Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Handwriting Help: Four Suggestions for Happy Letters

Handwriting is a stressful subject. Any time there is a "perfect" way to do something, and we are helping our children to try to meet that "perfect" standard, we have to be careful not to set off weird alarms in their heads -- what's wrong with me? Why can't I just do it exactly like the book has it? In math class, we can get the right answer if we figure out the correct number. In science class we can memorize the facts. It's either right or it's wrong, there's no subjectivity in most of elementary school. The truth about handwriting is that it's almost mechanically impossible to duplicate the correct answer. What we're all trying to do is to get close, and in the end most of us abandon that attempt anyway, and either type things or write in all caps (like me) or just embrace the scrawl.

Here are four ideas for helping your child navigate this shark-infested water, especially if you're already having trouble, tears, and terror.

1. It's okay to let the child write using the typewriter or computer. This lets the kid form words, express thoughts, etc. without the pain (psychological or otherwise!) of holding a pencil. Just forming the words and having them look perfect, perfect, perfect can be very satisfying! My son’s favorite computer “game” was wordpad for a long time.

2. Get rid of whatever medium is driving the child and you crazy. If pencil and paper isn’t working, ditch it. For as long as is necessary. Write with your finger in marshmallow fluff, in fingerpaint, in sand, in chalk dust. Write on a white board with scented markers. Write with mommy’s ancient lipstick on the dishwasher. Okay, maybe not that last one. Hehehe. We used a whiteboard for everything and Benny loved it – it’s a lot less frustrating to erase when you can just swipe it off, and you don’t have to scrub at a piece of paper with an eraser. Write on sidewalks, on the side of the house with a water hose, with bubbles in the tub, etc.

3. Confound the idea of “perfection” by asking her to write silly things. Write it all in curly cues. Write it in ocean waves. Write it like a mouse would write it. Write it tiny, write it huge, write it upside down. For a small child who wants to write perfect letters but physically has a hard time doing it, one of those manuscript sheets with three lines, one dotted in the middle, one red on top, can be the height of intimidation, frustration, and potential defeat. How would a mouse write it? How would an elephant write it? You be silly, start laughing, get crazy, then sigh, shake your head and say, "Okay, well, I guess we better write it like humans now..."

4. Everyone's handwriting is different. Let your child know that we all have our own ways of writing, and try looking at different people’s handwriting. Look at all the signers of the constitution. Look for handwriting samples online. Talk about signatures and how everyone's signature is *supposed* to look different and special.

Here's a sample of Benny's writing when he was 3 1/2:

Not exactly regular, uniform, perfect or textbook! While Benny wasn’t worried about perfection, I was, initially. I tried to make him hold the pencil a certain way, stay within this and that line, and think beautiful thoughts. I convinced myself, at last, that it didn’t really matter, as long as he was happily writing letters, and having fun.. If I, a brutal perfectionist, can come to that conclusion, maybe your child can too!

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