Kathy Kuhl

 

A woman told me her son had been accepted into a good college even though he had the handwriting of a six-year-old. Happily, this sharp young man and his mother knew how to get accommodations to get his thoughts on paper.

 

Can you imagine the effect on this child if his mother had said: 

“Sorry, dear. Until you stop reversing your Es, I’m not going to teach you to write.” or “Until you pay attention and print more neatly, I’m not teaching you any new words.”

 

Many gifted people have dysgraphia, dyslexia or other learning disabilities. We should work on the problems, as I discussed last week. But we also work around them. That means you accommodate the student’s areas of weakness.

Accommodate doesn’t mean coddle. It does mean you give help that gives them a fair chance to develop their abilities. It means you don’t let a disability hijack your homeschool.

Though we work hard to strengthen weaknesses, it is vital not to focus on them.

We build lives based on strengths, not weaknesses. We don’t look at  Charles Schwab, Richard Branson, or  MacArthur ‘Genius’ Award winner Mimi Koehl, and think of learning disabilities. They built their careers on their strengths.

We don’t build our lives on what we do poorly. Neither should our kids.

 

Accommodation #1: Learn to Type

The first accommodation you may think of for a child who struggles with writing is teaching your child to type.

How do you know if your child is old enough to touch-type? Pediatric occupational therapist Laurie Chuba told me this trick: ask your child to close her eyes and see if she can touch her left thumb and each of her other left fingers in turn. Then repeat with the right hand. If she can, she’s ready to learn to touch-type.

Not every keyboarding program is well-suited to children and teens with learning disabilities. For instance, the first one we tried used a small font size on the screen. It was hard for my son, who has dyslexia, to read.

There are many typing programs, but Keyboard Classroom is unusual. It’s a typing program designed at the Ben Bronz School in Connecticut, a school especially for students with learning disabilities. It keeps practice exercises to one minute, building fluency without as much stress as longer exercises. [Disclosure: I was given, but have not used, a sample of Keyboard Classroom and the finger guides. My review is based on trying a free demo. Typing programs vary and kids vary. I recommend trying demos and reading reviews to see what’s best for your child.]

It was researched with students with learning disabilities for twenty years. By keeping its plastic finger guides between the middle and ring finger of each hand, the learner’s hands don’t drift out of place.

I met Keyboard Classroom President Carrie Shaw at LEAH Homeschool Convention a few years back and got to try out the program. I was intrigued. You can see a demo and explanation of Keyboard Classroom here.

Carrie wrote, “I reduced the prices on all my licenses so it would be more affordable for homeschoolers.”  At their site, you can contact Carrie Shaw and learn more.

If your child is not ready to touch-type, let her record answers with a digital voice recorder or into your phone. You can also have her dictate to a sibling who can type.

 

Accommodation #2 – Word Prediction Software

Dictation software is notorious for goofy transcribing errors. WordQ does a superior job, providing a drop-down list of words to choose from. Even better, at the end of each sentence, WordQ reads the sentence aloud, which can help your student notice when words are incorrect or are omitted. Get a free trial of WordQ from Quillsoft here.

 

Accommodation #3 – Dictation Software

SpeakQ dictation software is an add-on for WordQ that turns it into a powerful dictation program. Designed for folks with learning disabilities, it is easier for your child to train to his or her voice than other programs, like Dragon. WordQ and SpeakQ both offer a free trial. Dragon Naturally Speaking also takes diction from you or your student. See  www.Nuance.com for details and a demonstration.[The advantage of SpeakQ over Dragon is that to train the software to recognize your child’s voice, Dragon provides paragraphs that may be difficult for your challenged learner to read. But SpeakQ lets you upload anything your child can read well, and use that text to train the software.]

Not everyone who struggles with writing struggles with handwriting. Other writing problems require different solutions. Next month we’ll look at some. This series continues here.

 

This article was originally written on Learn Differently at https://www.learndifferently.com/2015/10/20/accommodations-for-struggling-writers/

 

Some of the links in this article are affiliate links.

 

This article is part 3 in  a in a series of articles aimed at helping struggling writers. Part 1 is here, and part 2 is here .

 

 

 

 


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By Mary Winfield

Now that your learner has worked through fine motor skill problems and can write letters, it is time to put it all together!

Usually when a child starts to learn to write, the letters are big and sloppy. That is totally normal! Once your child becomes more familiar with writing and has more control, then it is time to work on sizing, alignment, and spacing.

Sizing:
Sizing refers to how big the letters are by themselves and in relation to the page. A lot of kids start by making their letters as big as they possibly can on a given sheet of paper. Teaching them to write smaller yet big enough to be legible can sometimes be a challenge. But there are creative ways to encourage proper sizing.

First, take a partial sheet of paper and cut out a box that is roughly the size you want their letters to be. Then, place that on top of the paper they are writing on. The guide will help them to properly size their letters until they can do it on their own. You can also draw boxes directly on the paper for them to write inside. Special handwriting paper with raised lines can give them tactile input for the limits they should stay within, or you can also create these lines with puffy paint or wikki stix.

Alignment:
Alignment refers to how the letters are positioned on the paper in relation to the letters around them. Basically, is your child writing on a straight line, or is that sentence wiggling all over the paper?

Different letters have different positions. For instance, the letter “t” is a tall letter, letter “a” is a middle letter, and letter “p” is a bottom letter. This can be a difficult concept to grasp. To help your child understand, you can play a game. Hold up a letter on a flashcard (or just say it if they don’t need the visual prompt) and have them either raise their hands above their heads, cross their arms, or bend down to touch their toes depending on the alignment of the letter.

To help them when they are writing, kids need to be aware of where the baseline is for the words. We write on lined paper, which helps us keep our words straight, but your learner may need more help. You can emphasize that baseline with a highlighter or colored marker to help it stand out. You can also provide a tactile cue by raising the baseline with puffy paint or a wikki stix so they are aware when they are dipping below it or not. Though this can make writing “bottom” letters more difficult, it can help at the beginning when establishing what a baseline is.

Spacing:
Finally, spacing refers to how far apart the letters are in a word, and how far apart the words are in a sentence.

One helpful metaphor that I was taught, was “Spaghetti and Meatballs.” Letters should have a small space between them (like an uncooked spaghetti noodle), and words should have a bigger space between them (like a meatball). You can actually draw these lines and circles to reinforce the concept, but kids generally catch on pretty quickly.

There are many other visual cues you can use to help them with their spacing. Using things like a popsicle stick, stickers, manipulatives, or even their own fingers, can help them keep their spacing consistent. Decorating their popsicle sticks in a way that is appealing to them can also help keep kids engaged in the task.

To add an auditory cue, read their writing out loud to them to help them recognize the purpose of spacing. If words are squished together, then read them really fast and jumbled up. By pausing at the spaces and jumbling the words when spaces are missing, you can help your child to hear the importance of spacing in their writing.

For more ideas, here are some Pinterest boards to help you!
SPED Homeschool Handwriting Board
Growing as They Grow Pinterest Board

If you need to catch up, here are links to the previous posts in this series on teaching your child to write:
Pre-Writing Pointers
3 Stages of Forming Letters

 

 


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By Mary Winfield


When teaching your child to form letters, it is important to use a variety of different methods and to keep their personal interests and sensory profile in mind. There are endless ways to teach letters, but here are some good ways to get you started.

Step 1: Building Letters
Before your child starts writing, it might be helpful to learn to build the letters. This helps a child to learn what the letters are and how to form shapes without the pressure of actually writing. This step is also great for kids who struggle with the fine motor skills needed to write. You can build letters in many different ways.

One way is to cut straight and curved foam pieces to be used to form letters. We have also just used building blocks and strips of paper too. But, be aware when using blocks the formed letters look a little crooked sometimes!

Another way you can build letters is to do polka dot painting. You can use the polka dot markers or you can just use a clothespin, pom pom, and paint. Sometimes “writing” the letters this way is also more fun since your child doesn’t have to have completely steady hands. Polka dot painting can also be used to fill in an outline of a letter as a way for your child to become more familiar with letter shapes. You can also use small stickers to do the same thing.

One more way to build letters is to use playdoh. Have your child roll the playdough out and then use the snake-like roll to form a letter. Wikki sticks or pipe cleaners are more great options for building letters this way.

All of these t activities will help your child learn how to form letters and develop fine motor skills more independently.

Step 2: Tracing Letters
Once your child grasps how to build letters, it is time to start practice in writing them. Most kids will still need some prompts to form letters at this stage, yet they are still ready to move beyond building them. This is where tracing comes into play. And once again, if you get creative, there are many ways to practice writing through tracing.

One tip I picked up working in schools was teaching children to write using a yellow highlighter and then having them trace over it with a pencil. The highlighter is visible enough to have them trace, but not bold enough that it gets in the way. It is also wide enough for them to follow without getting frustrated. Teachers love this method also because copies of the highlighted writing come out a light grey, which is also good for tracing.

Another fun way to trace is to write the letters on a chalkboard, and then have a child “erase” the letters with a wet Q-tip. This gives the illusion of writing while erasing since the letter will then be darker on the chalkboard than the surrounding areas. Bonus points for this activity is that it is easy to clean up!

Step 3: Writing Letters
Once a child has learned the shape of letters and has the fine motor skills, it is time to start writing! I have found the best way to keep a child interested in the task of writing is to decrease boredom by writing in as many creative ways as possible.

Sensory writing is my favorite! Writing letters in sand, dirt, pudding, shaving cream, whipped cream, or anything else you can find is awesome for grabbing attention! A Ziploc bag of paint (Pro tip: don’t forget to tape the bag shut!) will allow them to do this over and over again with a minimal mess.

Use a variety of writing tools and surfaces. Use markers, paint, chalk, pens, and pencils! Write outside on the sidewalk or on a wooden fence. Write on paper taped to the wall. Tape paper under a table so they can write laying down. Write on colored paper, dry erase boards or a blank journal that is all their own. Use dry erase markers to write on windows or mirrors. Write on fogged up windows in the car. Write everywhere!

Writing allows us to leave our mark on the world. It is how we pass down knowledge and ideas. It is how we communicate with others (especially if the social aspect of communicating is hard for us). I mean, when someone finds wet cement or a dirty car, what do they do? They have to write in it! Don’t give up teaching your child to write because in the end it has the ability to open up a whole new world of communication.

An all-inclusive guide to writing is Handwriting Without Tears that many families find helpful. The app  Letter School is also great. You can download free printables for a Hands-on Handwriting Binder that walks a child who is learning to write through building letters, tracing letters, and writing independently here. You can also check out our Handwriting board on Pinterest for more ideas.

Learn some pre-writing pointers from the first installment of this series  in this post.

 

 


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