Friday, December 26, 2008

Peterson Directed Handwriting, a TOS Homeschool Crew Review

Two products that I've been given to use and review as part of the TOS Homeschool Crew of reviewers have an extra special place in my heart and on my bookshelves. I wrote about one of the earlier this week. Peterson Directed Handwriting is the other of the two. Peterson has given me a sense of empowerment as we work on the "mechanics" of cursive handwriting! It's one of the many resources introduced to us with perfect timing.

I probably don't need to remind you that I'm a relatively new homeschooler to a 9-year-old who was diagnosed on the autism spectrum just after her second birthday. She and I are fast approaching our first anniversary homeschooling.

One of the challenges we often see in individuals on the autism spectrum is in the area of fine motor development. Holding a writing instrument properly, holding your paper at the right angle, forming shapes into letters and words are all challenges to students w/ developmental delays in areas of fine motor skills, and are challenges to those parents and professionals teaching those students.

Additionally, children on the autism spectrum have visual motor challenges, as well. Our developmental optometrist has identfied that our daughter is having some issues tracking with her eyes. The optometrist explained to me that the tracking problems can affect copywork, copying from board to paper on the desk, for example.

Another challenge with children on the autism spectrum, even ADD and ADHD, is attention span. PDH was attractive to me because the lessons were advertised as being short. ;) And they are!

Peterson Directed Handwriting is designed with the fine motor system, the gross motor system, and the visual processing system in mind. And, for RDIers, it's set up so that the parent/teacher is the guide and the student/child is the apprentice.

After being chosen for this review, I spent some time in e-mail conversations and on the telephone with Rand Nelson, VP, Director of Research and Development at Peterson Directed Handwriting, and we decided that in our case, we'd skip printing and move to cursive. We were given a 3rd grade cursive kit ($15.05) to use and to review.

The program, interestingly, does not come with a bunch of worksheets and copywork. In fact, putting pencil to paper is the LAST step--a student does not write on paper until gross motor, fine motor, visual motor systems have been utilized to get the motions into muscle memory. Peterson Directed Handwriting doesn't want a student to have "drawing practice"; instead, Peterson Directed Handwriting wants a student to use rhythm to get foundations of letter shapes into the muscle memory of the child toward creating letters, words, sentences, paragraphs, etc etc etc. PDH promotes the idea that "Fluent, rhythmic movement remains a consistent goal and is key to developing control for fluent legibility."

The Peterson Directed Handwriting web site is filled with helpful resources--be sure to spend some time there. Don't miss this 20-minute presentation that describes the program.

The gross motor component of getting the shape into muscle memory has been a challenge for us, and I discovered that sitting in a way that my daughter could sit close to me, where she could put her hand UNDER mine as we would "air write" together, she could actively feel the motor movement in a way she could NOT if I had used "hand over hand". I taped butcher paper to the wall and drew some shapes that we used for air writing and for finger tracing, too. That has been effective as we practice together.

At one point in our journey with cursive, I joined Rand on the internet for some q & a. There's a link on the main page of the web site where you can join someone live. PDH's customer service has been an impressive support to me as I've learned more about how to guide my daughter.

We are working on the concept of experience sharing alongside this PDH cursive program. Right now, our emphasis is more on experience sharing, aloud, than composing on paper. Developmentally, I realized, we are not ready to compose on paper--we need more experience sharing between people as a foundation. (Thanks to PDH, I've become aware of times when my daughter is "drawing" letters and times when she is beginning to write more "automatically".) In the meantime, we continue to work on proper angle of paper or materials when we are drawing and coloring, and we continue to work on the Peterson shapes when scribbling. (Click here for more info.) We're using Peterson Directed Handwriting basics to move us forward, and yes, I am seeing progress. My daughter's first "sharp top's" looked like A-frame roof tops when we began our first lesson; by the time the lesson was finished, she was making "sharp tops". I am confident that we will get there, experience sharing + a way to get experiences on paper, with the help of Peterson Directed Handwriting.

Interested in the opinions of others who reviewed this product? Read the reviews of my Crewmates here.


How the SIDS Back to Sleep Campaign Caused the Autism Epidemic said...

“Since the implementation of the "Back to Sleep" campaign, therapists are seeing increasing numbers of kindergarten-aged children who are unable to hold a pencil.”
Susan Syron, Pediatric Physical Therapist

“There are indications of a rapidly growing population of infants who show developmental abnormalities as a result of prolonged exposure to the supine position.”
Dr. Ralph Pelligra (Chief Medical Officer - NASA) regarding the impact of the Back to Sleep Campaign

Don said...

As far as I know, Peterson Directed Handwriting is the only program that focuses on fluent cursive letter/word production. I teach a program I call "The Cursive Road to Reading and Spelling." I teach Blumenfeld's Alpha-Phonics using cursive handwriting. I believe doing lots of fluent cursive writing is in inestimable help for kids with so-called ADHD and other attention issues. I use the basic Peterson techniques to help the students develop the necessary fluency. I recommend that everyone involved in teaching reading, handwriting, and spelling visit the PDH for insights into best practices in fluent handwriting.
Don Potter.

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