buy sugar-free, aspartame-free gum so I can keep those chemicals from affecting his learning. It helps him focus if he has something to chew on.

2. Kick, Kick, Kick!
Tim does great when his feet stay busy. I found these great exercise bands that I loop around the bottom of our kitchen chairs. He can kick, press, stretch, and basically stimulate his legs and feet as much as he wants while doing his work. I also have a Bosu ball that I put wherever he is sitting, and he can also bounce his feet on that as needed.

3. Sitting is Not Required
It takes extra effort just to sit. He does better when it isn’t required. I encourage him to listen to his body and posture himself accordingly. This means he might lie on the floor, sit on the exercise ball, stand at the table, or even run a lap around the house between every sentence he writes. I try to think about what will make life and learning fun, as well as make it stick.

4. Invest in Fidgets
Tim listens, concentrates, and enjoys school better when he has finger fidgets. This can be any number of items: hand strengthening toys, squishy toys, sticky tack, clay — basically, anything with texture, squeezy and flexible, that he can fidget with his hands.

5. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff…
…and it’s ALL small stuff. Granted, we want our children to learn and we want them to succeed, but sometimes our idea of success is tied up with our traditional ideas of schooling. I encourage you to read and learn about your child, and integrate whatever you can to help him learn. Think outside the box. If something doesn’t work well, then delete it and try something else. Do not allow yourself to dwell on “failure,” but look forward to the adventure of something new.

We homeschool because we realize that traditional school might do more harm than good. We homeschool because we want what is absolutely best for our child. At the same time, be gracious to yourself and to your child. It takes time to learn what your child’s learning package is. You love him/her enough to wade through mistakes and find what works best. You and your child are developing an amazing learning relationship together. I’d love to hear from you what methods you have discovered to enhance your child’s learning.