Friday, May 4, 2007

My how-to of the week

I have discovered printing/tutoring nirvana: pages from this Kumon workbook (or the flashcards) and wikki stix.

Many of the kids I work with seem to have the motor skills necessary for writing. They can make lines, circles, etc. Why not letters? They make letter-like shapes?

I noticed that Jessie did not really know where to start and stop her letters. I tried the Handwriting Without Tears big wooden pieces of letters. That seemed to be too abstract -- the pieces making letters on the table didn't translate to how to know how to start and stop the letters with a pencil in the hand. I did learn that Jessie is very confused about lines and how to follow them on a paper. So I will stick with the Handwriting Without Tears stuff for later, once we've really caught on to what letters are and what they do. This is also why letter stencils, even good ones, are difficult right now -- each letter is in total isolation. I think that letters in isolation don't mean much to her. She can pick them out and sign them, but we're following a very word oriented approach. Words mean something to her. Grandma and Mom and Dad -- those are things in her world. "C's and "D"s, especially since she is mostly non-verbal, don't mean much. So we're working on reading first. I'm working mostly out of the book Teaching Reading to Children With Down Syndrome by Patricia Logan Olwlein.

S., too. when he writes his name with hand over hand prompting, he doesn't want to pick up his pencil. A "T" might take a whole page. Jessie can trace with some help, but her Js might start at the top, go down like a J, but then she'll bring her pencil back up to the top, making some sort of backwards "D" like letter. I bought the Kumon workbook because they also take a motor skills based idea of handwriting, and their tracing models are a bit more complete than the The Handwriting Without Tears -- they are aimed at a younger crowd.

Even though the Kumon workbooks had a system of cueing starts and stops by having the child put a pencil on the dot and trace to a star, that wasn't enough to keep Jessie from making a C into a circle, or linking all the Ls on a page.

At one time, I when I was a teacher's aide for a girl with Angelman Syndrome, I would take pictures that she was to color and outline them in school glue so that she could feel the edges of where she was coloring. Then I graduated to glitter glue so that she could see it as well. But that took a day or so to dry and more fine motor than I possessed at times.

While trying to figure out how to help Jessie write, I made those same tactile and visual guides with wikki stix. Here's a project she's doing for mothers' day:

First: I make a copy of the workbook page with the letter I want on it. Here, I've also added stickers to show her where to start and stop. (I was out of star stickers).

letter M

Then I outline the first stroke in Wikki Stix. I leave the pencil entry point open when I can and make sure that there is a barrier on the place where the first stroke is to stop.

letter M in wikki stix outline

Then I outline the next stroke in a different color.

M completely outlined with Wikki Stix

I used the smaller models at the back of the book, copied them, and outlined the letters we'd need for the message.lots of letters outlined

Link to Kumon Publishing North America.

I composed a model message on other paper.
written message of I love mom
For our lesson, we spelled out the words with the cut apart letter tiles to match the model. Here is how it looked:

completed mothers day card

We have since used a pencil to trace in the letters and I've removed the wikki stix. I will try to get a scan of it and also a scan of letters we've traced without the wikki stix. The difference is staggering.

There are some that ask if this is a useful skill -- she's not going to have someone wikki-stikking everything she writes for the rest of her life. But I think this is useful for several ways -- it gives her practice at copying letters and making them meaningful. Hopefully, we can fade the prompts just like we do with typically developing children. She has the motor skills to make the letters without the prompts -- her doodles show she is capable of very controlled detailed pencil work. This will train her hand and eye to work together and let her feel how letters work.

Even if she never writes, I truly believe she is a reader and can learn to type. Anything I do to help her understand and participate in written language will help her form the concept that writing is communicating.

She holds up books and pretends to read. She is starting to understand. I just need to keep her interested, and that's the difficult part.

Caution: wikki stix look a lot like candy. S thinks they're good to eat. They are non-toxic (I think) but they can't be good for you. They also are easy to grind into the carpet, so pick them up quickly. Oh, cut them with scissors.

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