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Smart Kids Who Hate to Write

By Dianne Craft
MA, CNHP

The “great debate” occurs every year: “Am I expecting too much of my child, or not enough? Is this groaning and moaning about writing just a discipline problem, or a ‘character issue’ or is there really a problem here?” Common comments I hear from homeschool moms are:

“She can tell me the answers orally well, but then it takes her an hour to write it down! When he writes his spelling words to learn them, he leaves letters out of the words. When he wants to, he can write neatly. He’s just sloppy.”

Symptoms of Stress in the Writing System

  1. Reversals in written letters or numbers (younger children);
  2. Poor spacing of words in a sentence;
  3. Laborious writing—takes a long time to complete an assignment;
  4. Prints instead of using cursive (older children);
  5. Copies poorly from books;
  6. Knows capitalization rules, but ignores them in writing;
  7. Makes letters bottom to top;
  8. Good orally, but written work is poor.

If your child exhibits some of these symptoms, it would be worthwhile to do some further investigating to see how pervasive this writing problem is.

Further Investigation

Check your child’s eye/hand dominance. There are several ways to do this, but one easy way is to tear a small hole in a piece of paper, and have the child hold it at arm’s length while peering through the hole at an object on the wall. Instruct the child not to move his arms, while you go behind and cover one eye, and ask if he can still see the object without moving the paper. Do the same with the other eye. We sight with our dominant eye, so when you cover that eye, the object on the wall will seem to “disappear.”

If your child is left eyed and right handed, or right eyed and left handed, he or she is “mixed dominant.” This invites a great deal of confusion in the writing process, and requires considerably more energy to write than for a child who is “uniform dominant,” right eyed and right handed or left eyed and left handed. It’s as if they are starting the writing process with only “half a battery.” Therefore we recognize mixed dominance as being a possible factor in the child’s ability to easily “think and write” at the same time. The writing process does not become automatic so the child continues to have to think about the letter formation, rather than the subject matter he or she is writing about.

Another good investigative procedure is to see how the child makes his letters. Have your child print the alphabet using lower case letters only. Watch your child carefully as he does this. Look to see how he makes his “o’s.” A child who is naturally “hard wired” for right handedness will make his “o’s” counterclockwise. A child who is naturally “hard wired” for left handedness will make his “o’s” clockwise. If your child does something opposite than this, that is a sign of major stress in the writing system. Watch to see if he reverses any letters, or hesitates before directional letters like “b,d,p,z.” See if your child makes letters like “f,i,l” from bottom to top. This is a vertical reversal and also indicates stress in the writing system. See if the beginning of the alphabet is made with large letters, and the end made much smaller. All of these characteristics are indicators to us that there is a real reason why this child is resisting writing assignments, and not just an argumentative child, or a character problem.

Some Solutions

  1. Reduce the amount of writing the child has to do. In math do every other problem only.
  2. Eliminate copying work wherever you can. Copying is the hardest thing for them to do when they have a writing glitch.
  3. The writing gate will not be the best learning gate for your child. Therefore don’t write spelling words five times each and expect the child to learn them. Remember, he’s thinking about the how to form the letters, not how to remember the spelling word. Show the child how to take mental pictures of his spelling words, instead. We call this Right Brain spelling, showing a child how to store words in his photographic memory, which is what spelling bee winners do.
  4. Choose a curriculum that doesn’t require much workbook work. Or, have the child answer the workbook questions orally, rather than writing. Remember, that workbook writing was designed by schools to keep students busy while the teacher worked with others, and to assign grades for a child. Neither is needed in homeschooling. Save the child’s writing energy to write paragraphs, and essays for language and history.
  5. Correct a child’s learning glitch by giving him a stable midline, or “plumb line” as we think of it. The easiest way to do this is by having your child perform a daily writing exercise that is designed to give the child a midline for writing and take the stress out of the writing system. This exercise that rehabilitates a child’s visual/motor system was created by Dr. Geteman, and Dr. Paul Dennison. The exercise is performed on a large piece of construction paper, with a large “eight” drawn on it. The child sits directly in the middle of the “eight,” to encourage the body to recognize midline. This exercise has been used successfully for years in sports, to increase eye/hand coordination. Basketball, baseball and football coaches have used it with their high schoolers with great success, but it has been used for children as young as 4 years old, to improve fine motor coordination. This low-tech, inexpensive exercise is described in the Brain Integration Therapy Manual and demonstrated in the Understanding and Helping the Struggling Learner video, both available from www.diannecraft.org

When working with bright children who resist writing (or putting a pencil in their hand to even do lengthy math problems, preferring to do them in their head instead), it is so easy to assume that they are just being lazy or uncooperative. Once you correct the midline issue, however, you find that they become willing participants in writing. This is one of the most common learning glitches we find in bright children who are not completing the written work required for their grade, and who have not learned the spelling words that we have taught them throughout the grades. It is also the easiest of the four learning gates to correct. It does, however, require diligence on the parent’s part, to carefully monitor the vital writing exercise four days a week for six months. However, when this is done, writing becomes fluent.

Learning, and writing specifically, does not have to be so hard.

Dianne Craft has a master’s degree in special education. She is president of Child Diagnostics, Inc. in Littleton, CO. (303-694-0532), which diagnoses information processing problems in children, and gives corrections for the problems. For more articles by Dianne visit her website at www.diannecraft.org


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