TOS Crew: Peterson’s Handwriting

TOS Crew

One of the exciting things about being on this year’s TOS Homeschool Crew has been the opportunity to try new products, in all areas of learning.

Handwriting is something we’ve struggled with. Our eldest has beautiful cursive, but the younger two… Our middle child injured her right hand a few years ago, and uses that as an excuse for her all-too-often illegible scrawl. She can print fairly neatly when she puts her mind to it, but she hates cursive and her print deteriorates, the longer a writing session lasts, until the letters all run together and you can barely pick out one from another. Our youngest can print fairly neatly, but she also is challenged by cursive. She can trace it, but still needs work in formation.

Enter Peterson’s Directed Handwriting. (If you explore the website you’ll find  animated graphics and explanations to introduce you to the methodology.)

Now, I have to admit that the handwriting we did before we tried Peterson’s method was a mix of handwriting workbooks and copywork. I’m sure you’ve seen the sort of worksheet I’m talking about. A letter is introduced, you trace it, then you copy it across a line. Eventually you’re working on whole words, and then sentences.

Peterson’s Handwriting method takes a different approach. Rand Nelson, the creator, begins by teaching the parent about the connection between the brain, the eye, and the hand. Rhythm is an important component to shape formation. Basic shapes are formed, eventually leading to letter formation. The program starts with printing and leads to joined letters (cursive, in other words) over time.

The program comes with a CD containing teacher instruction and animated illustrations, plus a special pen with markings to help achieve the proper “hold,” and a placemat that helps with getting the right paper tilt and letter slant. (You can get a “basic” version without the CD, but frankly, I found the animations on the CD to be helpful in working with my children.) Online and telephone support is available before, during, and after parent training. I found Mr. Rand very helpful and prompt in answering my questions.

Gross motor versus fine motor coordination

With our eldest being a special learner, I’m already somewhat familiar with the terms “gross motor” (using large muscles, like shoulders and arms) and “fine motor” (think about wiggling your fingers or picking up tiny screws) skills, and how learning progresses from large muscle groups to the smaller. With our eldest, before she could develop fine motor skill and coordination (i.e. writing neatly with a pencil) we had to work on the skills using the larger muscles in her arms. We’d scrawl huge letters with sidewalk chalk, for example. Painting letters on the side of the house with a house painting brush and water was another exercise. Forming large letters in the air while spelling our spelling words aloud was another. As the movements got smaller, we traced letters in a pan of cornmeal, and eventually began to write.

Hmm. We didn’t do as much of this with the younger two. Perhaps there’s a connection there.

Anyhow, the approach advocated in Peterson’s Handwriting rang true with our experience, and so I thought we’d give it a try.

Impediments to learning

I ran into a few roadblocks.

– Our younger two are 10 and 12. They’ve already formed quite a few habits in their handwriting. Bad habits, from the way one of them holds a pencil, to the way the youngest forms some of her letters – learned and practiced and cemented when I was busy and not watching closely enough as she was working on letter formation in her early days.

– Character issues. Frankly, they didn’t want to do the drill they needed to re-program their brains and muscles. It was a struggle all the way. I can see where Peterson’s will work better either with younger children who are still forming habits, or with motivated older learners who want to improve their handwriting.

– Structure and physical requirements. Peterson’s Handwriting is a highly structured program, and if you want the best results you need to be consistent. One of our biggest problems was achieving the “ideal” writing posture! None of our chair-and-table combinations supports the posture in the illustrations. It appears to work well if you have school desks for your children; we don’t.

Results (for our family)

I feel like one of those ads you see on television, hear on radio, or read in a magazine or newspaper. “Individual results may vary.” Our results certainly have. Our most compliant child has shown the most improvement. Our most resistant child has improved a little, probably not as much as I’d like considering the time and effort invested. She’d still rather keyboard than write by hand.

If only I’d paid close attention while they were first forming their habits, when they were keen to learn to write “just like grownups”!

Keys to success

In summary, I’d say that Peterson’s looks like an excellent investment if one or more of the following is true:

– your children are still young and haven’t formed bad habits

– your children are struggling learners and need a little “extra”

– you have the discipline and dedication to follow a structured program

– your children (or you!) want to have beautiful handwriting and are motivated to work at it.

Homeschool kits are available in Basic and Complete forms for each grade (K, 1, 2, 3, 4, and Advanced or 5-8). Complete kits are $44.70 for Kindergarten level and $38.55 for the other levels. Complete kits contain Pupil Book, Teacher Handbook, Position Guides, Animated letter CD, Audio Cassette and special Pen or Pencil (triangle shaped, with guide marks to help the student with the right grip). Basic kits are $20.80 for Kindergarten and $15.05 for each of the rest, and have the same contents as the complete kits except for the Audio Cassette and Animated letter CD.  (Prices taken from the website’s PDF order form.)

To read more TOS reviews of Peterson’s Directed Handwriting, check out the links at this TOS Crew blog entry.

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