Have you ever had a time when you thought you were prepared for something and then suddenly realized you were really far behind?!? This past month has been like that for me. Although I had received all of our school curriculum at the beginning of the summer, several things developed right before we were ready to start our lessons for this school year that put me in that "way behind" place.
With much prayer and discussion, my husband and I decided to totally shift our approach in two subjects for the kids (history and science). I am very excited about the methods we have chosen, and I think it will be a great fit, but the changes involved a lot of up front prep work for this mom/teacher.
Another major development that occurred recently concerns my daughter. As mentioned in previous posts, she loves to read and is a story girl. One area of struggle for her, however, is in the area of writing and thought organization. Ever since she was little and first learning to write, she has reversed her letters and numbers. There was a time when my husband called her his "little Leonardo da Vinci" because she would write everything in perfect reverse order. You could hold her papers up to the mirror and read them like a secret code. Although she has improved greatly in this area over the past few years, she still has to work very hard to communicate in writing. I have been concerned about this as she is now entering third grade and will be required to write more and more in her upper elementary years.
The Lord recently connected us with a woman who has been a teacher for many years, and who frequently works with children that struggle with reading and writing. After many conversations with her concerning my girl, I am filled with hope and have a plan to help her not only improve in her writing, but also equip her with tools that will help her become a more confident communicator.I have been working to implement many of Mrs. Harris's suggestions, as well as reading and researching more ideas on my own. If you have a child who struggles with visual perception, easily becomes overwhelmed when much writing/reading is required, or has a hard time putting his thoughts into clear sentences, perhaps some of these ideas will be an encouragement to your student as well.
My daughter will completely shut down if she is faced with a page that has a lot of required writing on it. She instantly begins to whine about how "she can't do it, it's too hard, she can't write that much..." Since she has to think about which direction the letters face and how to write them, writing is harder for her than for some children—as though she has to add an extra step in to the process. However, writing is also a life skill and will be something she has to do for the rest of her life. As her mama, I want to enable her to approach writing positively and confidently.
Here are three tools that we will be using throughout the year to help in this area:
1. I love this idea from teach123school.com. If you scroll down the page, you will see a section entitled "Bite Size Pieces" that suggests cutting a file folder into sections that will allow your student to only concentrate on a small section of the work at a time. So often half the battle is in the mind, and this tool immediately helps a child only focus on a small part of the task at a time.
2. Little Lady also struggles with spelling words correctly and she will frequently ask me how to spell the words she needs. Although I do not mind being her walking dictionary, I will not always be with her and I want her to become more a more independent writer. Mrs. Harris suggested that she start her own personal spelling dictionary where she can put the words that she often uses, but cannot remember how to spell. I found this printable student dictionary that I really like (especially because it has several versions from which to choose).
3. As simple as this sounds, another suggestion for struggling writers is to use pencil grippers. Sometimes children who do not write easily become tense and grip their pencil too tightly, which can cause cramping and sore fingers. This makes the writing process all the more miserable for them. There are many different styles of grippers on the market. This may be a small thing, but if it can help even a little bit, I will be thankful!
Little Lady also has a hard time putting her thoughts into written words. Whenever she is asked to write a thank you note or a paragraph it is as though her mind, eyes, and hands do not work together smoothly. She can tell me everything she wants to say, but when it comes to actually writing it out, it becomes quite overwhelming to her. This hit home recently when I sat and observed my girl writing with a young friend (who is also in third grade). They were writing stories together, and her friend quickly filled the page with words. In that same amount of time, my daughter wrote three sentences, and ended up drawing a picture. I could sense her frustration and asked about her story. The words poured out of her (and a good story it would have been!), but the mechanics of writing completely stifled her ability to share it.
Mrs. Harris recommended that I approach creative writing in two stages, instead of just one like most of us do. See, I can think and write simultaneously. I do not have to think about how the letters are constructed, which direction they should face, which side of the paper I should start the next line on, what size the letters should be... Things that I take for granted become a huge barrier for many children when they are trying to write. Often, they will lose their ideas or train of thought, become frustrated with the process and just quit.
It can be very helpful to some students to communicate their ideas FIRST, and then work through the process of writing them. This can be done through the use of graphic organizers, dictation, and voice to text apps. You could encourage your child to develop story boards for their ideas, drawing pictures for each scene that they will be able to refer back to later. Using outlines, key words, and bullet points can also be helpful ways for your student to work out the thought side of writing before they put pen (or pencil) to paper.
Typing can be an excellent tool for your struggling writer because it can help them combine the creativity of writing without the stress of writing mechanics. I would highly recommend that you teach your child to type fluently at an early age. I am a huge proponent of handwriting instruction and feel that it should have a key place in the student's learning. However, for some children, they need the freedom to communicate their thoughts and ideas without the hindrance of thinking about how to write. Typing provides this freedom. (Besides, in this technical world we live in, it will not be a skill that is wasted!) (I really like this idea to teach hand placement to beginning typists.)
We each use tools that help us in our daily life—glasses, alarm clocks, mnemonics, hearing aids, calendar reminders, bookmarks…. My desire is to help my daughter fill her “life toolbox” with as many tools as possible to help her become the learner and communicator that God has created her to be!
There have been many late nights and long hours the past several weeks getting ready for what I thought I was already ready for, but I pray this unexpected intermission will result in a better start to our school year and a better learning experience for my girl.