My oldest son just turned six and doesn’t read (on his own) or write with much enthusiasm yet. I’m not worried. He has taken his time meeting many milestones, but when he’s ready, the milestone is met easily and willingly achieved and any space in development amongst his peers is quickly closed. As a big believer in life learning and letting kids learn on their own internal schedule, I haven’t pushed my son’s literacy.
And yet… I noticed while volunteering at school that he was careful about writing letters, and saw how frustrated he became when his teacher suggested a change to his way of making a letter, and in trying to implement the change, he wrote the letter incorrectly. I realized that I was seeing interest in writing, and probably confusion over how to do it. Knowing that, and motivated to make my son as comfortable and confident as he can be in grade 1 this fall, I thought maybe doing a bit of formal writing practice at home might work well for us.
I had come across Handwriting Without Tears awhile back and took note of it. I revisited their site, watched a couple of videos, looked up reviews on natural parenting websites (like Mothering), and then took the bait. HWT is an empire, and you could buy lots of stuff and go to lots of seminars – I’m actually interested and would enjoy attending one, but it doesn’t get close enough on the priority list to make it happen. So I settled for buying a few simple and affordable supplies: a couple of rectangular chalkboards ($5) and a couple of early printing books ($7.75).
The simple chalkboards (about 4″ x 6″) are the focal point. My boys (6 and 4) each have their own, and take to their respective writing easily, due in large part to the pleasure of the little boards (also used, of course, for drawing, plus my husband wrote a message on one for me today before leaving for work). We follow the method I watched in one of their videos: first we write the letter in chalk on the board, then take a little wet sponge to erase the letter, and finish with a dry sponge over the same letter to dry it off. The idea is that the child is going through the motions of writing each letter three times, and the child is stimulated in three different tactile and sensory ways while writing.
With HWT, the child writes letters not in alphabetical order, but in groups according to similar writing patterns. For example, the first group of letters include F, E, D, and P, because all of these start in the top left corner of the board and draw a big line downward, and then require a “frog jump” back to the top left corner to complete the letter. Similarly, C, S, O and T are grouped together because these letters start at the top centre of the board.
It’s a system that is straightforward and accessible to children. In simplifying the writing process, success is quick and the writer gains confidence quickly – I’ve been really happy with my HWT purchases. If the boys had resisted the writing practice, which is the only formal kind of “learning” I’ve tried at home, I’d have dropped it. But they haven’t. Our routine is light: 10 or 15 minutes, and so far we just work on a letter a day as I really want our writing practice to be stress-free. The boards are fun to use. Most wonderfully, my 6 year old knows that when he sits down to write, he is going to be able to do it.
HWT also has wooden letter sets, made up of sticks and semi-circles of different sizes to shape letters together. They’re a bit pricey at $32.50, so I made my own with an exacto knife and very thick cardboard. My almost four year old, for whom writing the letters is obviously quite a bit harder, really liked these. I don’t love our cardboard pieces – maybe they’ll look better if we paint them. The boys don’t seem to care, and made letters with them (and used the semi-circles for beards and mustaches in pretend play for a good while). As I have another little boy who would use those wooden pieces, I might end up shelling out for them.
And it’s not just me who likes HWT. A friend came by and inquired about our chalkboards. I told her about them, and she went home, found the site on her own and bought some. Then she gave me a glowing thank you saying that the boards are working beautifully with her four-year old daughter, who is now taking much pride in her writing. HWT has been a pleasurable way for both of us incorporate more writing into our children’s lives.
Finally, just to be clear, I’m writing this review without any prompting or perks from HWT. However, if someone from HWT reads this and feels like saying thank you, I really do like your wooden letter sets.
Do you have any writing practices, formal or informal, that work for your kids and that you could share? I’d love to hear.