I noticed pretty early on that my boys did not have the same facility with writing as I myself had had as a child. All of them have learned to read long before they could write anything legible. And even when they learned to write, their handwriting left much to be desired. I tried various programs, and even made extra worksheets on the computer, but nothing really seemed to help much. Friends advised me – some said to make them practice more; others said to just wait for them get older. But as they got older, their writing got faster – but worse. I despaired of their ever developing fluency.
Then a friend (a mother of boys!) introduced me to the Peterson Directed Handwriting program. Of course I wondered why this program would work where those others had failed. There’s a lot more information on their website but here are some basic differences between a typical handwriting program and the Peterson program.
- Nearly all handwriting programs are based on a visual-feedback approach. In other words, the child sees the model, tries to copy it, sees the difference and attempts to correct it. This has two inherent problems:
- Constant correction results in stopping and restarting at random places, preventing the development of a smooth writing stroke.
- Like copying a drawing, it is by its nature brain-resource intensive.
Peterson is based on training the muscles, freeing up the brain to focus on the content, spelling, etc.
- While other programs are for the most part simply given to the child, Peterson requires active teaching. Don’t worry – this only takes 5-10 minutes per day and it’s all spelled out for you in the teacher’s guide.
- Peterson also places significant emphasis on the surrounding mechanics, such as pencil holding (they carry special pencils and grippers to help with this), paper positioning, and proper posture.
- It uses rhythmic movement and large muscle movement to help train fluent motions.
- Finally, it is non-consumable.
If your child is writing easily and beautifully (and yes, I have seen this in some children) then you don’t need this program. However, if your child displays one or more of the following behaviors, it is a clue that this program may help:
- letterform reversals (confusing b and d, for example)
- stroke reversals – letters that look correct but are formed in the wrong direction
- incorrect or inconsistent stroke patterns
- excessive pressure of pencil on paper
- neat handwriting if given LOTS of time, but legibility problems under time pressure
- handwriting deteriorates over time
The way the program works is by breaking down each letter and number into a series of strokes, for both print and cursive letters. After teaching the basic strokes, the letters are taught in groups based on their form, i.e. the strokes of which they are composed. A typical lesson involves a large model on the chalkboard with the teacher naming the strokes and identifying the start and stop points. The students then “air write” the form by pretending to trace the model while chanting the stroke names. This is followed by finger-tracing the letter in the student book, and only then attempting to make the letter on paper. Eyes closed practice is encouraged, and it helps if the student can use the chalkboard for practice as well.
I won’t say my boys are writing spectacularly, but the older (now 12) can write legible pieces in reasonable timeframes.
Peterson Directed Handwriting is available in Homeschool Kits in five levels, covering grades Preschool/K through 8. They also offer two Adult Self-Improvement levels, the first of which is excellent for as-needed refreshers in middle or high school.