Recap

Good handwriting can be recognized by the Seven S’s and Three P’s, as explained in Traits of Good Handwriting. To learn more about evaluating handwriting—or for an answer to the question, “What are the Seven S’s and Three P’s of good handwriting?” please visit there now.

Training the Seven S’s of Good Handwriting

It’s great to be convinced of the need for quality handwriting instruction. When, though, should a student be introduced to it? The following training sequences provide rationale for when to use particular Peterson Handwriting programs, depending on whether a student is in a “graded” or an “ungraded” school:

Graded School Un-Graded School
Characteristics
Students are generally grouped by age into “grades”; e.g., K, 1, 2, 3, etc. Students generally interact with peers of similar age and ability level. Each student progresses through classes or stations according to his or her individual ability level. Students of many ages and ability levels interact.
Examples
Most regular education classrooms in government, sectarian, and private education are graded schools. Home school programs in which students progress by grade level across all subjects; e.g., third-grade math, third-grade reading, third-grade spelling, etc., can also be considered graded schools. Ungraded schools are largely tutorial environments, including some special education classrooms, in which students are helped individually but interact with students of different grades. Home school programs in which students progress according to ability and interest, especially "unit study" or "cognitive training" approaches, can also be considered ungraded schools.
Primary Risks to Handwriting Development in Each Environment
1. Incorrect muscle patterning
Common examples include learning to “hand-draw” letters, to write with a “pinched” pencil grip, or to write in ways that fail to promote left-to-right sequential processing. Directed instruction can help prevent poor muscle patterning.

2. Lack of subskills development
Some students are taught to write in ways that require abilities they have not yet, individually, developed.
1. Incorrect muscle patterning
Common examples include learning to “hand-draw” letters, to write with a “pinched” pencil grip, or to write in ways that fail to promote left-to-right sequential processing. Directed instruction can help prevent poor muscle patterning.

2. Invented letterforms, especially invented cursive
Younger students see how older students write and try to mimic more advanced letterforms without proper instruction.
General Prescription Dictated by Primary Risks to Handwriting Development
Students should receive direct instruction in a sequence that builds subskills while maintaining whole-class instructional methodology and seated student practice. Students should receive direct instruction in a sequence that builds subskills while both ensuring individual progress when a student is ready and also preventing the invented letterforms that arise when less-advanced students mimic their more-advanced peers.
Specific Methods Dictated by General Prescription
Preschool
Graded schools do not generally have a conducive environment for prolonged gross-motor patterning, due to space and time limitations. Graded preschools, however, can mimic the recommendations for un-graded schools in the cell at right.
Stage One
Students begin gross-motor stroke patterning of the six basic manuscript strokes (tall-down & small-down, slide right, slant left, slant right, hook-around [left], and roll-around [right]), followed immediately by gross-motor patterning of the four basic cursive strokes (sharp top, loop top, round top, and roll top). Ideally, these strokes are introduced in or before preschool—if possible, as part of "physical education" years before working on writing or reading. Much of this training can be done on a Belgau© Balance Board, though some left-handed writers may find this too difficult and need to use the position recommended in Peterson Handwriting Teachers’ Guides.

Students at this stage or the next should also use the McNatt Learning Center's method of teaching the Three P’s" described below.

Kindergarten & 1st Grade
Students begin manuscript. Teachers firmly committed to monitoring paper position can teach right-handed students with the shifted paper position described at right. If a teacher cannot be confident of her ability to ensure that not a single right-handed student places his paper in “reading position” (vertical and center) for handwriting, she should teach the tilted paper position recommended in Peterson Handwriting Teachers’ Guides. In this case, right-handed students learning manuscript are taught to “pull toward their sleeves” when making downstrokes rather than to “pull toward their bodies.” Right-handed students who learn to write with their paper in the "reading position" much more frequently reverse letters, since in this position, the right hand must enter the paper from the side, thus hindering proper left-to-right tracking. Many students compensate by making some letters from right-to-left, which mis-patterns their muscle memories of those letters.
Stage Two
Once students can perform the above patterns proficiently, with eyes closed, they can begin manuscript printing. Printing is introduced using the Peterson Four-Step Lesson Sequence. When right-handers begin using paper (still unlined at this point), the paper is oriented vertically but shifted to the right of the body midpoint. For left-handers, printing is introduced with the same slanted paper position used in cursive—see Peterson Handwriting materials for illustrations.
Simultaneously, students at this stage who have previously patterned cursive gross-motor strokes can begin gross-motor-only practice of “cursive printing” as they learn and begin writing with the printing counterparts. This simultaneous introduction helps prevent the invented letterforms common in ungraded schools and helps students’ later transition to cursive. Remember, any cursive letterform practice at this stage is gross-motor only: in the air, on a chalkboard, through carpet, etc., at 6" or more per letter! For most students, gross-motor practice of manuscript and cursive letterforms at this stage can continue to be done on a Belgau® Balance Board.
2nd Grade
Students learn slant print: threaded, more lateral mauscript, using tilted paper. For left-handed students, the movements are largely the same, just joined. For right-handed students from classrooms whose teachers taught shifted paper position, the movements are also largely the same. Right-handed students from classrooms whose teachers taught tilted paper position will need to be taught to pull toward themselves, rather than toward their sleeves.
Stage Three
Students learn slant print: threaded, more lateral manuscript. This is taught with tilted paper while cursive printing continues to be practiced gross-motor only.
At this point, if learners have had ample practice writing while standing on a Belgau® Balance Board, they should be taught the “proper stance” before the chalkboard described in the Peterson Handwriting Teachers’ Guides, which allows right-handed students to lunge with “push” strokes and left-handed students to rock with “pull” strokes.
2nd & 3rd Grade
Students learn Cursive Printing, a valuable method unique to Peterson Handwriting.
Stage Four
Students learn Cursive Printing, a valuable method unique to Peterson Handwriting.
3rd Grade+
Students learn Cursive.
In subsequent grades, the proportion of letters is slightly changed (to "adult proportions") as students’ fine-motor control improves.
Stage Five
Students learn Cursive.
Subsequent books from Peterson Handwriting introduce "adult proportions" in the letterforms. If students have access to paper with adult proportions yet larger lines, they can practice adult proportions early. Otherwise, they can transition to adult proportions when their fine-motor control matures. Students interested in learning ornate penmanship (an art, not a required skill in today's world) can contact Ziller of Kansas City to order the Tamblyn Home Instructor in Penmanship Course and accompanying classic calligraphy supplies. This course builds on the skills a student will have already developed through Peterson Handwriting.

Training the Three P’s of Good Handwriting

In addition to the training sequence described above for developing the Seven S’s (which, using Peterson Handwriting materials, already includes some work with the Three P’s of Good Handwriting), most students—especially those with “special needs”—benefit from additional training aimed specifically at developing the Three P’s. The following is the progression most often recommended by the McNatt Learning Center, Inc. Without diagrams and in-person instruction, what follows may be difficult to understand. This section is primarily for special educators or administrators. Please, if you're already suffering "information overload," don’t read ahead—instead, be aware that Peterson Handwriting is easy to implement, especially with our assistance. Your child can benefit from Peterson Handwriting, even if you don’t understand all the theory behind it. A demonstration, to modify the traditional saying, is worth a thousand words. This is the "thousand words":


First, Practice “Active Sitting.”

  • The first step of developing the Three P’s of good handwriting is to practice keeping both feet on the floor while sitting in either a "perching" or "squatting" position on a chair. Perching requires an elevated chair and elevated desk, as a student literally “perches” on the edge of a chair, receiving extra proprioceptive feedback in his “sit bones.” Squatting requires no special chair: a student simply squats as he would if his feet were together—but he receives the added support of a chair beneath his rear. Squatting is, in essence, sitting normally with good posture.

  • Practice awareness of contralateral activation of muscles in the lower back. A student should be able to feel the muscles in the lower right of his back respond as he presses his left foot against the floor and the muscles in the lower left of his back respond as he presses his right foot against the floor.

  • Practice supervised "chair pulls." In this activity, a parent or teacher gets the approval of a seated student to practice a "chair pull." After the student approves, he should expect the chair to be pulled out from underneath him at any moment during the next 30 seconds. Before supervising a chair pull, the parent or teacher places her hands beneath the seated student's armpits to help catch the student if he begins to fall. At the supervisor's cue, an aide quickly pulls out the chair, making certain to pull it several feet away from the student. If perching, the student should be able to stand without falling. If squatting, the student should be able to slowly drop to his knees without falling backward; some students, even while squatting, may be able to stand. If the student falls back (and is, thereby, caught by the supervisor), the student needs more practice with the above two activities—and possibly some additional assistance if his muscle tone or core strength is low.

    Please note: If a student does not agree to practice chair pulls, don’t practice them! For most students, chair pulls are a fun challenge; other students find them very scary. Since chair pulls are working on postural skills to support alert yet relaxed attention, forcing them on students who find them scary would be counterproductive and cruel. Also, please know that if you choose to practice chair pulls, you do so fully aware of the risks. If done improperly, a student may fall and get hurt. The same is true for almost any physical activity. You, not the McNatt Learning Center, Inc., are liable for your actions. The McNatt Learning Center, Inc., assumes no responsibility for your use of “chair pulls,” under any circumstances.

Second, Practice Rhythmic Slides.

  • The "Grounded Slide": While actively seated in front of a desk at appropriate height, a student places his hand on the table in front of him, palm facing down. The ring finger and "pinky" are curled under so that the middle portion of those fingers rests on the table, fully supporting the hand. Since "appropriate height" for a desk allows a student with relaxed shoulders to extend his forearms at a 90° angle to his upper arm and have his entire forearm slide freely above the desk, desk height should be corrected (if it is not already) before continuing. Now, with the desk at appropriate height, a student's entire hand and forearm should function together as one unit balanced between the elbow on one side and those two fingers on the other side.

    To be able to use handwriting for rhythm, timing, and focusing training (especially helpful as an adjunct to Interactive Metronome), a teacher must ensure that students using Peterson Handwriting for such training can “feel” the rhythm deeply. Practicing slides can be the beginning of this fruitful process—if involvement of muscles that promote deep rhythmic perception is maximized. When a student brings his shoulder forward across his chest, tightening his pectoralis major and anterior deltoid, the ability of the long head of the triceps brachii to extend and adduct the shoulder greatly diminishes. Since the role of the posterior deltoid and triceps brachii in rhythmic shoulder movement is very important, the involvement of muscles that should play a minimal role in rhythmic handwriting should be monitored and discouraged. One of the easiest ways to do this is for a teacher, parent, or caring monitor to watch for crinkles of clothing to the immediate left of the front of a right-hander's shoulder or the immediate right of the front of a left-hander's shoulder, usually evidence that the pectoralis major (clavicular head) is contracting. If such crinkling is seen, a student should be reminded to slide from the back of his shoulder.

    With desk height adjusted and the student clear that the slide should be coming from the back of his shoulder, he’s ready to begin practicing the slide. If he is right-handed, he does so by pushing from an area of the desk about four inches from the edge and in front of his body midpoint to an area of the desk about 45°up and to the right, which he can comfortably reach while keeping his right elbow off the surface of the desk. As he slides out with purpose, he says, “push,” then slides his arm gently back, so he can slide again. If the student is left-handed, he practices the slide by pulling from an area of the desk a few inches left of his body midpoint (an area he can comfortably reach while keeping his left elbow off the surface of the desk) to an area of the desk about 60°down and to the right. Diagrams for paper position and student orientation to a desk can be found in the Peterson Handwriting Teachers’ Guides, available for classrooms and included in every Peterson Handwriting Home School Kit.

    While practicing slides, students’ elbows must stay underneath their shoulders (as if hanging from their shoulders, rather than extended to their sides as if making "chicken wings.") Since the left-handed “pull” is more difficult to accomplish with correct shoulder position, in terms of priority left-handed students must learn to keep their elbows down, even if their shoulder movement is incorrect; right-handed students using Peterson Handwriting for rhythm training must maintain both correct elbow position and correct shoulder movement.

  • The “Ungrounded Slide”: The only difference between this slide and the Grounded Slide is the area of the fingers a student slides across the desk. Now, a student begins to slide on the front of the top digits of the ring finger and "pinky" (where the surface of the fingernail is). This creates additional space under the hand and reduces friction on the slide. (In fact, enough space should be created under the hand that students should be able to curl their middle fingers underneath their hands and then extend their middle fingers, both without altering the shape of their hand or the form of the slide.) It is important to realize that the reduction in friction on the Ungrounded Slide can be overwhelming to some students with proprioceptive difficulties, which is why students using Peterson Handwriting for rhythm training must first practice and master the Grounded Slide before proceeding to the Ungrounded Slide.

  • The Ungrounded Slide with "Puppet Points": This slide is just like the Ungrounded Slide before it, except for a student's visualizations. Now, while practicing the ungrounded slide, the student maintains the mental image of strings attached to his hand, which becomes like a puppet smoothly pulled back and forth by a puppeteer above. The first "Puppet Point" is beneath the "pad" of the middle finger of the writing hand. To find this, begin at the top of the middle finger and count down "one" to the first fold/bend in the finger, then "two" to the second fold/bend, then "three" to the place where the finger meets the hand, then "four" to the bottom of the pad. The first Puppet Point is slightly below this, in a little valley between ligaments. Once the student finds the first Puppet Point, he should press into it, as if attaching a brad to which an imaginary string will be attached through his hand. This will help him remember where the point is and maintain the visual picture while he begins sliding. Only after succeeding with the first Puppet Point does a student incorporate the second.

    The second Puppet Point is the first bend in the index finger, when moving from the top of the finger down. Visualizing a marionette string from the first Puppet Point can help with wrist position. Visualizing a marionette string from the second Puppet Point can help with finger and pencil control. Visualizing a puppeteer pulling the hand from beyond where the hand stops "pushing" (for a right-hander) or "pulling" (for a left-hander) can also help a student make a smoother, more relaxed slide.

  • The Ungrounded Slide with a Pencil: Finally, after mastering each of the above, the student begins doing the slide with a pencil. Proper pencil grip is addressed in Peterson Handwriting curricula, so we needn't go into it here—other than to point out how well the above activities prepare students to maintain a relaxed, effective pencil grip.

Third, Practice Basic Strokes:

Once students can maintain proper pencil grip, paper position, and posture, which they have learned through the previous activities, they are ready to incorporate their skills in making basic strokes—where Peterson Handwriting begins its classroom curricula.

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