I don’t know why I don’t take a lot of interest in making sure my children learn to print and write in cursive. Maybe if I saw that you needed to use it a lot in life, I would think differently. I mean, not even my conditioning created it in me. I still have specific memories in school absolutely LOVING handwriting time. The perfectionist in me meeting in harmony with my strong left-brained tendencies found me reveling in precisely created symbolic representation on paper, and glowing from the consistent recognition received from the teacher as she strolled up and down the aisles of student desks.
It surprised me when I learned about eight years ago that there was a new diagnosis of “dysgraphia” associated with handwriting (and “dyscalculia” associated with difficulty with math . . . what will they think of next?). Those of you with children in this situation may feel I don’t understand. Well, I would say I have one child who took to handwriting easily and has great “penmanship” today. Every one of my boys . . . six of them . . . have been anywhere from “delayed” to what they would term “dysgraphia”. I put these in quotes because I’m not sure how I feel about it. I don’t know how I feel because since I didn’t really focus on handwriting, and I’m still not sure how it affects the big picture, I’m just not sure if it’s useful to have a label put on a person for the quality or quantity of their handwriting skills. And, isn’t it interesting that every one of my boys don’t take to handwriting? Is there a boy thing here? I don’t remember too many boys growing up that had good handwriting.
Eric, my oldest at 19 today, never did take to coloring when he was a boy. Is that a precursor to writing? He also never “dabbled” with a pencil or pen, making little marks in “practice” to real writing. He first picked up a pen at 3.5 years old and drew a picture. It goes right along his path, in retrospect, to how he learns in a right-brained fashion: observe first, then do . . . the first time. From that early drawing, he only increased his picture making talents . . . but no words. When I read aloud to him, he was looking at the pictures, not the words. To re-enact the stories, it was through pictures, not words. Eventually, he started putting words to his pictures, comic book style, around 7-8 years old. He always asked how to spell words, and I always simply spelled it for him . . . no “lessons”. He’s a great speller today, unlike many right-brained, visual-spatial learners. One possible reason was that early question/answer time period of spelling everything for him as he asked before he wrote. It seems that visual-spatial learners have a fantastic visualization skill, almost photographic, which makes them struggle to “delete” information, or “redo” anything that was incorrect. Thus, invented spelling often is not a useful tool for them long-term. It was pure luck that I read in a John Holt book to simply spell words, or read words, when asked, without the lesson. It happened to work out in this instance for Eric’s benefit.
I did notice, though, that he was reversing a lot of letters. I remember reading another idea in a John Holt book about letter reversals possibly being misconstrued. I took that original doubt and applied it to the idea that Eric loved to draw. When you draw a horse, it can be facing one way or the other, so why not letters? So, one day, I nonchalantly asked Eric why he drew his letter “E” the way he had it at that moment, reversed. He stopped, thought about it, and then slowly asked, “Why?” I replied, “Because most people make their “E” this way,” and I wrote an “E” in the correct direction. Eric asked again, “Why?” Good question! Why? Hhhmmm. It came to me as, “Well, maybe it’s because if everyone writes their letters in the same direction, then it will be easier to read quickly.” Hey, sounded good! He thought so, too, and so he began to write most of his letters in the “correct” direction. I had continued the former conversation by verifying his reasoning for reversing letters: “Is it because you can draw animals or people anyway you want, so you thought letters were the same?” “Yeah.”
He continued to reverse his “s” and “J” until 9 to 10 years old. In this way, it could be that it had been formed in his memory that way and he just didn’t ever come to the realization that it would be important to correct it. That is, until a situation occurred with his friend who lived next door. Eric was waiting for him to come out and play, but his friend had to finish his homework first. Eric naively stated that he could help him finish more quickly if he did some of the work for him. His friend declined the invitation, and when Eric pressed as to why, he said, “Because you still reverse your “s” and “J”.” Eric said that was the catalyst that helped him become cognizant enough to stop those last two reversals.
Before we move forward from here, because I didn’t “teach” him printing, Eric figured it out by himself. So did Abbey. Both of them print from the bottom up, instead of from the top down. When people watch them write, it can freak them out! And you should see Abbey write her name in cursive . . . that is even freakier! And she’s the one with fantastic printing ability. She just got her driver’s license where you have to sign your name, which she did. However, she had her full name printed on the driver’s license, thus, she had to sign her full name as well. She mumbled to herself, “I don’t know how to write Abigale in cursive . . . oh, well, I’ll figure it out.” And she did just that, and it looked fine. Interestingly, she had a season where she wanted to figure out how to read cursive writing, and I think she can do so haltingly. Yet, she has created entire new alphabets for her fantasy writing and can read and write it fluently!
Anyway, I discovered that when I asked Eric to write something for me, he would slop it on the page. When he was writing something for himself, it was quite legible, sometimes even neat. At 11 years old, his two friends were coming over to stay with us for two weeks after having moved from the area, and Eric wanted to make another movie with them. In order to save time, he handwrote a 100 page script that I felt was quite legible. Through his teen years, most of his writing tends to be in creating lists. These lists mostly comprise of categorizations within his role playing game arena that constitutes pages and pages of information.
In his early teen years, he wanted to become more proficient at the keyboard, so he worked with the Mavis Beacon typing program until he reached a fluidity that pleased him. He uses this skill for his IMing, MySpace, e-mails, and other on-line venues. His sister has yet to decide to conquer this skill, but probably surpasses his speed with her hunt and peck method, and she is a budding author, spending hours on the computer typing her book! So far, how each child uses or does not use handwriting skills has not hindered their progress in life. Eric did take two computer programming classes at the local community college without negative effect. Time will tell . . .
Of the six boys, Eric has the best ability in the handwriting department, and as shown, it wasn’t an early or straight path to where he is. Alex, Adam, and William have more serious issues due to the low muscle tone and motor planning elements that often accompanies autism and developmental disabilities. And yet, their handwriting path continues on a path that will eventually lead them to a sufficient ability for their lives when coupled with the alternative writing sources such as keyboarding, audio, and video.
To summarize, I guess I just don’t see the point, as I mentioned before, of labeling handwriting differences. To me, it joins the masses that focus on a weakness-based education and a problem-based paradigm. I lean toward a strength-based lens. This is not to say that I don’t recognize that my children’s path to handwriting isn’t different than their schooled peers’ path of expected academic achievement, or that it might even be a “weak area” for them. But, when our energy and focus and lens is on their strengths: oral story-telling, character development, plot intricacies, descriptions, visualizations, producing/directing, to name some of Eric’s . . . not only does handwriting pale in comparison, but it eventually became a means to an end . . . writing out that script, adding commentary to the comic strip, detailed lists . . . it improved with maturity, time, and personalized need interspersed with equally valued alternative expressions through video, audio, and computers.