I love Handwriting Without Tears. However, Mushroom wants everyone to know that it is not as advertised. Over the course of the year, there have been many, many tears, most of them shed by Mushroom, but also a few from BalletBoy.
Handwriting is really tough. I had a funny relationship with it as a child. I began with the D’Nealian program in a private school, but then we we moved and I began public school, the teacher told me straight out that she hated all the D’Nealian flourishes and private school kids couldn’t write at all. So, despite my lovely slanted D’Nealian script, it was all D’s in handwriting from then on out. If you saw my handwriting now or then, you’d be appalled at the teacher who thought it was okay to give me near failing grades in a subject that really should be primarily about legibility. Trust me, I’m quite legible. In fact, despite all that discouragement, I began studying calligraphy on my own around age 11. While I no longer spend a lot of time on prettifying my writing, I do value beautiful letters.
Fastforward to Mushroom and BalletBoy beginning their own study of handwriting. I chose Handwriting Without Tears because people on all the homeschooling lists seemed so crazy for it. Also, I thought the font they use was more aesthetically pleasing and simple than the other leading systems. In case you don’t know about it, the HWT program uses these cool wooden letter pieces to teach about the letter shapes. They’re against having kids do pages and pages of rote practice, instead wanting to focus on improvements letter by letter. They have little stories about how to form the letters and little songs. We didn’t do every bit of the program, but the song, “Where do you start your letters? At the top!” still gets a little chant around our house sometimes.
Mostly, the kids like doing handwriting. They don’t get a lot of workbook action, so I think it’s sort of a fun novelty to them. When they aren’t into it, I try not to have us doing it. However, it’s not uncommon for me to see one of the kids making a mistake on their letters. I’ll say something like, “That’s better than before, but it’s too big. It needs to stay on the line like this one.” Usually that’s fine, but sometimes it’s not. Then my poor little perfectionist freaks out. Me saying, “That’s okay, we don’t have to do handwriting now!” doesn’t help a bit. Once the waterworks start, they have to run their course.
I do keep trying to explain that to learn almost anything worth learning, it takes practice. If you don’t make mistakes, you can’t learn from them. Whenever we start new things, I often warn them that they had better mess up at least a hundred times before getting it right. Sometimes that helps. I think it’s so important to be able to mess up then try again (though maybe not exactly in the moment when you’re upset) so I’ll keep at it.
Since we’ve finished our workbooks, we’ve been doing some of the exercises from Peggy Kaye’s wonderful book, Games for Writing. Anyone homeschooling early elementary should look at the Peggy Kaye books. They’re just wonderful. In our quest to get through the workbook and practice forming letters, I got away from doing things like the games she suggests but I’m glad I rediscovered this on my shelf. It’s nice to unite handwriting with actual writing.
Using the book’s suggestions, we had a race to write down everything we could see in the room. Mushroom won by using a clever strategy: he thought of three letter words he felt confident about and then looked for them in the room. BalletBoy struggled to write down some ambitiously long words that came out pretty unintelligible. We also wrote a story together by rolling a dice to decide how many words BalletBoy or Mushroom had to contribute (1, 2, or 3) between the parts that I wrote. So far, no tears at all. I hope to remember to intersperse our first grade work with more activities like these.