Monday, August 30, 2010

Let's Write Right...alright?

 Disclaimer: As a member of the 2010-2011 TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I received a complimentary copy of the product in this review in exchange for my fair, honest and unbiased review. No other compensation was received.

I keep wanting to say that I've found a NEW way to teach handwriting, but the truth is that Peterson Directed Handwriting has been around since 1908!  As I used the materials that were provided to us for the purpose of this review, I found myself wishing many times that I'd found this before I ever started homeschooling.  I'll tell you why in a minute, but first let me give you an overview of this amazing program.

Peterson Directed Handwriting works differently than any other handwriting program I've ever used...and with four kids with four different learning styles, I've used a LOT!  Peterson approaches handwriting as rhythm-based muscle-training.  Instead of students tracing letters over and over again, Peterson teaches students to learn their letters and numbers as simply a sequence of trained movements.

Each movement is learned in the following four steps:
1. Illustrate and describe (that's my job)
2. Air write and say (me with children)
3. Finger trace and say (on paper, a white board, newspaper on a wall, etc; the children do this step)
4. Write and say (with a pencil on paper; the children do this step)

I've been using the Peterson PDF By Hand E-Workbooks for Homeschool program with both Kaitlyn (6) and Megan (4) since we received it.  We received Print Step 1, Print Step 2 and Print Step 3 e-workbooks (we're still working on Print Step 1).  To me this program is very intuitive and makes complete sense.  Each letter is formed using specific verbal reminders.  For instance, a small "h" is formed by using the clues "tall down" and "roll around"; those tell me that my first stroke is a long straight vertical line, my second stroke moves in a curve to the right.  A letter with "hook around" instead of "roll around" would curve to the left.  I found that I like this program very well, even given that some of the letter formations look odd to me.  It seems like a very artistic/musical, and yet logical way to teach handwriting.

My children were not as enamored as I was.  I think the main problem is that ALL my kids have already learned to write all their letters.  Yes, even my four-year-old can write her letters (large and small) with about 98% accuracy.  To have to go back to the beginning and do something that they "already know" was frustrating to them, even though both girls could definitely stand to improve their handwriting skills.  Despite doing this with them day after day for several weeks, they started every new lesson with "why do we have to do this?" and more specifically "why do we have to talk when we write our letters?"  I tried explaining several times how the rhythms could help them remember how to make each letter correctly, neatly and accurately, but they just did/do not want to do it.  Even after I spent several minutes demonstrating the process to them, they insisted that "I sound stupid" to say the words.  I have a very strong feeling, though, that had I begun with this handwriting program nine years ago when my oldest son was learning how to write, he would have loved it, and subsequently each child would also have enjoyed it and gone through the program without whining at all.  Which is sad, because this program truly is amazing.

I do have at least one chance to redeem this though: neither girl has learned cursive writing yet!  I'm planning to keep up with the Peterson program with both girls, and hopefully by the time we get to cursive writing (starting next year), they'll be used to it enough that doing the cursive program will feel normal to them.

Overall, I really liked Peterson Directed Handwriting.  There are many more products offered on the Peterson Directed Handwriting website, besides the three e-workbooks that we received.  The Print Step 1, 2 and 3 E-Workbooks retail for $19.95 each.  There are also homeschool kits that can be purchased with all the materials already printed out for you.  One of the things I noticed was that printing out the e-books did require color printing to show the child the separate steps for each letter, which can drive up your printing costs quickly.  In addition, Rand Nelson (aka "Mr. Pencil") leads the user through web meetings to learn how to use the program.; this can be invaluable for parents who are having trouble getting started or who are unsure of how to do something.  There are training courses, help for left-handed writers, technical support, and more.

The only frustration I had with this program, aside from my uncooperative children, was that the Peterson Directed Handwriting website was difficult to navigate for me.  I found it confusing and at times, frustrating.  Unlike the handwriting program, the website is not laid out intuitively.  However, there's always that live help at the click of a button (conveniently located on the home page).  In addition, Rand Nelson offers an e-mail and phone number for additional help, so a hard-to-navigate website is just a minor problem.

Thanks to Peterson Directed Handwriting for providing these materials for us to review.  To read other reviews on this product, as well as other Peterson Directed Handwriting programs, visit The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew Blog.