Monday, August 30, 2010

Peterson Handwriting Review

Last month, as part of the TOS Homeschool Crew, we were asked to review Peterson Handwriting's cursive e-books.

Rather than just e-mailing us the e-books, we were asked to meet in Peterson Handwriting's online chat room at a specific time so Rand (the owner) could explain the approach and answer any questions. As it turned out, the day the chat was scheduled was the day we were travelling to Pittsburgh, so I got my own personal chat session with Rand a few days earlier. I have to admit, I'm generally not someone who likes . . . hands-on customer service. I've been known to walk out of stores because overly helpful clerks drive me nuts, leave me alone and let me do my thing!  So I groaned abit when I saw that we weren't just getting a nice, anonymous e-mail (why yes, I DO have hermit tendancies, thankyouverymuch) BUT Rand was great! He took lots of time explaining the theory behind the approach. He answered my questions, was personable, it was really a great experience! I can't say enough good about his customer service and genuine interest in helping his customers succeed! And that wonderful customer service wasn't just special treatment for us, he's available most days for live chat, just go to the main webpage and there's a link right under the animated handwriting strokes that says "Meet Live Now", just click on it to have live customer service!

Peterson's approach differs from most handwriting approaches by starting with gross motor skills. Their movement-based strategy is explained here. Children typically learn handwriting only using fine motor skills (writing the letters in the small size typical of, well . . . writing), if I understand it all correctly, the problem with this is that the brain doesn't remember the movements as well this way, so the children are essentially drawing each letter instead of "hardwiring" the hand movements needed for writing. By starting out using BIG motions, the movements are hard-wired and can then be "shrunk" to the typical size of adult writing.

We were given the first 3 cursive e-workbooks to review, they range from $20-$30 for individual licenses. e-e-workbooks for printing, classroom packs, homeschool packs, and other "accessories" like pencil grips are also available. The approach is designed to teach printing first, then cursive, but didn't seem to be age-specific. Rand didn't seem to think it was a problem when I told him my 7 year olds were learning cursive. He did mention that even my 1 year old might start copying the tracing motions in the air when we were working with the letters, and she does seem to be paying attention when we do it, we've joked that she'll be writing cursive by the time she's 2.  The web store IS set up with grade-levels, but my understanding is that it's simply linked to what the child has learned, not a specific age.  If you're wanting to start with this program, I'd recommend going to the live help link, mentioned above and describe for Rand where your child is currently at in his or her handwriting, and what your goals are, reasons for switching, etc. I'm sure he can recommend the appropriate starting point for each situation.

I was excited to receive this product. Just a few weeks before we had started learning cursive at A1's request. We weren't using a specific curriculum, I was just showing them how to write a letter and they would copy the letter, and we'd add a new letter once they felt comfortable with that letter. A2 was doing great with it, but A1 was struggling. After meeting with Rand online, I was very excited, the gross motor skills aspect and finger writing in the air and everything would be adding a kinesthetic element that should work well for my 2 kinesthetic learners. Additionally, this approach assigns "names" to the basic strokes and recommends having the children say those "names" as they trace, and later, write the letters, which I thought would work well for A2 who is also highly auditory.

There is essentially no teacher prep required (always a big plus for me!), simply print out the e-book and you're ready to go. It is laid out with large letters designed for the "teacher" to hold up and show the child(ren) each letter, then there are "workbook" pages for each letter that has an example of how the letter is made, and then space for the child to practice drawing the letter.  The teacher first shows the child the page with the large letters, and traces over those letters with his/her finger, saying the strokes used. Then have the child also trace over the large letter with his/her finger, and work together to practice the strokes in the air. Once the child is comfortable with these large-scale finger tracing, move on to writing the letters on the practice sheets. We made a few modifications. We put the pages in page protectors so that the girls could practice writing the letters (both the large ones and the smaller ones) with dry erase markers before they actually wrote on the paper. This allowed them to trace over the letters that were given as an example as well, which seemed to help them alot.

I think, if we had STARTED with Peterson, that it would have been a good fit for us. But after starting wit the other, A2 has struggled with Peterson. Somehow saying/hearing the names of the strokes just confuses her, and she feels like she's not remembering the letters as well as she was when we were just going through the letters one at a time. We are continuing to use the e-workbooks, but now for A2 we are using them like we were using the plain handwriting paper before. She looks at the practice page that shows how the letters are made, and then writes the letters and we skip the steps of naming the strokes and utilizing gross motor skills to write the letters BIG in the air.  We're still doing that for A1, who seems to be doing better with it, than she was with our original approach.

One day when they were being especially whiny about practicing their cursive, their daddy happened to be home, and was sitting there wearing shorts (which he never wears in public).  We had slipped the practice sheets into sheet protectors and they were practicing the letters with dry-erase markers so that we didn't waste paper, so they already had dry-erase markers in their hands. I told them to go practice their letters on Daddy's legs. After the seconds of shocked silence, they gleefully complied. And the result was . . .

Little Bit has been "learning" during this process as well. She has learned that markers are apparently for writing on skin. Whenever she finds a marker she tries to write on her tummy and legs or Daddy's legs if he's around. She does her best to finger trace the letters in the air along with big sisters. And when they are sitting at the dining room table doing their handwriting worksheets, she can generally be found sitting in the middle of the dining room table, busily writing, either on paper or herself, with whatever pen, pencil or marker she can lay her hands on.  Through this process I have learned that dry erase marker wipes off of wood tables (if caught properly, I don't know if it sat for awhile, what it would do) and, washes off skin easily,

Disclaimer: I received the above mentioned products in exchange for an honest review, no other compensation was received. My opinions are my own.

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