Two dozen teachers and occupational therapists slumped in their chairs in a Homewood Suites conference room Saturday, eyes closed, while dreaming of beaches and peaceful places.
Handwriting Without Tears Inc. trainer Meghan Fisher, who was leading the exercise, exhaled.
“Na na na na na! Woo woo woo woo woo!” she blurted, shocking them out of their daydreams. She encouraged the group to follow her lead.
There are simple, efficient ways to teach students how to print and write in cursive, said Fisher, an occupational therapist.
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Maryland-based Handwriting Without Tears promotes a writing curriculum and tools developed more than 35 years ago that focus on the senses – wooden cutouts that children can use to build letters, fun songs and activities that get them out of their seats.
Occupational therapist Meaghan Johnson said she came to the workshop for new ideas and to learn the “common language” of handwriting instruction. Children are easily confused if they don’t hear the same directions each time, she said.
But the biggest asset is patience, said Johnson, with Pediatric Therapy Associates in Wake Forest.
“It’s not just educating the child; it’s educating the parents about what they can do at home to help, because there’s only so much you can do in a 45-minute session,” she said.
States have been dropping cursive writing, once a staple of elementary school learning, from the curriculum for years. It’s also not part of the Common Core curriculum, which requires fourth-graders to be proficient in keyboarding.
Fisher said more states are giving cursive a second chance. North Carolina’s legislature voted last year to mandate cursive writing in public schools. Critics argue it’s a waste of time.
Not so, Fisher said Saturday. There’s research that shows cursive writing builds a foundation for brain development and fine motor skills, she said. The differences in how students learn to write may seem small in kindergarten and first grade, she said. Teachers start seeing it develop into more serious problems such as not being able to write fast enough to keep up with coursework.
Just don’t push for too much at an early age, she said.
“What we’re confusing is that handwriting is a complex skill,” Fisher said. “Children are coming to us already – in kindergarten and in first grade – cognitively way higher, but they don’t have the fine motor abilities to actually hold the pencil or to form a letter.”