From the archives, April 2010
The topics of handwriting and writing reluctance come up from time to time on our yahoo group and I realized that I probably had not spoken of it here lately. I want to cover in fair detail as much as possible – remember that all children are different.
My oldest, now 13 was my first experience with teaching handwriting. Those were some frustrating days. He has ASD (autism spectrum disorder) and while you wouldn’t know it now to look at him, talk to him or have him teach you something, if you look at his handwriting you might wonder. Mainstream society would feed us a line of “oh boys typically have poor handwriting.” While this is the case, in general, is that an excuse? They are male so they should write sloppy? My dad has beautiful handwriting – in fact so much so that my mom makes him address the holiday cards! Handwriting is a will based activity. Having good handwriting takes time and practice. What happens though if you have a child with poor muscle tone and writing seems almost painful? This is often the case with many autism spectrum children. I was really trying to think about how we did things in those early days with my son. I stumbled upon one of my planning journals from his grade 1 year – he was 6.5 years “Harry is so smart – but his penmanship is horrid! It is a struggle!” Sound like any of you mamas? I look back now and think about just how little he was. I was so worried. While I had been reading, learning, understanding Waldorf from a teaching perspective, I still doubted. He was my first child and I wanted his actions to match his intellect. In reality, I should have continued to write our little summaries for him until he was ready. He worked and worked at more form drawing and I worked at patience. We did lots of fine motor practice and crossing the mid-line. For him, I learned it was slow and steady, but consistent. If we missed a week then we had to make up for it. Finger knitting and later two needle knitting was a big key (handwork is a will based activity.) I introduced cursive to him a bit later than the others – around late 4th grade. Today, his handwriting isn’t as pretty as his younger sister’s, but there is effort and that makes the difference to me. I have found in working with spectrum children that the best thing you can do is not have them hating to write. This may mean shorter amounts of writing for your child as they build hand strength.
There is a great article on the development of the hand, CLICK HERE for the pdf download. I love this article and it seems to be critical of block crayons, next read my thoughts on those below.
WHAT TO WRITE WITH
This is often a question I get from moms starting on this journey… block crayons? sticks? pencils? What about pens? Too many choices! Perhaps this will help, it is a general guideline.
- prek and kindergarten – stick crayons, nice big fat ones like the ones by Stockmar – beware of green and yellow… Sam says they are tasty.
- Grade/class 1 – sticks to write with, introduce blocks to draw with (block crayon drawing)
- Grade 2 and up – sticks transition into colored pencils. We like the triangle grip with the Ferby pencils. Blocks for coloring.
- Grade 3-4 – you can introduce a fountain pen for cursive. This is often a special time and can be a lot of fun for the child. Blocks for coloring.
- Grade 4 and up – many children continue to enjoy the Ferby big pencils, but some like to go down to something smaller. Lyra makes some nice ones.
It is important to remember that block crayons are not held the same way other crayons are. These crayons did not exist when Steiner started the first school, they were invented by a grades teacher later and were never intended to write with. I generally keep them up out of Sam’s reach, but have plenty of sticks for him to play with. When it comes to blocks, I also only recommend the three primaries, with proper blending they make all the colors you need.
This is tough. We’ve had a few situations like this in our home and we have also worked with many families who have children that HATE to write! This often comes from mom being well meaning and wanting to get school work done, she may unknowingly say something that turns her child off completely. This gap can take a long time to mend. Often Erik works directly with the child (grades 4-5 and up) to find out what things they love. These things are different often from what they will tell mom! It may be Spiderman – or a favorite doll, a topic in school – trucks… you name it, we have heard it! lol. Getting them writing isn’t about research papers, it is about just rolling the ball. I am always amazed at the assignments children work on with Erik. One boy wrote about Socrates’ favorite cereal, another invented a super hero. A girl he worked with enjoyed writing a story about what he dolls did in her absences and also wanted to write travel brochures. There are so many ideas. Start with things they love – even if it doesn’t match your Waldorf ideal, even if it is really silly! If you still feel like you need help in this area, Erik mentors children grades 4 and up. We prefer to work with mom until children are old enough and feel comfortable working with him directly.
Writing is an important activity. When approached properly and with priority, then it is enjoyable. Of course there are always those who prefer *proper* writing and I agree, we need to teach proper tenses, grammar use, etc., but these are often road blocks when working with children to just get writing! Relax and let them write for you… then work together to correct it.
I hope this has been helpful and informative. Feel free to ask questions! Blessings.