handwriting

5 Reasons Your Child Should Journal This Summer (and how you can get them started)

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Whether you have a major family vacation this summer or you plan to take a more low-key and local approach, your child is sure to have some fun experiences and adventures.  Capturing these experiences can be done a variety of ways, and one way is to write them down! Journaling has many benefits for children (and adults, if you would like to join in on the fun).  Even very young children who are not yet writing can journal!

First things first: it’s important to make sure you get the right journal for your child.  If your child is a writer, take them to your local bookstore or office supply store and have them select a journal or notebook they like.  This small act of choice will make them more likely to use it than if you decide for them.  Keep in mind the size of the lines on the pages should be a consideration; early writers often need slightly larger lines to make handwriting a bit more comfortable for them.

For children as young as three years old that have not started writing yet, a drawing journal is your best bet.  We love this one, as its large, spiral-bound pages hold together well and provide plenty of space!

In addition to the journal, you can just use whatever pencils, markers, or other writing utensils you have on hand.

Journaling can be done daily, whenever the child has experienced something special, or just as the mood strikes.  Remember to encourage your child to date each entry, or date it for them if they are on the younger side.

On to the benefits…

1. Journaling is an excellent creative outlet.

Whether the journaling consists of drawing, writing, or a combination of the two, having a designated place to record our thoughts is a perfect way to encourage creative thinking.  This is a space that is truly the child’s own, and they get to write their own perspective in a way that is pleasing to them.  They are likely to explore rich language, dialogue, or testing out phrases they have heard others use.  Use of color can help convey different meaning and feeling, and they will experiment with this!

Creativity is the place where we come up with new ideas, ways to solve problems, and take risks in a way that feels safe and supported.

2. The practice can help children observe the natural world.

Maria Montessori was a scientist who believed strongly in the power of observation, and as educators who follow her methods, we hold this practice in high regard.  Taking the time to notice what is going on around us, using our senses, and recording these observations helps us make sense of our experiences.

Did you and your child move worms from the sidewalk after a rainstorm?  Did they discover pieces of a crab shell on the rocks by the beach?  Did you spot an interesting mushroom while walking in the woods?  If it sparked something in your child, encourage them to write about it as soon as you get home.  They likely learned something important in that moment, and writing about it will solidify that learning, and perhaps lead to even more.

3. Journaling is a great way to explore emotions.

Children experience the same range of emotions we do, but they have not yet developed all the skills for making sense of them or regulating them.  Having a place to write down their feelings is a healthy habit to build, and a positive way to work through difficult situations.

There is something to be said for getting our thoughts and feelings down on a piece of paper.  Even if no one else ever reads it (and your child may prefer it that way), finding words that express our emotions can feel validating. 

The next time your child is feeling sad, angry, frustrated, or even joyfully elated about something, remind them that their journal is a great way to feel their feelings and figure out what they can do with them.

4. Using a journal helps children record important memories.

What would you give to have a childhood journal detailing your summer vacation adventures?  Perhaps you do, and it’s a treasure you will hang on to and share with your own children.  Starting a journal while we are young is a gift that keeps giving.  In the moments that a child writes in it, they reap so many positive benefits.  Months or even years later when they return to their writing, they will be able to relive the memories.

So many of the small moments we experience are fleeting.  If we don’t take the time to acknowledge them, they are gone forever.  A written record helps us enjoy those moments forever.

5. They will become better writers (even if they’re not writing yet).

Just the act of retelling what happened - in words or pictures - is great practice for writers.  Features such as logical sequencing, main events, and supporting details will become naturally woven into the pages of your child’s journal.  Like anything in life, the more we practice, the more proficient we become.

For those that are beginning to write words, they will have unlimited opportunities to experiment with vocabulary, punctuation, and sentence structure.  Without the pressure and confines of standardized conventions (like a teacher correcting spelling), they will feel free to stretch and take risks as writers.  While conventions are important in formal writing, the development of unique and authentic writer’s voice is just as difficult and perhaps even more important.  Having a journal all their own creates the perfect space to learn what their own voice sounds like.

We hope your child enjoys trying our journaling this summer.  If you find the idea inspiring, give it a try yourself and journal right alongside them.  Happy adventures!

The Keys to Handwriting Success

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This is not a news flash:
Handwriting instruction is disappearing in schools across the United States.

You’ve probably already heard this sad revelation, and while it’s certainly not true for all schools, more and more are eschewing handwriting instruction to make more time for other, standards-based skills.  The result is a generation of children who are not gaining a sense of how important it is to be able to write beautifully and they are simply not learning cursive – period.  

If this makes you cringe, here’s the good news: people are noticing and speaking up, and some schools are finding ways to fit handwriting back into the schedule.  Even better news?  Montessori schools never dropped it in the first place.  Read on to learn more about how this 100+ year-old educational approach guides children in the art of writing beautifully.

Indirect Preparation

If you walk into a Montessori toddler or primary classroom, you will see very young children working with materials that develop fine motor skills.  While fine motor proficiency can serve children in a wide variety of ways, Montessori intentionally created materials that strengthen the hand as indirect preparation for handwriting.

Each time a three-year-old lifts a knobbed cylinder they are developing proper pincer grip.  This same action is repeated in many other materials.  The child may be working to joyfully refine a sensorial skill, but at the very same time their tiny fingers are slowly working their way toward being able to hold a pencil correctly.

Many Montessori materials are designed to be used working from left to right in order to prepare the child to move in that direction while writing.  Even the materials themselves are organized in a left to right fashion on the shelves.

Manipulating a Pencil

Long before they are ready to write a story (or even a word!), Montessori children begin learning how to carefully manipulate a pencil.  The metal insets are a beautiful material that were designed specifically to prepare the hand for writing.  While the shapes in the material are reminiscent of a geometry lesson, that is not the primary intention.  What’s meant to be the focus is the teaching of a variety of handwriting skills, including pencil grip, applying appropriate pressure, moving the pencil left to right, and further strengthening the muscles of the hand to build stamina.

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Early Letter Formation

Montessori primary classrooms are equipped with a special material that helps children learn how to form letters.  The sandpaper letters are wooden tiles with letters made out of a sand-textured surface.  The children use their fingers to trace the shape of each letter, and later use the tiles as a reference while learning to write for the first time.  

Another option for children to practice letter formation is to use their finger and ‘draw’ the letters in a small tray of sand.  Both sand writing and using the sandpaper letters appeals to the sensorial nature of the primary child, making these activities fun.  

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Cursive or Print?

By the time a Montessori student is 4 or 5 years old they begin writing joyfully because they are well prepared.  Montessori schools typically focus on teaching children to write in cursive, even in the primary classroom.  We have found that there are many benefits to emphasizing this style over manuscript/print writing.

Learning to write in cursive has many advantages:

  • It’s nearly impossible to reverse letters in cursive.

  • Cursive writers can read print, but the reverse is not always true.

  • The ligatures in cursive may help early readers see groups of letters (oa, ing, th, and so on).

  • The flow of cursive words allows the writer to focus on the ideas of the writing rather than the formation of individual letters in isolation.

A Continuation

When children enter a Montessori elementary program, their teacher will emphasize the mastery of cursive writing and take the time to review any letters or skill gaps they may have.  From here on, children practice constantly.  They have notebooks they are expected to record their daily work in, and that work is expected to be written beautifully and neatly.  Not only that, but the children themselves take great pride in the beauty of their own writing.

As time goes on, students do eventually learn skills such as keyboarding.  Fortunately, they have been given a foundation that emphasizes the power of neat handwriting.  In our fast-paced, shortcut-filled world, it’s nice to think that our children will grow up to enjoy sitting down to craft a thoughtful letter, using a pen, some paper, and their own hand.