4 – Starting Points

The Size Matters Handwriting Program is like plain vanilla. It goes with everything.

There is no fancy font. It can be embedded in all content areas taught concurrently including math, social studies and science.   It is sufficient as a stand-alone curriculum but works equally well as a supplement to any other instruction method already present.

It’s simple, but rich in its comprehensiveness. Filling. Fulfilling. Fun. In fact, a welcome formula guaranteed to please and appease the most reluctant (and by that, I mean unhappy) consumer.

Consider the Starting Point. We tell students that ALL Starting Points in SMHP are either on the Top or Bottom Line. Restricting the beginning variability to either of two options alone compels young writers into at least getting the height factor right.

“Yes,” tell your students, “All letters start on a line.”

Before commencing to write, ask your children where each letter starts. Mark the Starting Points with a Sharpie. On the Alphatrangle, we indicate it with a Green Dot and a Directional Arrow. In the Letterbox Worksheets and the Student Workbook, we use a single Green Dot….

On the line, Top or Dotted, except….

Lower case e and lower case f.

But don’t even mention them until you get up to them. Or unless they appear in a child’s name.

We are aiming for consistency and simplicity.

Nothing fancy about vanilla. But is sure does the trick of satisfying our cravings to feel competent and content.

4 – Initial Lines

Initial Lines are the Letter Lines that emanate from the Starting Point.

They can be Standing Tall Lines, Lying Down Lines, Slant Lines, Smiles or Frowns. Super C letters always start with a Super C formation, so you can safely say that Super C Letter Lines are always initial Lines.

The only variation would be for left-handed children.

Some Lefties are more comfortable swinging their pencils clockwise for letters like O, o, or Q. And since our goal of legibility supports the demographic principal of free speech (which implies free writing)…. we are cool with that.

Identifying Initial Lines is an exercise in the Student Workbook. At the guidance of the instructor, it can also be part of the 10 learning activities in the Letterbox Worksheets. In fact, a meta-analysis of Letter structure is at the heart of the Size Matters Handwriting Program.

When we ask students, “What Letter Lines make up an upper case A?” a whole bunch of other questions come to mind.

  • What size is upper case A?
  • Where does it start?
  • What is the Initial Line?
  • What is the next and the next and the next Letter Line?

Encourage your students to articulate answers to each of these questions. It helps them own the knowledge that will lead to uniformity, readability and automaticity.

Best Practice in Handwriting

This is IT.

The essence.

The variable that when understood, will make the greatest difference in the consistency, and thus readability of the written page.

Letter Size.

If there could be a single sound bite that described the Size Matters Handwriting Program it would be this:

Focus on Size. Form will follow.

Consider this. There are 62 Letter and Number Forms.,. including all upper and lower cases. And every other program focuses on these—the shape. That’s a lot to learn.   Moreover, it is conceivable that many of your students make letters or numbers that are identifiable in isolation. But in the context of a larger whole…. an indecipherable mess.

It’s analogous to going into the great outdoors and focusing on a single tree. You’re missing the bigger picture.

By contrast, there are only 3 Letter Sizes.  Three. That’s it. And they adhere to three simple Rules. (More on that in a minute.)

Furthermore, when you correct errors in Letter Size, you make an immediate and visible change in the appearance of your student’s printing.

The Size Matters Handwriting Program IS the BIG PICTURE.

You can now see, appreciate and adapt to the fact that you are in the middle of a forest.

Let’s learn how to see the forest AND the trees…. Next!

5 – The Rules

Cue the music:

I’m all about the Rules. ‘Bout The Rules. (No trouble.)

Okay… so Meghan Trainor’s song doesn’t exactly go like that.

But it could!!

And for us pediatric OTs…. It SHOULD!!

Because it truly is.

To achieve consistency and legibility in handwriting, it’s all about the Rules on Letter Size.

We lovingly joke that the Rules on Letter Size come packaged as a song and dance. As you recite the Rules, imagine pointing to an imaginary Top or Bottom Line, or making a staccato gesture along a pretend Dotted Line. Twirl your finger skyward as you announce that “They can’t go higher.” Twirl your finger downward as you sing that “They can’t go lower.” Then wave your hands in the middle as you gesture the lyrics, “And they can’t float in the middle.”

Now listen again to the refrain. You’ll be singing along in no time.

Maestro!!

Once, Twice, Thrice… Shoot!

Let’s bring handwriting sensibility to a conscious level throughout the day.

Too ambitious, you think?  Not really.  Once children become attuned to listen for the clinking of dice, efforts to print letters the correct size becomes more routine and deliberate.

During any writing assignment, walk around with a few dice in your palm or in a container.  Children quickly learn that at any given moment,  you may stop by their desk and ask them to critique their printing.  Of course,  it’s important to put matters into proper perspective.  Suggest to the teachers that they not interrupt the children while they are thick into their daily edits, free writes or other written assignments.  But at the same time, encourage them to juggle some dice as they stroll between the desks.  When children sense the clicking noise, they’ll knowingly and immediately focus on making Star-Worthy letters.

It’s a great strategy to use during any subject lesson.  No reason you can’t be thinking about neat printing during science or social studies.

What’s more… it’s a perfect adjunct to a push-in or collaborative therapy session.  Model how stopping by one child’s desk causes a domino effect among the rest of the class.  Each child knows s/he could be next.

But on the occasions when it’s not until you arrive in a classroom that you realize you’ve forgotten your dice, all is not lost.

Got fingers?  Then shoot.  Both student and therapist/teacher hide one hand behind their backs.  On the count of three, each thrusts the hidden hand into sight with anywhere from zero to five fingers pointed forward.  Note in this game… a closed fist stands for six.  Add up all the digits (or fist) for the total number of times that child has to make a Star-Worthy letter.

Playing cards work fine, too.

In fact, there is no excuse not to sneak in a little extra practice.  Even without the audible reminder of the dice, a Machiavellian rubbing of your two hands together will tip off your students that a game of chance is just an errant letter away!

Got Dice?

The OT Practice Framework stresses the importance of including our patients, clients or students in the discussion.  From evaluation to treatment planning, soliciting a child’s perspective and insuring his understanding of what’s going on… on whatever level of comprehension matches his intellectual level, become keys to carryover.

Put simply, when our students have a say in their therapy, they are more likely to value the time, the activity and the goals as meaningful.  This can be the critical first step to the buy in.

And it can be a simple as a roll of the dice.

Playing the Dice Game is fun and empowering.  Dice can be used to determine initial practice or remediation.

Start by showing a child an assortment of dice.  Offer a mixture of colors, finishes, sizes and facets, from 4 sided to 20-sided.   Next, tell the student, “Select a die that is calling your name.”

The student then rolls the dice.  Whatever number comes up is the amount of times the child has to print a STAR-WORTHY individual letter, a group of letters or a word.  If the child rolls a five, explain that 5 STAR-WORTHY letters must be printed.  If the child prints five letters, but only 2 are STAR-WORTHY, s/he is still printing that letter.

To be STAR-WORTHY, not only do the letters have to be the correct size.  They also have to be made using the correct letter lines and  correct starting points.  In other words, the Dice Game becomes an opportunity to fine-tune letter printing.

So while we only score for SIZE for the purpose of data collection, when we play The Dice Game, we’re also looking at the other variables that contribute to uniformity and mature habits.

Your children will love this idea.  They may even purposefully seek out the multifaceted dice because of their novelty.  They will revel in the fact that we are obliged to respect whichever number is rolled… even if it’s a one, though I caution them teasingly that it had better be a good one!

Everyone is a winner.

The Dice game–it’s both entertaining and addicting.  In fact, its unpredictable outcome appears to level the field.  Teachers, therapists and students defer to the laws of probability.  In a word, handwriting practice has been elevated to a crap-shoot!

2 – Letter Lines

preview4There are 6 different kinds of Letter Lines.  The icons or images indicate the movement of the pencil on the paper.

1.  Standing Tall lines.  These are straight up and down lines.  Older children may elect to use the term Vertical to describe these lines.  Standing Tall lines can progress from the Top Line or Dotted Line to the Bottom Line, or from the Dotted Line below the Bottom Line.  Most vertical lines progress downward, but not always!  Picture the first line made in a lower case h, and then how it continues back upward once it touches the Bottom Line.

2.  Lying Down Lines.  Also known as Horizontal Lines.  These lines are typically drawn forward.  Some left-handed children are more comfortable drawing some Lying Down lines form right to left.

3.  Slant Lines.  These can be forward or backward moving lines, tall or short.  Also known as Diagonal Lines, these Letter Lines can also progress downward or upward, as in the letters v and w.

4.  Clock Lines round an analogue clock as if from 12 to 6.  Clock Lines always start off moving forward.  They can progress clockwise as if going from 1 to 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6, or counterclockwise from 6 to 5, 4, 3, 2 1 and back up to 12.

5.  Smiles and Frowns.  These Letter Lines can move forward or backward.  Lower case f starts with a backward frown.  Lower case q ends with a forward smile.

When introducing the concept of Letter Lines to your students, ask them to find letters with each type.  Point out the alphabet strips above the board or on their desks.  Help your students ‘dissect’ each letter so they understand all the Letter Lines that comprise them.

… wait…

Didn’t I say there were six Letter Lines?

Stay tuned!

3 – Super C

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Super C is the sixth Letter Line.  But because of his importance in warding off reversals, he is given his own status as a Key Concept.

Super C lines are always Initial Lines.  And theY are always backward and downward moving.

There are 5 upper case letters that are Super C.  They include C G O S and Q.
There are 7 lower case letters that are Super C.  These include:  a c d g o q and s.

Super C is our superhero.  As such, he comes packaged with a little extra drama.  Whenever doing a Size Matters lesson, always ask a child to tell you what size a letter is first.  But immediately afterwards (and only if the letter is a Super C), continue with…

But not only….”

Those 3 words should cue students to respond enthusiastically and straight away with,

“It’s also a SUPER C!!!”

No Workbook Needed!

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Visual references are a good idea.

In the Size Matters Handwriting Program, these posters remind students about Letter Lines and their directional movement.

Always teach the information on the poster before hanging it.  Be sure children understand and are invested in the concepts.  After that, ask them where they’d like them displayed.

On the right.  To the left.  A little higher.  A lot lower.

In fact, let the children tack them into place.
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When your students participate in the decision making regarding where to place instructional information,  you increase the likelihood that they may actually use that information when they need it.

Build the Buy-In.

1 – Go Letters!

preview7Give me a G!
Give me an O!
Give me an L!
Give me an E!
Give me two T’s!
Give me another E!
Give me an R!
Give me an S!

What’s that spell?  Or a better question might be, “What’s that mean?”

What it means is that some letters or numbers are formed with forward moving lines.  Check out the first line in the 7, the slant in R, the hump in lower case h.  In all of these letters, the pencil moves toward the Finish line.

On the other hand, check out the hook in g, the first slant in K, the diagonal in z.  All of these letters are formed by moving the pencil in the direction of the Go Line…. in other words, backwards.

Referencing the Go and Finish Lines, when teaching letter formation, may help children properly orient the letter and avoid reversals.  Imagine a little Go Line and Finish Line on the desktop.  It might give your students the visual cues they’d need to make their letters and their writing go the right way.