Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Peterson Directed Handwriting.....handwriting with movement!

I never understood clearly the importance of handwriting study. Perhaps, it stems from haunting memories of frustration centered on second grade handwriting practice. Long ago, my school teacher, although very kind, was firm in her resolve to make sure my letters were of a particular legible standard. My mother, being a former school teacher herself, made handwriting a constant priority of my time at home in an effort to help me succeed with this onerous task. I will never forget the despair in my heart when I returned to second grade after Christmas break, finally feeling confident in my manuscript printing ability, only to hear the announcement that our class would now embark on the wonderful adventure of cursive writing. Can you still hear my cry of agony?

Perhaps, my little second grade heart would have filled with joy at the thought of additional handwriting practice if my teacher and mother had known about Peterson Directed Handwriting. Peterson Handwriting has been helping teachers teach handwriting since 1908. Why is handwriting so important in our modern world? According to information on the Peterson website, “studies have proven that handwriting fluency is a powerful link between all language skills, spelling, composition and reading”.

Peterson Directed Handwriting is different from other handwriting options on the market because their curriculum is movement based. The science and research of this movement based method is available for free study on the extremely informative Peterson website. If you have a few minutes, I encourage you to watch a 20 minute adobe presentation on the site titled appropriately, "The Peterson Method in 20 Minutes". The presentation given by Rand Nelson, Director of Training, Research and Development for Peterson Directed Handwriting, details the importance of teaching rhythm and movement with handwriting. According to Nelson, movement and rhythm are necessary for development of muscle memory for the child which in turn will develop fluency. Much like a dancer must learn basic steps to develop muscle memory and fluency of movement for advanced dance combinations, a child must develop basic directional movement and understanding of letter shapes before being able to easily pull them together for ease with spelling or composition.

The Peterson method can be broken down into four basic steps. They are:

1) Illustrate and Describe
2) Write in the air and say
3) Finger Trace and say
4) Write and say

Each of these steps and the supporting parts of the curriculum are explained in the Adobe presentation which although a bit “heady” at times is still fascinating and very informative. The entire approach is so different from traditional handwriting curriculum choices that it rapidly caught my attention and begged me to give it a try.

My favorite aspect of the curriculum is definitely the little chants students are given to support the movements they must make to form letter shapes. Peterson Handwriting offers a unique tool, “Animated Letter Cards CD Rom” which I think supports this portion of the curriculum beautifully. The CD Rom allows students and parent teachers to watch letters form on a virtual flashcard. While watching the letter being written, the memory cue chant rhyme appears as well. For example, letter a appears on its flashcard along with the memory cue, “hook, around, small down”.

Each letter has its own unique memory chant to accompany the movement required in forming the letter first in the air and finally on paper. Letter d has the memory cue of “hook, around, tall down”. Letter b, however, is “tall down, roll around”. Learning the chants and making the movements while chanting ensure an elimination of letter reversals as children develop their writing skills.

Peterson Directed Handwriting kits are reasonably priced and available on the Peterson website. A complete Grade 1 homeschool kit, for example, retails for $38.55 before shipping and handling. It includes one teacher handbook, one pupil book, two finger fitter pencils and two self-adhesive position guides. The teacher’s handbook is filled with helpful information regarding teaching the Peterson way and day by day lesson plans with step by step instructions for 36 weeks of school. When you order a kit, be sure to add on a specialized pencil sharpener for the triangular shaped pencils at $3.98, so that you can sharpen them. I did not receive a sharpener from the company and found their unique shape does not lend itself to traditional sharpeners.

I highly recommend Peterson Directed Handwriting. The lessons are short, interesting and easy to implement into your homeschool. I love the fact that they are movement and rhythm based as I am a firm believer that most children learn best through movement and action.

Peterson Directed Handwriting has convinced me to make handwriting practice a priority for my little ones. The helpful Peterson website filled with resources, educational videos and excellent customer service provided by Rand Nelson will encourage you to make handwriting practice a regular part of your day. It really is too good to miss.

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