Tuesday, December 12, 2006

No Workbooks Required!

"A sense of beauty in their writing and in the lines they copy should carry them over this stage of their work with pleasure. Not more than ten minutes or a quarter of an hour should be given to the early writing lessons. If they are longer the children get tired and slovenly."

- Charlotte Mason Home Education

We are, admittedly, still in the early stages of handwriting within our little homeschool. I, by no means, profess to be an expert on the topic. I share what we have been doing only as an example of what may be done simply, beautifully, and without a workbook.

Firstly, I'd like to put in a quick word about methodology. When the time comes to introduce letters, strokes are important and there are different strokes for different handwriting styles. Ball-and-stick writing is currently out of favor and continuous stroke methods are preferred due to their faster and easier execution. However, I like ball and stick and think it makes very attractive print. It seems like everyone is talking about Italic, though. Charlotte Mason liked it, too! Personally, I'm not impressed with the look of italic print or cursive. Individual letters look lovely, but words and sentences seem "off" and jagged to me. That's merely an aesthetic issue and nothing more than my opinion. I seriously doubt that it matters much which style you choose for a capable student. Students having difficulty may be a different story, though, requiring simple and friendly instruction like in Handwriting Without Tears - regardless of how lovely it is.

Having little concern about readiness, I just chose what appealed to me the most visually. The whole point of handwriting is that it be readable and attractive, right? A Reason for Handwriting uses a font similar to Zaner Bloser - one of the most common prints taught in schools. When someone comments that I have "kindergarten teacher" print, they mean I print in Zaner Bloser. I think it's exceptionally readable and pleasing. Again, just a preference.

Purchasing a workbook last year clarified the teaching process for me, but now I know the strokes well and handwriting paper is all we need for the CM method. I show my daughter the strokes for one letter at a time on a dry erase board, too. It's small, blank on one side and lined on the other. We begin on the blank side and graduate to the lines when skills are developed enough. I talk her through the letters. For example, I might say, "Start just below the top line - here - good, now up to the top line, around, slowly now, pass the dotted line, down to the bottom, back up to where you started. Good!" We've made a capital O :) She makes the letter five to eight times or so on the dry erase board and that's it! The next day we do the same thing, stressing carefulness and attention to detail until the letters are neat and I'm convinced she is really giving her best work. We move on a few days later, keeping previous letters in review by writing them two or three times. Another perk to the dry erase board - besides fun - is that mistakes or sloppy work can be erased quickly, a CM principle:

"At this stage the chalk and blackboard are better than pen and paper, as it is well that the child should rub out and rub out until his own eye is satisfied with the word or letter he has written."

Once letter formation is down, copywork begins :) Perfect execution and careful attention to detail are still strongly encouraged, and "lessons" remain short. Miss Mason wrote, "I can only offer a few hints on the teaching of writing, though much might be said. First, let the child accomplish something perfectly in every lesson––a stroke, a pothook, a letter. Let the writing lesson be short; it should not last more than five or ten minutes. Ease in writing comes by practice; but that must be secured later. In the meantime, the thing to be avoided is the habit of careless work––humpy 'm's, angular o's." It sounds more severe than it is in practice. Basically, if it's sloppy or careless, we erase it right away to keep the poor example from remaining in front of the child too long. No crossing out with a line. No marking with a red checkmark. It must be completely erased, and quickly too. If a child is truly doing his best, though, and writing "slowly and beautifully" to the best of his ability, that's our goal. He should be encouraged and regular, short practice sessions should be continued.

At times, although copywork should really be from the work of the best authors, we do lessons by making cards for others. I write a few words they'd like to say on a sticky note or scrap piece of paper and the girls copy it onto their card. Gradually, we work up to a longer line, a short note, a letter. For more official lessons, we begin with a Bible verse or a sentence or two from one of our readings and slowly graduate to an excerpt from a book, and then longer poems and passages to keep in notebooks or give away. Always, the handwriting must be their best. They quickly learn that there is no use in trying to cut corners, they will only have to erase the word and write it over again. It pays to write carefully and well the first time.

"Of the further stages, little need be said. Secure that the child begins by making perfect letters and is never allowed to make faulty ones, and the rest he will do for himself..." - C. Mason


Handwriting Overview (great for comparing styles!)

Another Good Style Comparison

The Great Handwriting Debate (continuous stroke vs. ball-and-stick, my bias may be showing)

Ball-and-stick lowercase print strokes REALLY NEAT SITE!!!

Uppercase print strokes

Traditional cursive lowercase strokes

Traditional cursive uppercase strokes