Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Teaching Hannah - writing

For a few days I've been thinking of a post about how I homeschool Hannah. This has very little to do with where we live, but its on my mind so I will write some things down for you. It could be that you have a little student with a learning style similar to Hannah's and you find a trick that will help you, or that you've discovered a trick I haven't and you tell me and I write a new post next week about how your trick has revolutionized our lives. I will break this up into separate posts about different aspects of the process so you don't get bored.

Hannah is a very active child. I used to say that she was like the very active and independent Gerald character in Sid the Science Kid. Now I am thinking that comparing Hannah to the Matrix's Neo would be more accurate - she's just so fast and I am not. She is easily distracted and when I am tempted to get frustrated I try to keep in mind that there are probably some underlying developmental and sensory issues left over from her 2 years of living in an orphanage.

One thing that has has developed on a different pace than many kids we know is the desire to color or write. I remember how Autumn (one of the cousins who lived with us for 3.5 years) used to write anything just to write. She'd copy the ingredients from the cereal box just to have something to write - seriously! And Joshua (Autumn's brother) and his ambidextrous self decided to write one day and then he was writing with both hands. There were times that all of the cousins would be at the table coloring and copying cereal ingredients, you know fun stuff, and Hannah would be way more interested in moving the crayons from bag to bag than coloring.

One thing that helped her along was getting those coloring pages with the raised felt and markers that helps kids stay in the lines, you know, they are in the dollar section at Target all the time. She likes the dollar section and she'd always at least put a little color on the pages before she turned her attention to chewing the markers.

This leads me to another residual effect of having lived in an institution for 2 years. Hannah is constantly chewing things. I have put all kinds of bitter things on her favorite chew victims, but this leads to her finding chew things that are even more inappropriate and to Paul getting a big dose of bitter when he goes to gnaw on his pens that have gotten mixed up with Hannah's. So I try to have things that she can chew on that are less likely to kill her than the random things I fish out of her mouth. Little plastic eating utensils or straws work well.

Because of the chewing issue, pencils don't last long here. What seems to work well for Hannah is dry erase markers. There are several reasons for this. First, Hannah just likes dry erase better. She thinks it's fun.

Let me take a break from the details here and talk about making things fun. We actually pray each night that the kids will enjoy learning. I'm not going to hire a math clown or anything, but if dry erase markers go over better, I will use them. If she gets a kick out of funny colors of ink or paper, I will use them.

Back to dry erase markers. So it has taken Hannah a long time to want to write. This time last year I remember that everything she wrote was actually traced. I would write out her memory verse on a handwriting tablet and she'd trace it. She would sit in my lap, with my legs over hers, and my left hand on hers and my right hand on her forearm and she'd write. I also tried putting ankle weights on her lap and her legs. This is because she squirms so much that I honestly think she had no idea that her foot was behind her ear and it's just really hard to get your writing done with your foot up there. I had to teach her how to sit and give her body the sensory cues to settle down. Lots of work, but it paid off. Now I write her memory verse for the week on a piece of tablet paper and put it in a page protector sleeve and she traces it with a dry erase marker and she likes it. There are days when she squirms and I put her in my lap, but those days are the exception now, not the rule.

Another advantage to the dry erase markers is that corrections are easy if you make a mistake. Hannah HATES making mistakes. She gets really upset and frustrated. With a pen, the evidence of the mistake lingers and she looks back at it and scolds herself. Pencils are just out of the question since the erasers were ingested long ago. So dry erase markers are perfect! If she makes a mistake, she wipes it away with her thumb and moves on with her life. No big deal!

All this has been discovered by trial and error. It has helped that we like to cruise Target for fun and we look for things that might spice up school time and are cheap. But it seems to have paid off. The other day she wrote something on her own, just because she wanted to. What a day! Now she is trying to spell things all the time and she is more adventurous in her writing. She is starting to color more too. She's so proud of herself and I am proud of her too.

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