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CBD Exclusive Interview with Carol Ann Retzer

CBD: How did you become interested in teaching handwriting to children? What led you to develop A Reason for Handwriting?
CR: As a first grade teacher, I watched my students struggle with traditional handwriting assignments. I began to look for ways to motivate them by making handwriting more fun. One day, the lesson was exceptionally meaningless and had only minimal practice. At worship that morning we had sung, “God is so good.” I decided to use that sentence for practice, and was surprised at how pleased my students were to write something meaningful. Soon I began collecting and using specific Scripture verses for handwriting practice. Not only did my students’ handwriting show immediate improvement, but parents began thanking me for the verses students took home. That summer I asked some artistic friends to draw “border sheets” to frame the verses. The students loved these, and sharing “border sheets” became a popular activity. That simple beginning almost 25 years ago eventually developed into the A Reason for Handwriting curriculum

CBD: At what age are children ready to learn handwriting? What developmental cues can parents look for that indicate readiness?
CR: Most children begin some form of writing by age 5 or 6, although it’s not uncommon to find 4-year-olds experimenting with print. But parents should make sure their child is developmentally ready before beginning formal instruction. Interest in writing his/her own name or learning the names of letters suggests mental readiness. The way a child controls a pencil or crayon offers clues about motor-skills readiness. And don’t forget that visual readiness plays a key role! The Optometrists Network offers several great vision checklists for parents at: www.children-special-needs.org.

CBD: How can parents tell if their child is left- or right-handed? How can they help a left-handed child learn to write?
CR: While infants usually pick up objects with either hand, most children establish hand dominance by age 3. One indicator is the hand the child uses to pick up a fork or spoon. Here’s an informal dominance test: Ask a child to bounce a ball with one hand, then watch to see which hand he/she naturally prefers.

In teaching a left-handed child to write, first make certain the paper is slanted parallel to the writing arm. Next, focus on helping the child develop good writing habits. The pencil should be held in the standard “tripod” (index finger/thumb, with third finger as support) position. A “straight but relaxed” wrist is also important because a relaxed wrist gives the hand flexibility when the arm is properly supported on the desk. While such habits are important for all writers, they are even more critical for left-handed children.

CBD: Practice is essential when learning penmanship, but sometimes it is difficult to get students motivated. How much time should a child spend on handwriting each day? What tips or activities can you suggest to keep kids interested in practicing their skills?
CR: Daily sessions of only 10 to 15 minutes yield much better results than longer sessions with days off in between. For younger students, include activities that are not paper/pencil based. “Skywriting” (“writing” the letter in the air with the pointer finger of the writing hand) and “palm writing” (“writing” the letter on the opposite palm) help imprint letter formation in the brain. In addition, handwriting is a motor skill, so activities that increase eye-hand coordination (playing catch with a ball or beanbag, bouncing a ball, rolling a hoop, etc.) can be very helpful.

One of the best motivators occurs when handwriting is shared! A Reason for Handwriting encourages students to share “border sheets” with nursing home residents, friends and neighbors, relatives, and others. The positive feedback generated gives children a strong motivation for doing their very best work!

CBD: With widespread use of computer technology among children, cursive writing is fast becoming a lost art and is even considered an obsolete skill in some quarters. Can you comment on the war between the pen and the keyboard? What impact has the use of computer technology had on the teaching and learning of handwriting?
CR: Unfortunately, emerging computer technology has caused some well-meaning educators to abandon effective handwriting instruction. But remember, not that many years ago VCR technology was supposed to doom movie theaters. Instead, theater attendance has reached record highs! Perhaps the analogy is a good one. Often new technology simply adds to existing tools rather than replacing them.

Computers do some things well and some they don’t. Which would you prefer . . . a computer-generated birthday card, or one with a beautiful handwritten message? The business world is also beginning to recognize the power of handwritten documents (thank-you notes, etc.) for personal communication. Some Fortune 500 companies even use handwriting analysis to screen perspective executives. In the world of education, many standardized tests contain a written component where legibility can affect the final score. These are just a few examples of the value of beautiful, legible handwriting.

CBD: What is the relationship between handwriting and literacy? How does developing good handwriting skills make a child a better reader?
CR: Numerous studies suggest that reading and writing are skills best developed together. For example, when a beginning reader learns to write in the same mode, both skills are strengthened. (By the way, this is a good argument for beginning handwriting instruction with a traditional manuscript alphabet similar to the print we see in books, on street signs, and on cereal boxes!) Nationally recognized reading experts Irene Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell strongly recommend shared and interactive writing activities as part of a balanced approach to literacy. This view is supported by the International Reading Association, as well as most reading experts and curriculum specialists.


 

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A Reason For Handwriting: Cursive E--Student Worktext, Grade 5
A Reason For Handwriting: Cursive E--Student Worktext, Grade 5
Carol Ann Retzer

A Reason For Handwriting: Transition--Student Worktext, Grades 2-3
A Reason For Handwriting: Transition--Student Worktext, Grades 2-3
Carol Ann Retzer

A Reason For Handwriting: Manuscript A--Student Worktext, Grade 1
A Reason For Handwriting: Manuscript A--Student Worktext, Grade 1
Carol Ann Retzer

A Reason For Handwriting: Cursive C--Student Worktext, Grade 3
A Reason For Handwriting: Cursive C--Student Worktext, Grade 3
Carol Ann Retzer


 

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