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BOYS -- Writing and Spelling Tears and Frustration

By Heather Idoni

Added Monday, July 06, 2009

                The Homeschooler's Notebook
     Encouragement and Advice for Homeschool Families
   Vol. 10 No 48                           July 6, 2009
                      ISSN: 1536-2035                              
   Copyright (c) 2009 - Heather Idoni, FamilyClassroom.net

  Welcome to the Homeschooler's Notebook!

  If you like this newsletter, please recommend it to a friend!
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  Notes from Heather
  -- I Really DID It!
  Helpful Tip
  -- Parables from Nature
  Reader Question
  -- Writing for 6 Year Old Boy
  Additional Notes
  -- Newsletter Archives
  -- Sponsorship Information
  -- Reprint Information
  -- Subscriber Information

       Notes from Heather

  I really DID it!

  Jim and I and the "little" boys (13, 11 and 8) went up north this
  past week to Tawas Point State Park (in Michigan) for a vacation.
  The intent was to spend 5 frivolous days baking in the Michigan
  sun (yes, you can actually get burned by it!).  I was really looking
  forward to that sensation of soooo hot... and then soooo cooled off
  by the chilly waters of Lake Huron.  But it rained all week and was
  more like Fall!  I ended up sticking to the little mini-cabin we
  rented, while Jim took the boys hiking and exploring each day.

  Inspiration hit the very first day with some story CDs I had brought
  along for the boys to listen to.  They are some I offer on my store
  website -- www.BelovedBooks.com -- by Elizabeth Enright.  If you've
  heard of or read these books, you will agree they are great!  The
  books I am speaking of are known as the Melendy Quartet -- The
  Saturdays, The Four-Story Mistake, Then There Were Five, and
  Spiderweb for Two.  Here is an Amazon link to the books:


  What I DID (that I'm so excited about) is listen to "The Four Story
  Mistake" about 6 times through -- and I wrote a unit study to go
  with it!  The real thing!!  :-)

  I've still got to polish it and add internet links to pictures and
  go-along stuff, but it is nearly done and I can't wait to share it.

  I'm thinking it will be offered FREE with purchase of the audio
  book -- and I plan to write the other 3 unit studies very soon.

  If any of you (who are TRULY unit-study aficionados) would like to
  try it out, just write to me.  I'll consider sharing it as a
  pre-release in exchange for some constructive criticism and/or a
  customer review. :-)

  -- Heather

  P.S.  Please put "Four Story Mistake" in the subject line.  I will
  choose only a certain number from the requests I receive -- so please
  let me know a bit about your family and why you'd like to try the
  unit study!  I'm particularly looking for Enright fans and those
  who really enjoy literature-based unit studies.


  Do you have comments to share?  Please do!
  Send your emails to:  mailto:heather@familyclassroom.net

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      Helpful Tip

  "'Parables From Nature' was written by Alfred Gatty and is now
  in the public domain:


  You can read or download it for free from the Google Books site."
  -- Diane


  Do you have an idea, experience, or tip to share?  Please write!
  Send to:  mailto:HN-ideas@familyclassroom.net

      Last Issue's Reader Question

  "I am new to home schooling.  We pulled our 6 year-old out of public
  school because of behavior problems associated with his ADHD.  He is
  doing great except for one area... writing.  He really does not like
  to write.  From my reading about ADHD this appears to be a common
  problem.  He is also left handed, which has its own set of challenges.
  Any work that involves writing turns into a frustrating wrestling match.
  Just getting him to practice his spelling words is a chore.  How can I
  help him get the writing practice he needs without the frustration and
  tears?  Any and all suggestions are welcome." -- Charli

      Our Readers' Responses 

  "Boys frequently have trouble with writing because writing is a
  fine motor activity.  My recommendation is have your boy write big!
  I have a friend who has her kids write on the windows with wipe off
  markers, but chalk on the sidewalk would work, too.  Use a clock face
  to describe direction - you can make one out of a paper plate.  When
  he gets the words spelled correctly, write them 'small' for him until
  his motor skills catch up." -- Anne


  "I don't know about it being a common problem with ADHD, but it does
  seem to be common with boys... AND he is only 6.  I have 2 boys --
  one 14 and one is 8 -- so I can understand your concern.  What I did,
  with both of them, is to back off with formal writing until they were
  ready.  Boys in general seem to be slower to develop the fine motor
  skills necessary for writing.  Do spelling orally if you must.  Have
  him dictate his 'writing' to you.  Practice handwriting in VERY short
  lessons daily -- one or two lines worth; require excellence with
  writing, but in small doses. 

  With my youngest I required 'good' handwriting only for the subject
  of handwriting -- it still needed to be legible for other subjects,
  but not beautiful, and for those other subjects (Explode the Code for
  example) I only looked at content, not handwriting.  His nice writing
  is finally spilling over to his other work, but it has taken a while!

  My oldest, who like your son is left handed, had a terrible time with
  writing until just a few years ago.  He would do it, but didn't like
  to and we did have tears sometimes.  Something clicked when he was
  around 11 or 12 and his handwriting is now very nice, but it took
  many years of doing some subjects orally, while still practicing good
  writing daily but in very small doses." -- Jen


  "Charli -- Your son is still quite young, and the physical requirements
  of handwriting are probably a bit beyond his skill level.  He doesn't
  need much handwriting practice at this age.  I wasn't able to homeschool
  my son with ADD until third grade (at which point he still struggled
  with handwriting) but if I could have started when he was six, I would
  have done the following:

  Work on 'play' activities that develop the fine and gross motor skills
  necessary for handwriting (remember you need good shoulder stability
  and strength as well as fine motor skills) -- play clay (stiffer than
  play dough), games with tiny pieces like Hi Ho Cherry O, wheelbarrow
  walking, etc.  Draw pictures on a vertically mounted dry erase board
  or chalk board (use tiny pieces of chalk) or put foamy shaving cream
  on the shower wall and have him use his finger to draw pictures or
  make 'roads' in it. 

  In the meantime, he can use magnetic letters to spell words.

  Also, consider switching your handwriting curriculum to Handwriting
  Without Tears.  It is an excellent program that works well for lefties,
  too.  Much of the practice is done on a small chalkboard, but he will
  also a need the student workbook.  The teachers manual has helpful

  Don't be afraid to slow down the pace with his writing.  My son spent
  his third grade year fighting and frustrated with is writing assignments,
  taking 30-45 minutes to do work the other kids did in 5 minutes.  When
  we started homeschooling, we backed way off on the writing and a year
  later he was begging to learn cursive. (Unfortunately, by then he had
  learned so many bad habits we couldn't undo that handwriting remained
  a struggle).  Which reminds me -- you may also want to teach your son
  keyboarding skills sooner rather than later.  Down the road when you
  want him to compose rough and final drafts of written work, you will
  save both of you much frustration if he can make revisions on the
  computer and print out a new copy.  I can attest from personal experience
  that you will get much better content if he doesn't have to re-copy by
  hand.  Treat composition and handwriting as two separate subjects -- do
  some copy work or other assignments with a goal of practicing handwriting
  and use the computer for reports, essays and other assignments where
  your priority is his writing (as opposed to handwriting)." -- Laurie


  "Hi Charli -- My 10 year old son is left handed, and he is also a right
  brain learner.  Reading, writing, and spelling takes these children
  longer to develop, and my son hasn't yet developed in these areas.
  Your son is only 6 (this is still quite young) and his eye and hand
  coordination is still developing. In the beginning I would give my son
  writing work to do, but this only created more frustration and anxiety
  for him. Fear and anxiety do not create learning opportunities; they
  can make the brain shut down. It is a fight vs. flight coping mechanism.
  My son shut down to writing and reading due to his fear and anxiety,
  because I was pushing him beyond what he was ready for.  We've been
  'deschooling' over it for some time now.
  Here are some of the things we would try when my son was younger,
  although he was never forced to do it:  Write large letters and words
  in sand, sugar, or Koolaid powder on top of a cookie sheet -- this is
  a fluid movement for them to practice, and helps with hand and eye
  coordination. We also would use large sheets of paper, the type used
  for fingure painting, for him to practice letters -- again, large
  fluid movements (you can also use paint or large markers). My son also
  would copy words (still does) from his favorite books, and put pictures
  to them.  This was/is his idea of fun -- and that's part of it -- if
  it's made to be fun for them, not something to fear, then they will
  enjoy the process.  My son is still not much of a writer, but I know
  in time he'll enjoy writing more and I know that if it's not made into
  a huge issue it will naturally develop." -- Suncee


  "Back when Ritalin was first being touted as THE ANSWER for ADHD, my
  son was in first grade in public school. Luckily, I just took him out
  of school and worked with his strengths and weaknesses and he turned
  out fine. If he wanted to stand on his head and twirl his legs around
  like a helicopter while I read to him, no problem -- when he was moving
  he was learning!  He hated writing (still does at age 30), but give
  him a tape recorder and his stories were amazing!  At this point, I'm
  guessing it won't ever change.  So he doesn't write for a living.  Now,
  24 years later, I have another one -- a lot like the first one!

  My husband and I just attended a homeschool conference where I had the
  joy of going to several workshops with Carol Barnier.  The room was
  packed with parents who had kids a lot like mine, and she was full of
  encouragement -- and best of all ADVICE -- on teaching them.

  This link is to Carol's web corner; you will find a lot of information
  and, best of all, a link to join Sizzle Bop.  You will find out how
  NOT alone you are!


  If you can get a couple of her books, I'd recommend --
  'How to Get Your Child Off the Refrigerator and On to Learning' and
  'The Big What Now Book of Learning Styles' for help on teaching
  without frustrating both of you."


  "When my children were younger and resisted their writing practice,
  I found it helpful to add cute little shapes or doodles at the end
  of their lessons as a reward for their work.  They had to trace them
  and draw them on their own.  To them it was a bit of fun, but little
  did they realize that they were still practicing control with their
  writing instruments.  Sometimes an entire row of little bunnies was
  enough of an enticement to complete the lesson." -- Rose


  "Charli -- I just want to encourage you about your son's struggle
  with writing. My son, who is a very good student and was an early
  reader, was a very reluctant writer. Even word problems in math were
  a struggle if they required any words in the answer. Writing a complete
  sentence, even in the second grade, was a source of tears. By fourth
  grade his aversion to the physical act of writing seemed to subside.
  He is going to start 7th grade in the fall and writes on his own for
  When my son was in 1st grade, I remember a public school teacher
  giving us homeschool moms a talk on writing, and how she expected her
  incoming students to be able to write a complete sentence and write
  a daily 'diary' in class. I tried that, but quickly gave it up,
  realizing that it just was not worth the tears.
  So, I would encourage you that your son's reluctance to write might
  not have as much to do with ADHD as it has to do with being a boy.
  I say this because I have several friends whose daughters love to
  write.  Therefore, I would say to just enjoy your son and not put too
  much pressure on him to write, especially to meet some standard that
  is imposed by the school system. As I just recently read somewhere
  regarding pushing our children to do things when they are not ready,
  'nobody goes to college in diapers'. Your son will eventually be ready
  to write without the struggles you are now experiencing. In the meanwhile,
  you can take the pressure off of him by offering to occasionally write
  things for him and doing more oral work." -- Tia


  "In 24 years of teaching my ten children, I have not actually
  encountered this particular problem. However, there are several
  different factors that come into play.

  - Many people would not focus on writing for a six-year-old, but
  would concentrate more on reading skills. Writing can easily be
  incorporated into the early reading years, yes, but writing is not
  necessary for being a skilled reader. Perhaps pull back a bit on
  the writing requirements and ask less for now, but with him knowing
  that the writing expectations will increase later on. Sometimes we
  are victims of the school system in that most of us are products of
  a system that expects one to read at age x, multiply at age y, do
  science projects at age z; and anyone who doesn't is a bit odd --
  either slow or a genius, neither one usually being true. I've not
  done unschooling, but its basic premise of following the child's
  natural bent (abilities as well as interests) has definite merits.
  A major advantage of homeschooling is that your child is not locked
  into the school system -- which is great for the average student
  and not so great for anyone outside of the average parameters.  Rather,
  we can adapt our program -- curriculum, how we use that curriculum,
  and expectations -- to fit the specific needs of our child.  In general,
  homeschoolers who try to imitate what the public school does easily
  end up being frustrated. (By the way, I have never had a spelling list
  for any of my children, and they are all good spellers.)

  - Pulling back on writing does not mean, however, pulling back on
  ability to form logical and connected sentences.  Many use a great
  deal of dictation for the younger years, in which the child dictates
  to the parent the story or paragraph and then the two rework the
  paragraph or whatever the assignment is. This way, the child focuses
  on what he is trying to say and less on the sometimes laborious
  mechanics of forming the letters. The actual writing can interfere
  with the thought process; the child loses his train of thought, gets
  frustrated, and wants to give up. Removing the physical writing
  process can enable the budding writer to blossom. Not writing does
  not need to mean not creating (as in stories), or not developing
  language skills.

  - Other venues of writing may help. Try writing in the sand; in the
  dirt; on a chalkboard or a white board; with soap on the wall when
  taking a bath; with a paintbrush on paper or maybe with a paintbrush
  and water on the side of the house; with frosting on waxed paper or
  an actual cake; making posters.

  - I'm left-handed, as are two of my four sisters. I've never seen
  where that's an issue, and I'm a bit puzzled by your comment. Holding
  a pencil is basically the same, but left-handers can tilt the page
  in whatever manner is easiest/most comfortable. For example, one of
  my lefty sisters crooks her hand at the top of the page so that her
  hand is actually on top of what she wrote a few lines earlier. Looks
  awkward to me and it would smear some writing, but it works for her.
  I tilt my paper the same as a right-hander, but obviously opposite.
  Works for me, but my sister can't do that. The manner of holding the
  utensil is more of a problem -- the ones in my family who refuse to
  hold it as I have taught them have the messiest writing -- yes, Mom
  really does know best sometimes! :-)

  I hope some of this may help. Education is lifelong; learning is
  lifelong; and writing fluently at age six or seven or eight is not
  the definitive factor in your child's education and success in life.
  Work with your child." -- Marjie in Ohio


  "Charli -- Writing seems to be a problem for boys in general.  I had
  many problems getting my son to write; he would spend most of his
  time trying to condense rather than just writing it down.  He could
  carry indepth conversations and loved to read, but something about
  that pencil.  I talked to my wise sister who has several boys and she
  said that's pretty common.  Keep in mind your son is only 6 years old
  and has plenty of time.  Writing is just speaking on paper, however,
  when we speak we're not thinking about the mechanics involved with
  writing.  Try letting him speak the words while you write them --
  you'll probably find he's a lot better at it than you thought.  When
  he makes the transition to writing himself, he can talk into a
  recorder until thought patterns flow easier on paper.  My son is 14
  now and an excellent creative writer, even though it's still not his
  favorite thing.  Wisdom Words from Alpha Omega is a great program you
  can tailor to fit your sons style and interests.  I love how it
  teaches them to get their own thoughts on paper, rather than just
  changing around someone else's words.  As he learns an area you just
  check it off.

  Your son has time to learn to spell as well.  He may enjoy The Phonics
.  It's a series of card games with a little spelling test at the

  Also, Beyond Phonics has stories with a lot of words containing one
  featured phonics sound per story.

  For now you can read the stories to him as you go through the card
  games.  Try keeping writing assignments and spelling assignments
  separate.  When he's more comfortable with the writing he can edit
  previous papers.  Hope this helps you." -- Kathy


  "Hi Charli -- I, too, have a 6 year old that resists writing.  About
  halfway through the year I thought, 'What is my goal here? -- That I
  have a girl who makes perfect letters, or a good communicator?'  I
  switched my focus to getting her used to expressing her thoughts.  I
  let her dictate to me what she wanted to write.  I only made her do a
  sentence of copywork a day, letting her pick the topic.  Sometimes we
  would string out a 'story' over a week, doing a sentence a day. 

  At 6, small motor is still an issue -- have him do tasks that develop
  small motor skills -- putting dried beans or peas in jar, beading,
  lacing cards.  Art expression can help too, with watercolors, scissors
  cutting paper, crayons. 

  Some of the trick, I am finding, is to get them so excited about what
  they want to say, that they are willing to overcome the difficulty of
  writing it down.  Have him try to write a Christmas or birthday wish
  list.  I am planning to do a lot of oral work so that the joy of
  expression comes on strong; then the writing will be easier to tackle.

  I just read in a book called 'Change Your Brain, Change Your Life', by
  Dr. Amen, that people with ADD usually have horrible penmanship -- I
  have it and I do!  This is because the part of the brain affected by
  ADD also controls fine motor skills.  It might help you set reasonable
  goals for your son.  I really recommend the book.

  It has a lot of good strategies for coping with ADD." -- Karen


  "Handwriting is a common problem with all boys, not just ADHD. It
  was for me as a student as well, and I was neither male nor ADHD.
  I know a lot of people believe practice makes perfect, but that was
  not the case for me. I was an A and B student who, in elementary
  school, consistently got C- in handwriting. My teachers said I was
  rushing or not trying, but I was trying and practicing until I had
  a huge callous on my second finger and cramps in my hand! All hand-
  writing was for me was an exercise in frustration. My handwriting
  didn't improve until I'd been out of school for several years. Whether
  the improvement was just because I was a 'late bloomer' or because
  the pressure was finally off, I'm not sure.

  When we began to homeschool our sons (currently ages 17, 15, 13, 9,
  and 7) I didn't want to put them through that.  At your son's age my
  goal is to make sure they understand how to form each letter legibly.
  I do NOT require them to be 'perfect'. I noticed that adults have
  their own writing style -- they don't all write identically even though
  that was what was required in school -- so I decided that once they
  understood how to form their letters they could choose to exercise
  artistic freedom over their penmanship. ;-) I also encouraged them to
  sign their own name to cards and make cards for friends and family
  members for special occasions, but required very little writing. They
  did most of their schoolwork either on the computer or orally (my
  oldest son still takes his science tests orally). Eventually, for each
  of them, something comes up that they're interested in that they WANT
  to be able to write.  For my oldest it was looking up cheat codes for
  his computer games that he had to copy down to use later.  He had a
  whole notebook of codes at one time!  My third son is our artist, so
  his constant practice drawing has taught him the eye-hand coordination
  and attention to detail to improve his writing.

  Overall I'd say make sure he knows the mechanics, encourage him to
  practice in real-life applications when the opportunity presents itself,
  and mostly just be patient.  A lot of the skills required for legible
  handwriting can't be forced; they will come in time as his overall
  development raises to the level needed." -- Luanne in TN


  "With a 6 year old, I wouldn't worry about encouraging writing right
  now.  Here are some of the things I have done with my son to help him
  (he is now 10 and has special needs including fine motor issues):

  - letter tiles to use to practice spelling and forming words
  - pencil grips to make pencils easier to use
  - free drawing time for practice with writing utensils
  - oral answers to questions on page
  - Handwriting without Tears writing program (moving very slowly so that
  his writing always remains neat)
  - activities to build fine motor skills - playing with Lego, playdough
  or clay, marbles, writing in multisensory materials like cornmeal and
  shaving cream
  At age 6, I would focus more on giving him exposure to writing than on
  having him do actual schoolwork where he is writing." -- El in Canada

     Answer our NEW Question

  "I have five daughters – the oldest is eight – and they have never
  attended any 'school'.  In the past, we have let the older two use
  our old computer for some internet play, like PBSkids and other
  vaguely educational but mainly fun sites.  However, some recent
  comments have made it clear to me that they are getting some
  non-Biblical ideas from this that we would rather protect them
  from.  So I'd like to get some recommendations for computer games
  that come on CD, since their content should be easier to monitor.
  Our computer is about five years old, so we can't use very demanding
  media, and our budget is limited.  Also, since we have girly girls,
  a nice pink theme would be helpful.  We already have two of the
  Reader Rabbit games, which they do enjoy, but have pretty well
  exhausted over the past two years." -- Carrie

  Do you have a recommendation or two for Carrie? 

  Please send your answer to:  mailto:HN-answers@familyclassroom.net

     Ask YOUR Question

  Do you have a question you would like our readers to answer?

  Send it to mailto:HN-questions@familyclassroom.net and we'll see
  if we can help you out in a future issue!

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  by typing in a box.  When you get there, just introduce yourself
  and let them know that Heather sent you!

  This ultra-safe chat is supervised by experienced moms who are
  there to serve and share their wisdom... or just offer a listening
  ear and encouragement.


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