Interest Based Learning–It Works!

So the whole summer I’ve been working with Georgie on his handwriting. He got interested in writing shortly after he learned to read at age two. I kinda freaked out on him. It wasn’t his fault–I have a handwriting complex. My best friend in elementary school was a fastidious person, the kind who carefully colored things in with markers line by line, never overlapping. Through my young eyes, her stick-straight lines and perfectly curved arcs looked like a type-writer. I always felt like my handwriting, well, sucked by comparison. I spent Christmas break in fourth grade–the one where we rented a cabin and went snowmobiling–trying to reinvent my handwriting into something cute, copying the alphabet over and over, dotting my i’s with hearts, writing my e’s as backwards 3’s. It took me years to straighten my writing back out. I still catch myself trying to write those ridiculous e’s sometimes. It didn’t matter much anyway: my thoughts always ran faster than my pen and my handwriting would quickly go downhill trying to catch up to the runaway train.

Anyway, so I projected all of that on to my son and freaked out that he was going to get into bad letter formation habits if he started writing without instruction. I insisted on starting a formal writing curriculum rather than just letting him continue scrawling 2-foot high letters on posterboard with his washable Crayolas. I selected the gentlest curriculum I could find, but his little fingers just weren’t ready. My impatient rants about how his writing would be ruined forever if he didn’t start at the top of the letter and follow the directions probably didn’t help. In the end, he stopped completely–writing, coloring, painting. It was a struggle to get him to make a mark on a coloring page in his children’s class at church.

As he approached the end of his pre-K year, his teacher told me that his shaky writing–always tracing over her marks rather than making his own–needed to improve if he was going to be able to handle Kindergarten work. My goal was just one short sentence or 5 spelling words a day. I wouldn’t care about form, I would just get him to write, at all. But no matter what I did, it was like pulling teeth to get him to write each letter–a battle against suddenly thirst and bathroom trips, whining and surprise interruptions from his stuffed animal dog, who used to be called Dog-Dog but was now named Teddiursa after a creature in Pokemon, his current obession.

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to redirect his interruptions by making the sentence he wrote about Pokemon. “Teddiursa is a silly Pokemon,” I wrote on a little whiteboard for him to copy. I went to help my other son read something he was playing on the computer. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Georgie bounding down the hall.

“Georgie, you need to do your writing,” I called after him.

“I’m done!” he said. What? But sure enough, all the words were down in his book, faster than he had been able to write one word, one letter last week. It was like removing the dam from a river–letters were suddenly flowing onto the page. Today he wrote a 10 word sentence (one that I tried to shorten, but he insisted on) in less than 2 minutes with no prompting from me. I can’t believe that tearing down that Berlin Wall could possibly be that easy.

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Filed under Early Elementary (6-9)

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