Wednesday, January 27, 2016

How to Make Handwriting Fun....not Work

I've been a mom for almost 6 years now and each and every day has been a learning moment.  This year, as she is a real deal student and kindergarten has probably been the biggest and most challenging parenting experience thus far.  To make things totally clear...I don't like to push my girl academically. I figure, like everything else in her little life, it will just come along when it comes along.  However, this kindergarten and homework thing has been overwhelming and taught me more than I could imagine.

One of the things I focus on at work with all my kids is making "work" fun.  What is the point of all of this therapy if the kids aren't having fun and looking forward to coming to their sessions?  What's funny is that for all those kids I work with, making handwriting and other graphomotor skills fun is kinda easy.  With my daughter, all I tend to feel is stressed which clearly hasn't been helpful for her or me.  One of my New Year's resolutions is that I will do whatever I can to make learning, particularly handwriting and learning how to read, fun for Quinn.

Interestingly enough, I have a kid who happens to have a terrible grip on writing instruments.  I have tried to correct it and encourage her to hold it the "right" way but I have found that that ends up causing a problem and stress before we have even begun working on our actual handwriting.  It's been difficult, but I have had to let go of that and just let her hold it her way.  I have found that this simple practice has made a bigger difference than I could have imagined.

1.  Practice "writing" with different materials-who says that the only way to learn how to write is with pencil and paper?  As a therapist with a lot of years under my belt, I have found that writing with a pencil is actually the last thing you should do, especially for younger kids.  Make it fun, make it hands on and make it an experience that they are excited to literally dig their hands into.  Use shaving cream in the bathtub or on a really big mirror if you have one.  Pour some rice on a cookie sheet or in a tupperware.  Roll playdough into a flat surface, find alphabet cookie cutters and write words with them.  There are so many options here so you can be totally creative.  This kind of activity is also great for working on building up kids' tolerance for playing with different materials if they tend to be resistant and also great for working on improving grasp strength and manipulation skills.

2.  Word Games-I have found that playing "games" with my daughter makes her attention last longer and get less frustrated.  I have a bunch of these awesome vintage letter rocks from Hope Learning Toys on Etsy and Quinn loves them.  One of the things we have done with them is to take her sight words and practice spelling and reading them while using these.  She loves digging through the letters and finding what she needs and is so proud of herself when she finally gets the word.  We will often use a Boogie Board to then practice writing the words afterwords.  Another great word/letter game is Spot It.  I am a huge fan of all things Spot It but was super psyched when I saw they created a whole line of alphabet and word games.  The kids I work with are super in love with the Spot It alphabet and word games that feature some of their favorite characters like Anna and Elsa from Frozen, Princess Sofia, Disney Princesses and their favorite Pixar characters .  Be sure to check out my post from a couple of weeks ago talking all about another wonderful line of Blue Orange games, the Super Genius series.  There are so many other great word games out there too....Boggle Jr., Scrabble Jr. and Zingo Word Builder are just a few of them! The best part of all of these games are that they can be played as a family or with friends.

3.  Magnet Play-I am pretty sure that most of us grew up with those plastic alphabet magnets on their fridge.  Little did I know growing up how awesome those alphabet magnets would be and how I would use them in my actual profession.  If you have a kid who is interested in learning how to write words but is struggling for some reason with the actual handwriting aspect of things (decreased grasp strength, poor grip, decreased handwriting endurance, poor confidence/self-esteem....I could go on), start with magnets.  Not only can you find a variety of alphabet (upper and lowercase) magnets, you can also find lots of great magnet sets for sight words (check out these by Educational Insights).  As your kids get older and are actually reading but need some encouragement for writing, check out this set by Magnetic Poetry for Kids.  Start by having them pick out their word magnets and "write" their story. This could take as long as you need for them to feel awesome about what they have written.  Once the story is complete, you can have them start to copy it (as much as they are comfortable with at a sitting) into written form.  If you want to get real crazy, have them illustrate their story as they are copying it.

4.  iPad Games-using technology isn't for everyone and that is something I totally get.  For me (with my own kid and the kids I work with), the iPad has been a bit of a game changer for me.  Let me get this out of the way....I don't use the iPad exclusively.  I use it as a motivator.  I use it to get my little ones excited about learning.  And it has worked.  The most important thing is picking the right apps to put on your iPad. It's hard to navigate that massive App Store...there are so many intriguing and beautiful looking apps out there that you can easily be convinced to buy those that aren't that great.  Here are my favorite and most recommended alphabet and reading apps:
LetterSchool-easily my most favorite handwriting app out there.  All my kids love it and are so motivated by the awesome graphics to learn how to write their letters and numbers that I use it and recommend it over and over again.
Endless Alphabet-I really can't get enough of all the Originator apps, but their original Endless Alphabet app will always hold a special place in my heart.  Kids not only learn how to identify letters, they learn their sounds and how to put those letters together to make words.  My daughter's understanding of vocabulary has really increased (like the word belch is super funny) from using this app.
Writing Wizard-this app by L'Escapadou is another one of my go-to's in regards to handwriting.  What I like about this one is that you can not only practice letters, but create word lists for your child.  Great for working on sight words!
***one of my favorite iPad tricks is to use a stylus for all appropriate apps.  My new favorite is the Cosmonaut Stylus, the iCreate Crayon Stylus and the Kikkerland Design Mini Retro Pen Stylus.  

5.  Write Books-one of the most motivating activities I have done with handwriting involves stickers.  When my kids have hit a bit of a wall with handwriting but I know that they know how to write the letters, I have parents pick up a bunch of stickers of something their kids are super motivated by.  For example, I had a kid years ago who put up such a fight about practicing his letters.  It was clear that he was bored and we needed to spice things up.  Well, this kid loved sports and I had his mom buy all kinds of stickers and he had to write the team names for each sticker.  It was so fun to watch him learn to love how to write.  For the first time, he began to understand that if you put a bunch of letters together you could write words and the most exciting thing for him was that he could write the names of sport's teams.  I have done this with the Disney Princesses, Shopkins, superheroes and a bunch of other things.  In the end, the kids get to take home this booklet (I also will print out coloring pages with pictures of similar themed things as to the book they are writing) and show off their weeks of hard work.

6.  Find a Penpal-one of the reasons I am really excited for my daughter to learn how to really write is because once she does, she will begin writing a Circle Journal with her aunt who lives in California.  Basically, they will write letters to each other in a journal that will go back and forth between Brooklyn and Los Angeles.  This is something my sister already does with my older nieces and I know that it is something that will not only help with Quinn learning how to write better, but something that will help her keep in touch with someone she loves who she doesn't get to see all the time.  While we are fortunate enough to have Facetime and email, I love the idea of my daughter being able to write letters and look forward to getting actual mail.  For your kids, you can pick out a bunch of fun postcards or have them help decorate their own stationery and choose one person per week to write to.  Designate a night to write the letter so it becomes something to look forward to each week.  Make sure that you choose people to write to who will write back so they can have the excitement of not only sending mail, but recieving it.

So these are some of the ways I am making handwriting fun not only for the kids I work with but my own kid.  Not to repeat myself, but it's so important that in a day and age where learning has become such work at such a young age, I want to stress how important it is to make it fun when at home. Sometimes just finding the best writing instruments (we are a big fan of the Yummy Yummy Scented Glitter Gel Pens in my house) for your kid will make handwriting fun.  Maybe it is finding the coolest journal or making fun stationery that will make your kid excited to write.  Whatever it is that motivates and excites your kid, make sure you maximize on that opportunity.

Now that I have shared some of my ideas, I would love to hear from any and all of you....parents, teachers and/or therapists....please let me know what your favorite writing activities are.  I am always so excited and grateful to hear from you all and your ideas help so many people.  I am only a click away and truly love hearing from you all!

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