This past fall, I finally got to go to Handwriting Without Tears (HWOT) training. I LOVED it! I learned a lot about teaching children how to write. It’s a very methodical process; we don’t do all the steps (as we only have two days per week with our preschoolers).
The premise of their system, is that you break down the creation of letters into “lines” and “curves”. There’s a music CD with songs that teach different concepts of letter-making such as, “Where do you start the letters? At the top…” There is also a great workbook that builds the fine motor skills from coloring, to creating lines, to making letters (very preschool appropriate, though there are others available for different age/development levels). We got one copy of the workbook as part of our training, but we are not allowed to copy pages for the kids in our class. At $16+/child, it’s a bit spendy to get them for all of our students. If we were to get them for each of our preschoolers in the 4-5 year old classes, it would be over $500. I have found other printable worksheets, coloring pages, and dry erase books that work on the same skills, but would still prefer to have the HWOT books.
The only downside to HWOT, is that it is not compatible with D’Nealian. Our district still teaches D’Nealian writing. It also really only works with capital letters (at least what we learned about). Since D’Nealian doesn’t really change much for most capitals, we are still able to use their system. It also gives us an opportunity to show preschoolers different ways some letters might look, which will help them as they prepare to read next year.
One thing we learned in the training, that I did not implement, is they suggested children learn to write their names in all capital letters first. This is probably why their system mainly uses capital letters. We have been asked by the Kindergarten teachers to teach children to write their names the proper way – capital letter first, followed by lower case letters.
While we do not used every piece of their system, we do practice building the letters with wood pieces and a blue mat before we try writing them in our journals. When children build the letters first, they seem to understand it better, and are more successful in trying to recreate it. The blue mat helps children see where their letters start. Another option would be to take a piece of blue construction paper, cut it to slightly larger than the “big wood piece”, put a smiley face or star sticker in the upper left corner, and laminate it. The wood pieces are great! Another product I got with my Scholastic Reading Club bonus points this year, was a plastic letter-building activity. It was free (I love using bonus points), and very compatible with the way we are learning to make our letters.
We also have begun to follow the advice to use crayons first, as opposed to markers or dry erase markers (did you know they make dry erase crayons now?). The friction created by crayons over markers, is good for their fine-motor development. We’ve also learned that children who struggle to have a proper grip, or continue to palm-grip their writing tools, are more successful when they use smaller crayons, pencils (think golf pencils), or markers.
Putting this system into use this year has been more successful than I expected. I’m enjoying teaching it, the children seem to be more successful at writing this year! I am so glad I finally got to take the Handwriting Without Tears training!