Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Review: Peterson Diected Handwriting

I take a rather eclectic approach when it comes to teaching my children handwriting and I have to admit, the results are not always the best. Jo was "ruined" (her word, not mine) by a zealous teacher at her Christian preschool when she insisted that my then 3 yo daughter use only her right hand. I had no idea that this was going on and frankly, would have told the teacher to find better ways to occupy her time had I realized that she was warping my little girl's writing skills. As it was, I have never required a three year old to write anything, let alone with an aim of proper handedness. The nerve!

Jo has remained right handed, but it's fairly evident that she would be have been far better served as a lefty; her father is left-handed, so I'm assuming it's genetics ... not that I care. When you mix in her vision difficulties in the formative years of her small motor development, it's a miracle the kid can write at all as far as I'm concerned. Jo took up cursive writing at the tender age of seven thanks to an infatuation with the American Girl Felicity and has never looked back. Her handwriting is anything but neat but it gets the job done.

Vowing to make a more concerted and organized effort with Atticus, I turned to the highly-recommended Handwriting Without Tears and was frankly driven to tears. I'm not sure if I ever really understood the whys and hows of HWT and I definitely found the structure of the letters as taught slightly off-putting. I dumped the whole idea and let Atticus do his own thing and have been rewarded with what I consider "boy scrawl"--mostly legible, highly uneven and barely passable.

With Logan, I put off doing anything at all in the way of formal handwriting due to his tendency to reverse letters. I suspected for a time that he was dyslexic (he's not) and finally settled on "He's a normal kindergartener," as an answer to my concerns, but not until I made a go of the (again) recommended course of teaching him cursive first. Yeah ... that didn't go too well. Chided, I reverted to my, "Hey, they'll be using computers anyhow," mind-set and stuck my head in the sand.

Then I was given a copy of Peterson Directed Handwriting to review and figured hey, why not? I had recently seen my kids' chicken scratch comments on a writing wall at Sunday School, and was alarmed at how loopy and tidy and downright formed all those other samples were when held up to what passes for writing in my house. Maybe it's time to look this one in the eye and stare it down, I thought.

So we undertook Peterson's, a very structured, very formal writing program that promises pitch-perfect results. Let me say up front that I am not the best at adhering to any curriculum that lays out methods and models in ways that feel rigid. And Peterson Directed Handwriting is rigid. There are formulas, special tools, the whole nine yards. It doesn't say so in the teacher's guide, but you get the distinct impression that if you opt out of any of the recommended (ugh, that word again!) steps, you are dooming your child to a lifetime of horrid handwriting.

That in mind, I decided to take the revolutionary step of following the directions. We used the provided pencils, gripped them just so, angled our papers, listened to music with the right tempo and practiced moves in the air until we all felt as if we'd just conducted every cycle of Wagner's epic The Ring. Twice.

And it helped. Kind of.

For the amount of time invested, I feel like Jo and Atticus have seen negligible results. Frustrated with learning a whole new way of writing, neither of them put forth their best effort, making this a bit of an exercise in "How much more?" Despite the many gimmicks and whatnots included in this very complete program it is still very much your standard handwriting instruction drill. Not exactly the stuff of creativity and excitement, if you know what I mean. Does this make it a bad handwriting curricula? No, I don't believe it does. It just makes it on par with pretty much everything else I've seen marketed to teach handwriting skills. The upside is that this handwriting is truly beautiful, the type that you want to see flowing from a child's hand. So many programs fail in this area and the end result is blocky, unrecognizable forms that barely hang on to the original idea of a letter, imo. Peterson Directed Handwriting is pretty.

The biggest improvement was seen in Logan's writing. I found that all of the practice in the air and with the rhythms translated into letters that were properly shaped and forward-facing, not to mention standardized in their appearance. This wasn't an overnight development, nor has it been a 100% transformation. When jotting down words on drawings or in his own handmade books, I still find plenty of "b"s that have rotated into "d"s. But when actually putting forth the effort, I would say that the work is paying off.

Peterson offers some of the most customized choosing and support assistance I have ever seen in a homeschooling product. Rand Nelson, the creator, is personally available for help in placing your child in a program, for questions about problems you're seeing and for ongoing support. He offers a "meeting room" where you can talk to him live by appointment, as well as email and phone access. He backs up his products with a boatload of scientific data. Clearly, this gentleman is dedicated to the art of handwriting.

As for me, I find that I'm only so invested in it. While I am reassured to see improvements in my children's skills, I am having a hard time justifying the amount of prime school time dedicated to a subject that I rank in the lower echelon of educational hierarchy. In the end, I think this is one of those beauty of homeschooling kind of things; if handwriting is not important to you, let it slide. If it is, check out Peterson's.

1 comment:

Mama JJ said...

I get a kick out of your ambivalence---love it!