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Handwriting

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    Handwriting

    My daughter would like to start writing. She "writes" me pretend notes all the time. She is starting K. Her physical writing habits (pencil hold and paper hold ) are fine. She knows her letters well and is starting to read. She can trace letters just fine for her age. But, she can't seem to recreate anything like a letter without the model. I have tried showing her the components of a letter and where they are on the line, but she gets confused easily. I have tried finger tracing, but she doesn't repeat the motion well after the model is gone.

    So, she is struggling to retain a mental image or at least to get it on paper. Is this a visual problem or a motor one? I know it will probably take some extra repetition to get this, but I am not sure what I should be repeating. Should I be showing her where on the lines the letter fits? Should I try without lines and try to help her get the shape? Should I be trying to create muscle memory of which way to move? Should she ONLY trace until something clicks? If we are going to do a lot of reps with this I want to repeat the right thing!

    Thanks.

    Lena

    #2
    Hi, Lena.

    First, how wonderful that your daughter wants to start writing!

    You note a good pencil grip and adequate tracing abilities, so the difficulty could be related more to visual memory than to motor skills. From your description, it sounds as if your daughter can copy a letter with a visual model, so there would be no need to practice only tracing. Copying will assist her too.

    Has she already completed the Alphabet Books and Alphabet Coloring Books? If not, these would make ideal exercises for her. They will give her a visual model while providing her with plenty of engaging writing practice.

    If you are using Mrs. Lowe's First Start Reading to teach reading, this will also be excellent for your daughter, because the printing components will strengthen your daughter's visual memory for letters and words.

    In addition to the structured lessons, your daughter might benefit from varying the media during her leisure time. For example, when you are outside, you could draw individual letters with sidewalk chalk and have her copy the letters in a favorite color. When making dinner, you could give her a rimmed cookie sheet with corn flour, draw a letter with your finger, and have her copy the drawing next to or beneath yours. Repeat this with the same letter several times, then wipe the flour “slate” clean and see if she can draw it from memory. If not, no need to push this, imo. Just give her more encouraging tracing and copying practice over time. Consider re-testing with this corn flour method in a month or two. Another way to gain a good “feel” for letter shapes: refrigerator magnet letters. For your daughter, you would want to find the letters that are not printed on a single sheet but instead have the form of each letter in a plastic shape, so she can handle them as she plays. Let her create words on the refrigerator with these. Such activities will reinforce letter shapes in her mind.

    Finally, even though your daughter is already reading a little on her own, you can read alphabet books together just for fun. These will help create for her a more permanent visual picture of the letter shapes and sounds. Tasha Tudor's A is for Annabelle is a beautiful little book for girls, possibly available at your library. Written for older children than is typical for an alphabet book, A is for Annabelle could be perfect for your daughter. For fun and even silly reinforcement of letter shapes, consider the old Curious George Learns the Alphabet, the newer Curious George's ABC's, Dr. Seuss's ABC, and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, especially because the letters are falling from trees (i.e., oriented visually in unexpected ways).

    What an exciting time for you and for your daughter. My homeschooling neighbor (with a now-grown, married son) wistfully calls these early years “the glory days” of homeschooling.

    Cheryl

    Comment


      #3
      I don't think the problem is visual MEMORY. She did the alphabet books and traced letters, but every time she would get to the line for her own letter she was stuck. She had the picture right next to her - she just couldn't create that picture - even after tracing it several times in a row correctly! So I don't think the issue is remembering what the letter looks like - she can't figure out how to make something with her pencil that looks like that. She has the same issue with shapes. She can see a triangle, she knows what it is, but she ends up drawing something that has curves because she can't figure out how to tilt the lines so they end up meeting. She starts triangles like this: |_| and then curves the lines at the top until they meet or starts to cry because she can tell it isn't a triangle, but doesn't know why it won't work right. So I don't know what system I am trying to fix - the part that remembers what pencil motion we did the last time so we can do it again, or the part that can tell how the lines all relate to one another and connect them all correctly.

      Comment


        #4
        Dear armymom,

        Thank you for clarifying. When you said in your first post that she cannot create anything without a model, I assumed that she could recreate with a model (i.e., copy).

        Hmmm...

        Let me think about this and get back with you. Yes, this does sound troubling. I understand your concern!

        All of the suggestions still apply generally, but let's look at this more closely. I'm wondering now about a visual-motor integration difficulty necessitating an evaluation with measures such as the Beery Visual-Motor Integration test. Pediatric occupational therapists can conduct a detailed assessment in these areas. However, we also want to be sure that this is not little more than a developmental stage.

        Others may have recommendations for you in the meantime.

        Thanks again for the explanation. I will do some investigating & contemplating and try to respond more fully later.

        Cheryl

        Comment


          #5
          Hi, Lena.

          After rereading your concerns posted about your daughter back in August (Waiting vs. Diagnosing thread), it seems your daughter's varied difficulties or "oddities," as you described them, have persisted and are not limited to isolated academic tasks in any one area.

          Do you think more formal assessment may now be appropriate? Clearly we cannot diagnose from afar over a forum. We can help think through some things, but I'm wondering now what you would think about having an occupational therapist and speech & language therapist assess her abilities at this time? (If you had any concerns about her gross-motor development, you could involve a physical therapist too.)

          This would give you an overall picture of where your daughter's specific strengths and concerns appear. This could also help determine whether her difficulties are in the normal range of development or, if not, how to proceed from here.

          If you needed to nudge the evaluators, it would seem that auditory processing, visual processing, and visual-motor integration are all concerns for you at this time.

          Back in August, you suspected auditory processing difficulties and mentioned that a hearing test revealed hearing loss. However, some children have both auditory acuity and auditory processing challenges.

          As you noted in the other thread, early identification could prevent greater problems in the future. And if a formal evaluation shows that she is progressing just fine, this would be a relief that might be worth the process.

          [If you decide to pursue a screening or more thorough assessment, be sure to ask the same good questions of the evaluators that you are asking here: How do I help her? Which exercises will benefit her the most? What is going on that make these tasks so difficult for her?]

          A final thought - if your daughter had any birth complications, if there is a family history of learning disabilities, or if she had any unusual illnesses in early childhood, these could all be additional reasons to investigate the learning difficulties you suspect now.

          What do you think?

          Cheryl

          Comment


            #6
            Dear armymom and others,

            Sometimes our Struggling Student forum can become quite personal. If you ever prefer not to answer, this is perfectly acceptable! Please feel free to simply take in the information offered here by all of us and discuss as a family or with your own medical professionals.

            Next week we can explore some strategies for assisting visual-motor integration (with or without a formal evaluation). If others here have suggestions, feel free to share.

            Have a good weekend-
            Cheryl

            Comment


              #7
              Thanks for all of your support. I will definitely read up on any visual and motor strategies.

              Right now I have to weigh her "oddities" against the fact that it could hurt my dh's next career move for her to need a specialist right now. Given that she is seemingly very healthy, with a family that has no history of issues with anything, I think we might err on the side of trying to figure things out ourselves for a while longer.

              She did flunk a hearing exam, but when she finally saw audiology they shrugged and said that dd had no issues at all. I am still watching and I am starting to wonder about fluid in the ears, because the hearing thing seems to come and go. She never complains about earaches though.

              The hardest thing for me is that I remember a lot of the areas that she struggles with as stuff that you just intuitively understand. Patterns, rhyming, drawing pictures, it is all stuff that you don't have to explain because the answer is just...obvious. Well, to my daughter it isn't all obvious. Luckily, dd has a mind like a steel trap. If I can break things down and explain it the right way, she can turn the corner instantly. She didn't understand rhyming until we broke it down. After two months of start and end, blending and segmenting, and comparing and contrasting words that started the same and ended the same, suddenly the light went on and she has not had a single issue since. In fact she jumped into beginning reading and is progressing steadily!

              So, to me writing letters isn't about steps, you just look and the letter and make lines to match. To her it is not that simple. So, I feel like I need to figure out what the steps are and if I can pull writing apart, show her each of the components, show her how to connect the dots and put it all together, maybe she will catch on then and take off.

              Lena

              Comment


                #8
                Something that I've heard recommended would be to have her vision checked by a developmental optometrist. (you can go to covd.com for help finding one).

                They do normal vision assessments but also assess more specific visual skills. Maybe she isn't able to visually track correctly which is showing up as not being able to make her lines line up.

                I don't know your personal situation with the jobs and things but this may be a simple thing to get checked without negatively impacting the job. I haven't made the appointment yet, but when I checked into it for my dd (age 4 1/2), the cost was about $90 without insurance.

                Comment


                  #9
                  Dear Lena,

                  I like the way you are thinking here:

                  If I can break things down and explain it the right way, she can turn the corner instantly. She didn't understand rhyming until we broke it down. After two months of start and end, blending and segmenting, and comparing and contrasting words that started the same and ended the same, suddenly the light went on and she has not had a single issue since. In fact she jumped into beginning reading and is progressing steadily!

                  ...to me writing letters isn't about steps, you just look and the letter and make lines to match. To her it is not that simple. So, I feel like I need to figure out what the steps are and if I can pull writing apart, show her each of the components, show her how to connect the dots and put it all together, maybe she will catch on then and take off.



                  This is good teaching for any of us.

                  Yes, break down the desired task into its component parts, then teach those parts and bring it all back together. This is true with phonics, writing, Latin, music, and more.

                  I had wondered whether rhyming had become easier for her. You answered above. This is encouraging!

                  Now your question asks how to teach (i.e., break down) writing in the same successful way you have done with rhyming.

                  You write:

                  she is struggling to retain a mental image or at least to get it on paper. Is this a visual problem or a motor one? I know it will probably take some extra repetition to get this, but I am not sure what I should be repeating. Should I be showing her where on the lines the letter fits? Should I try without lines and try to help her get the shape? Should I be trying to create muscle memory of which way to move? Should she ONLY trace until something clicks? If we are going to do a lot of reps with this I want to repeat the right thing!

                  Some suggestions:

                  1. For each letter, have steps. For example, with a capital “A,” give her a starting point. Make a top “dot” for her. Then she follows steps.
                  Step 1. Make the diagonal line downward to the left. Step 2. Make the opposite diagonal. Step 3. Draw the crossing horizontal bar, left-to-right. Use a hand-over-hand approach to help her form these steps, if needed. Then use hand-over-hand to form a new letter A from "memory" in the next blank space on the lines. Do you have StartWrite? If I remember correctly from when I used this with my children, a numbered arrow option exists. This would label the 1-2-3 steps of making a letter along with the directional arrows. You could use this with your daughter until her “steel trap” mind solidifies the process permanently!

                  2. Yes, use the lines as guidelines and help her see where the letter “fits.” In the above example, the “dot” will be on the top line, so her pencil should begin on the top line. The diagonals will each touch the bottom line. For some children, raised-line paper helps to provide feedback with this, so they can feel where the letter ends. An inexpensive alternative is to draw a crayon line on top and bottom. If the problem is seeing the line, you can draw thicker lines or use colored markers to trace lines ahead of time. I did this for my daughter when she learned to print. We used blue for the sky line & green for the grass line.

                  3. Create muscle memory. [In fact, it seems that all of your questions above (except the one about tracing-only) could be answered “yes.”] She'll benefit from practicing on the lines, such as she will do frequently with First Start Reading: Phonics, Reading, and Printing. She'll also benefit from drawing the shape in the air, drawing vertically on a dry erase board or in a large area with sidewalk chalk, in cornflour with her finger, and more. But most of the practice will be best accomplished neatly on lined paper, just as she will be writing in her schoolwork. With all of these, you will be creating muscle memory, especially if you use a hand-over-hand approach whenever needed.

                  4. Give additional cues. You mentioned difficulties with shapes, so I suspect numbers will be the same way. All of these can be taught by breaking them down and giving a few more cues. My daughter had the same difficulty. In fact, her triangles always looked just like your daughter's. I broke down the task into component parts, just as you suggest. For example, with a triangle I first drew three dots. Then when she drew her three lines, they matched up (or at least they matched more closely than without the dots!). You could also do this with a capital A. In fact, you can draw cuing dots for all of the letters, shapes, and numbers. Then she has something to help with the difficult (for her) leap from tracing to copying. StartWrite offers this graduated approach to copying by decreasing the closeness of the tracing lines.

                  All of this is termed “successive approximation” in the field of special education, but the techniques are useful for any child who struggles. The only caution is to wean the approximations as soon as they are no longer needed. But you seem to do this intuitively, because you did this with the rhyming.

                  I hope some of this is beneficial.

                  If challenges persist and the time is right in the future, some evaluations might be worth pursuing at some point. In the meantime, you already think analytically about these things, so I know she will do well with just a little extra help.

                  Please let us know how it all goes.

                  Cheryl

                  Comment


                    #10
                    I drew dots for her on a math sheet today, because we were drawing shapes. When I made dots for a square, she drew an X. We cleared that one up, and after that they helped.

                    I think I am discovering that first, I haven't demonstrated writing for her much. I mean, I would show her and tell her, but rarely show her how I wrote. So, I am demonstrating more.

                    Also, I think I did find an issue in her pencil grip. Somehow the pencil is standing up in her hand oddly. It corrects when she hold the paper out more, but that can be hard with two little brothers sharing the table.

                    Finally, I think she is having a lot of trouble with all the terminology of directions. Slants, around toward your paper holding hand, up, down, she just ends up getting flustered. Today we talked about a as around like and o then tap the ceiling and drop to the floor. (We have a Reason for Writing workbook that uses a treehouse graphic to orient the letters.) She was doing better chanting that. At least all the circles started in the write direction and all of the outcomes bore some resemblance to a's. Now I need to figure out how to describe other letters so she isn't so confused.

                    I may have to get First Start Phonics. I had started with something else (because I didn't want writing given that we started before K) and now I might need to reinforce with something that has more practice.

                    Thanks for the pointers, I will update as we move along.

                    Lena

                    Comment


                      #11
                      a couple of other practical ideas:

                      (My son is almost four and was in an early intervention program due to multiple delays. I believe that he has Asperger's.)

                      Start with fundamental components:

                      lines from bottom to top
                      lines from top to bottom
                      lines from left to right
                      lines from right to left
                      cross or T shapes
                      slants
                      X's
                      curves facing one direction at a time
                      circles
                      ovals
                      s shapes vertically and horizontally

                      instead of "tracing" or copying try erasing from a dry erase board or chalk board

                      use simple "fill-in" block letters/ numbers (even just decorating the whole form within the outline)

                      try trace/completing basic shapes when presented in a dotted or hashed format

                      Always try to be patient and smile. They feed off of our frustration. Our children's struggles are not their fault and often bother them even more than us. Although, they often adapt and accept their limits and struggles better than we do.

                      I am still trying to teach myself: God evaluates everyone on love and faith, not academic or societal achievement.

                      Comment


                        #12
                        is it a motor or vision problem

                        Army mom, you mentioned a disconnect between knowing the letter and being able to draw it...my daughter 5yo old with Down Syndrome has Apraxia of Speech. There is a related problem called apraxia of limbs that may be what she is struggling with. An OT might help with this issue. I know this comes late in the discussion but hope it helps. My daughter loves to "write" but just makes scratch marks so far. We are focusing on improving her verbal skills for now. I would love to hear how it's going.

                        Comment


                          #13
                          Actually, we have made quite a bit of progress. I don't think DD is really special needs, per se, her learning is just glitchy sometimes.

                          In order to help her orient her space we made up stories about playgrounds (very important business in our house). There were the ground, the low monkey bars and the high monkey bars. You can go down fire poles (straight lines) or slides (slants.) Then we practiced A LOT. Once we got a number of really good repetitions, she was off. She does have a phenomenal memory. We are still working on writing her name without capital letters in the middle still. Sometimes her a's still struggle. She hasn't made any jumps forward - I mean it wasn't like it all clicked, we still have to learn each letter carefully. But she has about ten to twelve that she writes consistantly well.

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