- Associated Press - Monday, April 8, 2019

PITTSBURGH (AP) - When children text, their thumbs fly. But when it comes to holding a pencil and learning how to write small, tall and descending letters, many youngsters are all thumbs. Usually, pupils prefer typing on computer keyboards to the tactile experience of pen and paper.

“Kids don’t want to write. It’s too much work. They don’t want to sit up,” said Sue Rickard, an intervention specialist who works with children from kindergarten through fifth grade in Zanesville, Ohio. One of her students, she said, slumps over her desk.

Rickard joined 14 other educators on Saturday at the Downtown Doubletree hotel to learn techniques for teaching handwriting in an active, fun way.

Leading the day-long seminar was Amy Prechel, an energetic occupational therapist whose side gig is teaching for Learning Without Tears, a company founded in the 1970s by Jan Olsen.

Prechel, who has worked in Virginia’s Prince William County Schools for 22 years, said students’ inability to learn handwriting, or cursive, is a prevalent problem.

“They are trying to write sentences and paragraphs and the teacher can’t read what they are trying to write,” Prechel said. In severe cases, she added, a student can’t read his or her own handwriting.

Fourteen states require students to learn cursive; four more are considering mandating instruction. Pennsylvania does not require students to learn handwriting.

During the workshop, Prechel’s tools included small slate chalk boards for tracing capital letters, larger double-lined slate chalk boards for lower case letters, colored chalk and sponges.

“I want you to use your opera voices,” Prechel told seminar participants as she taught a section on writing lower case letters.

Teachers are encouraged to demonstrate writing lowercase letters on a chalk board while children trace letters in a workbook and use their voices.

“We use the voices to engage the kids. Kids will come up with Scottish voices, robot voices, witchy voices and Sponge Bob voices,” Prechel said.

The seminar leader employed an entertaining, hand-held puppet named “Magic C,” a black and white bunny with a black bow tie, black sunglasses and a cell phone. Prechel added the sunglasses and cell phone to amp up the furry guy’s cool factor.

More importantly, the Magic C letters are c, a, d, g, o and q. That’s because after a child forms a lowercase c, additional strokes can turn it into any of those other letters.

To teach writing the lower case b, h, m, n, r and p, Prechel said, “We pretend we are professional divers. We dive down, come up and swim over.”

Learning how to write and read cursive, Prechel said, is valuable because people who take hand-written notes, “are synthesizing the information at the same time.” She believes students need to be fluent in printing, writing and reading cursive.

Learning cursive, Mrs. Prechel said, builds neural pathways in children because the effort lights up more hemispheres of the brain than typing.

“It’s also faster than print once you are fluent.” she added.

Capital letters that use a diagonal, such as M or W, can initially be taught outdoors with physical activity that uses gross motor skills. For example, students get the sensory experience of going down a slide on a diagonal. Back in the classroom, they are given wooden sticks that resemble rulers and told to pretend putting on their seat belt or canoeing. Then, it can be easier to teach them the fine motor skills of writing M or W.

Stephanie Weir, a Pittsburgh occupational therapist who works with students from kindergarten through sixth grade, said the techniques she learned are valuable because she sees so many youngsters who lack fine motor skills.

She believes the combination of tactile learning, big and small movements and visualization will be effective.

“That’s going to help it all come together,” Weir said.





Information from: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, http://www.post-gazette.com

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