I’m not gonna lie… I was not the best handwriting teacher at all. I will tell you, that the best teachers of handwriting I have ever known belong to an order of Catholic Sisters who work in private education. They are called Sister Servants of the IHM. I used to work at an IHM school… and I used to teach handwriting to Kindergarteners.
That’s a lot of pressure! As you can imagine, teaching handwriting made me very nervous. Thank goodness I had the best assistant in the world, who was a graduate of an IHM School and who had a lot more experience than me in handwriting.
Although I was not so great at forming letters correctly, I was really good at fixing the things that were hindering my students from writing correctly. I also experienced it with my youngest daughter. I studied, researched, practiced and interviewed OT’s and I tried the practices they taught me with them.
Well, guess what? They worked! So much so, that in Kindergarten my daughter won an award for the best handwriting in Kindergarten!
I am going to share with you a few factors that I have found to be important in bettering handwriting. The key to bettering handwriting is strengthening the hand and refining fine motor skills. The following tips I will share with you are all things that I have tried at some point or another with a child, and which has helped them in some way to better their handwriting.
This is a little bit of a debate but I think all choices are good choices. Small pencils are great because they help build strength in the hand of the child. Writing with a small pencil strengthens fine motor skill muscles, which is what is needed to have neat handwriting. However, my daughter had difficulty with the small pencil and we had to use a tripod grip for her. So, at the end of the day, whatever helps your child get the best grip is the best choice.
This is important to develop good handwriting. Pencils should be positioned in the hand between the thumb, pointer finger and middle finger. This grip doesn’t have to be permanent but at the beginning of the writing process, it’s very important because it’s creating the fine motor skill strength. And this is important because if fine motor skills are weak, handwriting will be weak.
I had a few tricks to help my students who needed help strengthening fine motor skills. The first thing I did was group them together during centers and let them play with play dough. This is such an amazing tool to strengthen fine motor skills. I used to place pony beads into a container of play dough and ask the students to dig them out. They had to use their pincer grip to extract the beads and in turn, they were strengthening their fine motor skills. Cutting, rolling and squishing play dough is so good for fine motor skills!
I learned this tip from an OT. You ask your child to pinch and twist their pencil to ensure the right grip. Then you place a cotton ball between their ring finger and pinky finger and their palm as they are gripping the pencil. Practice writing a few things. Practice and practice until the hand becomes stronger. Using this tp with your child will help strengthen the fine motor muscles, which is what helps keep the handwriting neat. Check out this link to see how I demonstrated this tip. https://youtu.be/Tp6opL-A-uc
Two of my children have difficulty recalling information they have learned in the past. My youngest child is in 1st grade. She is a great student, but she cannot recall what day it is even if we remind her the day before. She forgets her lunchbox everywhere. Sometimes she leaves the house without shoes! I don’t worry about her though because what she lacks in working memory, she excels in attention to detail. Sure, she doesn’t remember where she puts her shoes, but she knows when I got new ones, whether or not I’m wearing makeup and what stores carry the t-shirt that her friends have. “Mom, do you know that my friend was wearing a flip sequence shirt from Gap?”. I hear this type of sentence a few times a day.
My oldest is in 5th grade and he is not a great student. He is an average student on a good day. Last year he was at risk of failing and he was placed in a remedial level this year. From what his father tells me, he was a phenomenal student when he was little. And to be frank, he is probably the one who will be the most successful. He can talk his way out of everything and has an innate ability to understand technology. And not just in the ways that all kids do…One time I left him working on a well known educational website and when I came to check on him, he had changed the code in the system. I am pretty sure he will be ok in life. But in school? That’s a different story
There is a limit to how much information we can hold in our memories while we are simultaneously working on another task. For example, when I am cooking, I am performing numerous tasks at one time. I am cutting onions, paying attention to a pan, anticipating the time one thing takes to cook and deciding whether I can start cooking the quinoa as I am putting the salmon in the broiler. When someone comes to ask me something while I am cooking, or tells me a story, I simply cannot process what they are saying. I am in a zone where there is so much memory space being used in my brain at one time that I just can’t process anything else. When someone asks me to find something, I cannot access the part in my brain that remembers where everything is, while so much of it is being used to make sure dinner doesn’t burn!
Our children are built the same exact way. When they are in school and they are trying to solve a problem with all the energy they have and they get interrupted say they are copying a question from the board and making sure
When working memory is not strong, a student will suffer in school. This was the learner that I was when I was in school. I had a very high IQ but was a very mediocre student. Even today, if I need to remember something, I have to write it down. I make lists, I have not one, but TWO calendars. And even still, I forget many things. if I don’t write it down, there is no way I will remember it.
There are tools you can use with children to help them improve working memory. These are a few things that have helped me and my children, and they’re also backed by educational and psychological research. I have tried these methods with many of the children I have taught. I am sure that at least one of them will have a great result.
When I am doing a Math word problem with my oldest, and trust me, these are the worst types of problems for him to understand, I always tell him to read the problem and think about it in his head. I tell him to imagine that he is seeing what the problem is telling him to do.
The other day we had a problem about a boy equally distributing some trophies on a shelf. Something like, Tommy has 36 trophies and he wants to put them on 6 of his shelves. How many trophies should go on each shelf? This problem was impossible for him to figure out. He was multiplying and adding and subtracting… Not once did it occur to him to divide. The problem is that he is worrying so much about what the words are saying, and at the same time trying to connect it to math. It’s like two of his memory banks are working simultaneously to solve something and it’s difficult.
One of the things I have asked him to do is to read the paragraph and forget the numbers, but as he is reading to picture what is happening in his head. This way he can see the problem in his head and then when he has figured out the problem he can access his other memory bank to solve it. Visualization is a great skill especially for kids who like to see problems and solve them. Where do we see this type of behavior? In video games! I hack his brain this way because he loves to play video games.
Both my children with low working memory have very high verbal skills. They can sell ice to an Eskimo. When they don’t understand something or when I see them getting something wrong, I ask them to explain it to me. Being able to explain how to do something involves making sense of information and mentally filing it. When your child is doing their HW, have them explain how they get the answer. This helps them file away the information in a safe place which they can recall when taking a test.
We like to play memory games at home. There are lots of matching games that can help with memory. Another thing we love to do is take turns reading license plate numbers and then trying to say them backward. You can also do things like giving your child an article and asking them to circle as many sight words (of, the, and) they can in a minute. These drills help children exercise that part of their brain. The more they exercise it, the more they can access it.
Despite all the tools I give my kids, and I have given my students in the past, I worry. I worry about my kids because our education is not working to help kids that learn differently. There is still way too much whole group instruction and not so much differentiation. And of course, when I make these generalizations I do not include the amazing teachers I have met along the way who are amazing at what they do. It’s actually because of one of these teachers that my oldest has become a totally different child (for the better!).
I worry because school is the one and only responsibility my kids have, and if they fail it, it will harm their self-esteem. I don’t want my very detail oriented child to feel inferior or dumb because she can’t remember the days of the week. Because I know she will remember them if she has to decorate them with glitter, or if she is the calendar person every day. I don’t want my beautifully talented bonus son to feel inferior when he can probably out-code the IT person in his school. I don’t want him to miss out on all the good experiences school has to offer because he can’t remember the difference between commutative and associative properties and is going to fail his math test because of it. Because really, who uses that stuff anyway? Shoot, I can’t even remember that one without Googling it.
I worry because they are brilliant in the capacities they have, but they don’t fit into the expectations of a lot of educators because their strengths are not deemed accurate in the expectations they have for the whole group. And because they don’t, they might get penalized for it. Penalized because their strengths are not “qualified” enough to make you a “good student”. Penalized for not having the strength that someone deems accurate for them when they really have a hard time possessing that said strength. It’s like being penalized in life for not knowing how to solve a quadratic equation, or because we haven’t found the answer to finding the cure for cancer.
Something needs to change. Not because my kids need to go to school and get a degree to be successful. Hey, I have a Masters Degree that didn’t make me any money! And I know quite a few millionaires who only went to high school.
Something needs to change because, as parents, we need to step up and help our kids, and as educators, we need to step up and see that kids are changing and we are going to have to keep up because they’re not going to adapt to us. They’re the leaders of the future. And as educators, we have to keep up to their growing needs and different ways of learning.
Something needs to change because when we put them in this box, we turn off the part of them that makes them who they are. We turn off that part of them that makes them strong in their own way. We tell them that strength isn’t good enough.
It’s very frustrating when a parent receives a call from a teacher requesting a meeting about progress. This is especially so when your child is in an early grade. Oftentimes you think to yourself “Is this meeting really necessary?”. You ponder how serious this meeting could be. After all, your child is only in Kindergarten. Isn’t this the year they’re supposed to learn all these things?
What I want you to understand being both a parent and a teacher is that when a teacher calls you in for a meeting to discuss a lack of progress, there is something that the teacher sees in your child that is different than in any other child in your class.
There is something missing.
The teacher sees a crack in the foundation of the student’s learning and is meeting with you to discuss how this can be fixed. There are a few solutions. And one of them involves you directly. Parents have the obligation to be the child’s first teacher. The first 5 years of a child’s life are their formative years. Can you imagine the wealth of information you can teach them in those first 5 years?
I want to share with you a few problems teachers recognize in children who are struggling readers. I also want to share with you the solution to that problem.
Print awareness? What is that?
Print awareness refers to how a book is structured and designed to be read. How do you know that you’re supposed to read from left to right? How do you know that the pictures in books are an illustration of the words you’re reading? How do you know that you are supposed to turn the page from right to left?
I’ll tell you how you know.
Because someone once taught you!
When children enter school, teachers expect children to know the basics of print awareness. We want the child to know that pictures in books correspond with the words. We want them to know how to turn a page and we want them to know that when you read you start from the left page and move on to the right page. This one thing is a giant crack in the foundation of reading. Why? Because we waste time showing them these skills when they start school instead of teaching them what they need to know to progress in reading. It is your responsibility as a parent to teach this skill.
Teaching this skill is so simple.
When children are exposed to books early, they learn how to use a book the right way. This means they look from left to right. They turn the pages the right way. They look at the pictures to tell a story. Before a child can read the words on the book, they have to learn how to tell a story by looking at the pictures. This teaches them the sequence and order in a story. It is the most basic way to teach the basics of storytelling. If a child learns this in their first 5 years of life, it becomes 2nd nature, and you are building a solid foundation to ensure their success in school.
When a child enters their literacy window, it is imperative that they know the sounds each letter makes. They must know the sound that each consonant makes and they must know at least one word that begins with that sound. Kids should know many consonant sounds by the time they enter Kindergarten.
Learning how to read depends on a window of literacy. This window of literacy depends from child to child. It is the time designed in their brain to learn how to read. If you have ever taught Kindergarten or 1st grade you know how magical and unique this window is.
Teachers should not waste that window of literacy teaching letter sounds. As a parent, you should begin instilling this foundational skill as early as a child learns to talk. When they learn language, they can learn this skill.
I have seen many children remember a letter sound by associating it with a picture. I will ask them what the letter C sounds like on a flashcard, and they see the picture of a cat and will say to themselves cccccat, and they will know the sound the C makes that way.
How can you help your child with this at home?
Practice letter sounds all day long. And I don’t mean sit on the table and spend hours showing them letter flashcards. Although if you have the time, this is a good practice. Instead, ask them the beginning letter sounds of the object they see every day. For example, what letter does cup begin with? What letter does spoon begin with? What letter does bathtub begin with?
In the car, on the way to school, do the same thing! What do tree, sky, cloud, grass begin with? During your bedtime story point out words of objects in a book and show them the letter it begins with along with the picture. Make this a fun part of your routine.
Vowels are a bit more tricky and definitely a part of Kindergarten curriculum. But I will tell you, as a Kindergarten teacher, this is a hard skill for children to master sometimes. It’s hard to differentiate between the vowel sounds. So why not give children this skill early by introducing it to your child early on?
Helping them understand the fundamentals of this early, gives your child a head start, an advantage when it’s time to learn this in class. And it is so easy to do from home.
When you’re reading to a child at home and you read a word such as cat, linger on the vowel sound a bit more (c-ahhhh-t). Then ask your child to repeat cat. As added practice say a word with a different vowel, such as cut. Linger on the vowel sound (c–uhhhh-t). Ask them if they sound the same or different. When you do this you are teaching your child to be aware that words have different vowels and even though they sound similar, they are different letters.
When your child is a little older, say 5-6, say two words like dog and dig. Ask them to listen to the middle sound. Linger on the vowel sounds for each one. Point out how each middle sound is different. Write the words out and show them. Repeat this for many words like sit and sat, pet and pat, cot and cut.
Giving your child this advantage will give them the tools they need to be ready to learn more advanced reading skills. It will give them a solid foundation to be prepared to face the rest of literacy.
How many times as a teacher have I seen a student who doesn’t care about books and learning? More than I care to admit.
Learning how to read begins at home with YOU.
And I get it! Not everyone has time to read novels, nor do they even care to.
But let me ask you this. Do you read articles on Facebook? Do you read memes on Instagram and laugh? Do you read street signs and know how to use them to get where you have to go?
Guess what? That is reading!
If you think reading is boring, so will your child. Show them how to read things on social media. Find appropriate memes to show them. Show them how a stop sign says STOP on it. Show them all the things you read each day and make it fun!
Find books on the topics they like. Add subtitles to the shows they watch. Reading is a skill we use every single day. Show your children how important it is!
Whether you want to accept it or not, reading starts at home with you. You are responsible for setting the groundwork for teachers. The foundation starts with you!
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