Home Education Magazine
January-February 2002 - Articles and Columns
Questions and Answers - Laura Weldon
Handwriting and Record Keeping
"My son has completely illegible handwriting. I don't expect him to write reams, but it is an essential skill to communicate via writing. We joke that if he were stranded on a desert isle, any note he put in a bottle wouldn't save him. Any ideas I can use to inspire him?" -- Sara
? "If it's merely motivation you want, you can get all kinds of ideas from Kate Gladstone. You can find out more about her at: www.global2000.net/handwritingrepair/Kateabout.html
She will definitely recommend that you teach your son to use the Italic method developed by Getty & Dubay. You can also e-mail her at kate@WriteMe.com .
Personally, I would recommend that you employ her techniques but you might also want to use some of the exercises developed by the AVKO Dyslexia Research Foundation such as the 'cl' vs. 'd' exercises to make sure 'dear' is not read as 'clear' or 'clean' read as 'dean.' You can find all kinds of ideas on the AVKO Web site which is www.avko.org. Make sure you use .org unless you want to visit a winery Web site written all in French." -- James Webb
? "Handwriting has both perceptual and coordination elements. If your son is older and has not been evaluated for perceptual impairments then it's way past time. If the boy is younger, you may be able to teach him, through practice, how to write more clearly. Block lettering in all caps may be one solution.
Or you may just have to bite the bullet and accept that he's not
going to have good handwriting. There are plenty of brilliant people who write like 7 year olds. I think you need to remind yourself that it is more important what comes out of his mind than how well he writes it out." -- Mary E Tyler
? "I, too, have children with handwriting difficulties. Here are some suggestions to try.
* Give plenty of breaks while the child is working on a writing assignment if his hands tire easily.
* Strengthen the child's hand muscles with projects such as finger knitting, building with blocks or models, and simple stitchery.
* Have the child's eyes checked by a behavioral optometrist to see if there are any vision problems. A behavioral optometrist tests the child's ability to focus at reading distance.
* Use a handwriting program that specifically addresses this problem. One is Handwriting Without Tears. It was developed by an occupational therapist and gives all kinds of ideas for improving handwriting. To learn more about it, see www.hwtears.com ." -- Sharon
? "If your son finds that writing can be used to his advantage, he might see it in a different light. If he wants an extra privilege or disagrees with a household rule, tell him you will consider any points he might want to make in his favor as long as they are written for you to read over. We call that our 'court of appeals' in our family. We've found that a passionately written letter can be quite convincing and helps us as parents see our children's viewpoint. The letters lower the intensity of whining and begging around here. And they are worth keeping -- imagine showing the grandkids the pleas their dad wrote to get permission for an ear piercing or a pet tarantula!" -- Larry, father of four
? "What saved our sons handwriting was doing copy work every day for about 10 to 15 minutes. Use a special copybook and let him pick whatever to copy from, then start copying. This has to include all proper punctuation, capitals, indents, and spelling. Do what is comfortable... we started with a sentence and moved up. I had to be able to read it. Don't forget to praise every attempt. This is hard work." -- Jill MacArthur
? "In response to Sara's concern regarding illegible handwriting: I cannot read my husband's handwriting unless he prints in capital letters. Even then he makes some of his letters differently. He is a successful lawyer and small business owner. His secret is that he taught himself typing when he was in college. Now that he writes letters everyday, he is able to type almost as fast as he can talk! He encouraged me to be patient with my daughter at age six when she couldn't form her letters." -- Deirdre
? "Handwriting will never be a pleasure for some people, but you can easily make it more interesting. Any kind of writing will help your child form his letters more carefully. Of course, if he is interested in what he is writing, he will put more effort into his work than if he is forced to do it. Here are some ideas:
* Introduce calligraphy with examples of illuminated manuscripts, medieval legends and any other enticements that show beautiful lettering. Provide a simple introductory book on calligraphic styles along with slanted calligraphic markers and heavy paper. Try learning calligraphy along with your child. You can do such lettering on invitations, cards, framed quotes, even official pronouncements to be hung on the fridge.
* Investigate handwriting analysis for fun. There are young people's books on graphology. Your son might be fascinated to consider his personality shows through his penmanship. There's even a book which says that to change oneself, for example to become more outgoing, you need only make your handwriting more like that of outgoing people and your personality will correspondingly change. It is written for older teens or adults. The title is Change Your Handwriting, Change Your Life, by Vimala Rodgers.
* Learn about Chinese characters. Buy a Chinese language magazine, noticing ads for similar products that we have in common. Use a brush and ink to copy characters, especially those which appeal to you.
* Buy several interesting blank books; kids seem to find the black books with florescent gel pens particularly appealing. One might be used only to write secret codes, another to keep lists of favorite things such as favorite TV shows and favorite jokes. Watch Harriet the Spy to see how she filled blank books, or for older kids, the new movie K-Pax. Using illustrations along with writing can make the use of blank books more fun.
* Why not put notes in bottles? Or notes in the snack to take to the skating rink? Or little notes hidden scavenger-hunt style? When writing is fun, and everyone in the family leaves notes for each other, it is no longer a chore." -- Lauren, Puerto Rico
? "I'm interested in corresponding or talking with homeschoolers on how they keep records. In particular, I'm interested in learning what records are kept if the homeschooled student applies to a college." -- K.R.
? "We began keeping records in earnest once our daughter was 15. We had info on her volunteer work, 4-H accomplishments, music instruction and other extracurriculars, but we knew that colleges want solid evidence of coursework. We compiled lists of books read, field trips taken and Internet courses completed.
Our local community college wanted to review every scrap of material we had, and make us pay for placement tests. Plus, they insisted our daughter get her GED. We were offended at that.
We next interviewed at a private four-year college. They were much more progressive in their thinking. They asked us to make our own version of a transcript without imposing guidelines. They helpfully suggested she take the ACT instead of the SAT if her math scores weren't impressive. The admissions office led us toward many scholarship and financial aid options which made the tuition nearly as reasonable as a state school.
Our daughter is in her second year there. She feels equal to the work, challenged and at home with the independent thinking required of the students." -- Allandra
? "Because our son wanted to take classes at a local university, we created a 'program of studies' form that looks a lot like a transcript. As he's now applying to colleges, we provide information on the courses he has taken, when and who provided them, along with any grade received. This works well for him, because his program has been very course-oriented.
The National Merit Board suggests revising their form as needed in order to describe the approach taken by the homeschooling family. Had he been either more unschooled or more project-oriented, I think we would have used a portfolio approach, but we'd still have tried to group the information into a form that is similar to that which the college would have been getting from other traditionally schooled applicants. So we would have had broad categories like English or Language Arts and described the sorts of books read, plays attended or performed, or any other similar activities. I just mark sections 'not applicable' for things like rank in class or academic awards. In some cases, I describe our philosophy of allowing him to pursue his interests, rather than requiring a 'core of studies' approach.
Many colleges are now interested in homeschooled students, as they feel these kids have already dealt with the questions of 'What do I want to learn?' and 'How do I do it best?' Since most colleges get huge numbers of applicants, the easier we can make it for them to compare what our kids have done to what the schooled high school student has done, the more likely it is that they will see the success of our approach.
Make sure that your child takes the SAT I/II or the ACT. Even though many colleges question the utility of these tests, the same admissions officers will say that they give an explicit comparison point. Also, if it's not too late, have him/her take the PSAT in 'junior' year. These are given in October at high schools; I simply called the counselor and asked to have him registered as a homeschooled student.
Some of the comments we've gotten from admissions people have been things like:
* 'We tend to see more activities from homeschooled students, such as church or community service.'
* 'The importance of the essay really providing a sense of who the student is can't be overstated. An essay that has been rewritten by two parents, the school counselor and an advisor won't have any personality left in it.'
* 'We want to make sure that the student is ready for college level work and is independent enough to succeed at college.'
* 'We like to see recommendations from people who know the applicant in addition to those from parents.'
-- Helen Darmara, firstname.lastname@example.org
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January-February 2002 - Articles and Columns
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