The Writing Is Off The Wall

Dante’s academic world is split into various pieces, like “theme” (which is pretty much homeroom), and “specials”, which currently are Spanish and instrumental music — last trimester they were music and P.E. The pillars are literacy and math. Those are the ones that send homework with him, and I’ve been interested to observe that he’s gravitating towards math homework, or rather away from literacy homework. I think of literacy as Dante’s biggest strength, but right now it’s the academic area in which he’s struggling the most, and I can name that reason in one note: handwriting. See, literacy involves not only reading, at which Dante is amazingly good, but also writing, at which he’s…. not quite there yet.

He can form most letters pretty consistently, but they are all over the place in size and spacing, both horizontally and vertically, and he tends to mix capitals and lowercase letters all together in the same word. Also, there are some consistent malformations — lowercase a looks like capital q; lowercase h often lacks its upper line, which makes it pretty much a lowercase n; lowercase t is often shrunken and looks more like a +. To some extent, it’s a developmental thing — his fine motor control isn’t what it will be. But it’s also a matter of practice and application. We’ve been letting this go for a while, as he gets used to the discipline of doing a lot more writing than he’d ever been asked to do before. Now, though, it’s time to give it some attention.

So that’s what we’ve been doing. For the last couple of weeks, when we do homework together, I’ve been putting some special emphasis on handwriting, and explicitly identifying to him that that’s what I’m doing. I’m trying, with some success, to keep it from turning into a painful and perfectionistic exercise, by liberally dosing the rigor with humor. “Hmm, this o and this n seem to have swallowed some helium! Look, they’re floating way above the other letters like they’re in the Macy’s parade.” If I can get him laughing, or at least smiling, it softens the fact that I’m erasing the letters he wrote and forcing him to rewrite them. We happen to be reading a collection of fairy tales as our night time book right now, and luckily for me, the day I started focusing more on handwriting, we had just read the Three Bears the night before. So we came up with the term “Goldilocks letters” — not too big, not too small, not too high, not too low, but just right. He likes it because that term gets used in some of his space books, talking about the habitable zone in a solar system (not too close to the star but not too far away either) as “the Goldilocks zone.” I like it because it feels like it’s more about getting something in the right range rather than getting it exactly perfect.

How well I remember this struggle from when I was a kid. I don’t remember it quite so early, but then again I think my school situation was a bit less accelerated than Dante’s is. Neat and tidy printing did not come naturally to me as a kid, and legible cursive is a skill I’ve never developed, to this day. Sadly for me, there were several years there when school cared a lot about getting me to have lovely cursive writing, for what reason I’m still not sure. It seems to me that as long as you can write legibly, what difference does it make whether you’re printing or not? It’s possible that I have a little leftover frustration. I remember those report cards where the handwriting grade would stick out like a sore thumb, which coincidentally I also had, from practicing handwriting. Dante has a report card too, but it’s not in traditional letter grades (instead it’s like “H” for high achieving, “S” for satisfactory, etc.), and we’re not putting much of a spotlight on it. Kindergarten is too early, IMO, for us to be taking grades very seriously.

I can see the results of our work together. His letters are getting more legible, and (I think) he’s slowly grokking the fact that rushing through carelessly is actually a time waster rather than a time saver, because I’m going to make him fix all the letters that don’t look right. His Goldilocks letters, when he thinks about them, are becoming clearer and clearer; I have hope that we can ingrain some good habits that will last him a long time. I just hope we don’t have to suffer too much on the way there.

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One thought on “The Writing Is Off The Wall

  1. The Writing is Off the Wall

    As a former left-handed elementary teacher, I have always felt that cursive should be left as an extra course for those who are capable and have truly mastered manuscript. We read books and computer in print, why waste time with another difficult task for children to master. Give the students more time to just print and polish it to their best quality!
    -Thoughts from Aunt Cindy

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