This is our story as we teach our children to love learning and to love living. We stay up late to count the stars, we climb mountains to see the valleys, and we even swim in the rain. The sun does not always shine on our adventures, but we do learn from them, all while thanking God for the world he has given us. This is our homeschool journey, designed for our family and far away friends, but all are welcome.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Handwriting Without Tears

OK, so its been more than a month since I attended the Handwriting Without Tears workshops. It has honestly taken me that long to process everything I learned and assess how well it will work for us. I can tell you now, I think every homeschool parent who intends to use Handwriting Without Tears should attend these workshops. Here's why:
  • With the discounts I got for registering 30-days in advance and online, I paid $340.00. Yes, that is a lot of money but...
  • By attending, I received $195 in products to include every teacher's guide and one of every student guide. So now I am set to teach one child Pre-K - 5th Grade. Plus at the conference you can place a one time order for additional products at a discount. Each extra copy of each student book cost me only $7, tax and s/h included. (And yes Sonlighter's, that discount was greater than Sonlight's Core Club discount price of $9.58, and encompasses the whole HWT product line, not just the workbooks).
  • The workshops were not a sales pitch, at least not the ones I attended. Yes, of course they are teaching you how to use their products, and yes they do want you to buy their products, but I learned a lot about handwriting from the occupational therapist who taught the workshops. I outline a few of those tips I picked up below.
  • It was great to get out of the house for two days and be around others who work with children. Attendees of the workshop included parents, school teachers, school administrators, occupational therapists, and no, I was not the only homeschool mom there. Every one I talked with had a different reason for attending, and I am sure we all learned different things from the workshop. There really was a ton of info packed into those 2 days.
Now before I get into what I learned, I want to let you know that I have talked with a lot of people, and also read a lot of reviews from people, who think a lot of the HWT products are unnecessary. All I can say to that is, only you know the student(s) you are teaching, whether it is you own child(ren) or a classroom full of children. When I pull out the wood pieces or the Roll–A–Dough letters, my boys see it as a game and not school work. Neither of my boys has any serious handwriting issues, or learning disabilities, we just like to have fun learning. However, at the workshops, I learned a lot more about the reasoning behind the products and how to better use them. You can certainly teach handwriting, including their program, without all the extras, but we do love it all.

All that said, here is some of what I learned...

I already knew the Pre-K book was not just about handwriting, but I did not know what all the songs on the CD meant. One that really impressed me was the Hello Song. It teaches kids to shake hands. Why? Because it is one of many things we teach kids to do with the right hand: shake, pledge, salute, high-five... By focusing on these it is easier to distinguish between the right and the left.

How do you shake hands?
♪ ♫ Give 'em you right hand, Look 'em in the eye, Put a smile on your face, Then you say, "Hi" ♫ ♪ After a few repetitions, extending the right becomes natural. Then which hand is left over? The left, of course.

All the songs on the are fun. The CD is actually the first Handwriting Without Tears product I purchased more than 2 years ago. Is it necessary for learning handwriting? No, but a lot of the songs do teach handwriting skills. Plus, we like it. Playing it is a great way let my boys know that we are about to sit down to work on writing. They find so many aspects of this program fun that it usually only takes a few moments of one of the songs to get them sitting at the table.

One other notable point about their Pre-K program, they focus on writing capital letters. I know a few people who disagree with this, but the reasoning: less variables. All capital letters are the same size, and 17 of them start in the upper left corner (if you put them in a box). When you reduce the variables, children make less mistakes. The presenter did say that despite this, we should still teach lowercase letters as needed, particularly when writing names. The program is about mastering handwriting one letter at a time, rather than 52 all at once, but children still need to recognized all their letters. For Pre-K they focus on writing the 26 capitals, then progress to the correct formation of lowercase letters in kindergarten.

Now here is a page from my son's math book a few days after I attended the workshop. I had left him completely alone on this one to test out some of what the HWT Workshop presenter showed us. Throughout the workshops, we were presented with a lot of of actual student work to draw our attention to common problems. My son's page is a mess, but I learned that it is not all his fault. If you look where he wrote "three" you can see how he ran out of room so he tried to squeeze the second 'e' down below the first. Young children need space to write and most workbooks do not give them enough of it. This is why HWT creates the student books for Pre-K - 3rd grade horizontally, to give them more space to write. Of course, this does not fix the problem in his math book, but at least I know now that he is not the only one with this problem. And I also learned that the average first grader will naturally make their letters about the size of a penny, so I really should  not expect anything smaller than that.

He did write "one" and "six" well, but then you can see he made his 'F' backwards in "four." This is an excellent example of why learning to write letters within a box, HWT style, is great. In the next picture you can see the boxes, and you can identify the 17 letters that all start in the upper left corner. By keeping it in a box, there is no place the child to form the letter backwards. Once the letter is master, the dots and the boxes disappear. You'll see a picture of that later. Now as for the above work, we did get out some gray square paper and review how to make the letter 'F' (at this point we had not worked on lowercase 'f'' yet in handwriting, so I did not expect it in his math). As for the word "SEVN", I think he did a great job sounding out 'seven' without me.

You can see below just how learning to write in the boxes works, without me overwhelming you with tons of pictures. On the very top they who how the letter is made with the wood pieces on a mat. Then they show it written on the small chalkboard, which is proportional to the boxes. If you are not using the wood pieces or the chalk board, these are still great examples on how to make the letter. After that you'll notice HWT does not expect the child to look at just one example then write it as many times as they can on a line. The give the example, then the child writes it. Then they repeat the example, and the child writes it again. This is great for the lefties like my son who would otherwise be covering up the one and only example most other workbooks give for them to replicate. For all students, this allows for constant reinforcement of proper letter formation. The last blank on the page does not include the gray box or dot, allowing the student to write it on their own, with confidence.

As for what to do it you have a lefty and are working in a book that has all the examples only on the left, make a photocopy, or handwritten copy, that they can use as a model.

If you notice the van in the above picture, you can see it is facing left to right. See the same below with the duck on our lowercase 'd' page. This is intentionally. In face every aspect of the HWT books is intentional. By placing the images all facing to the left, the direction in which we read and write is reinforced. Also note the books are black and white. For classroom teachers, this gives the students who are excelling something to color while they wait for other students to finish. For us, coloring is the reward when the letters are done.

By the way, as his mom, I'd like to say I am really proud of my 6-year-old's duck. He has had very little interest in coloring, and when he showed this to me I was honestly shocked. He loves to draw, but coloring books have never kept his attention. He does however love his handwriting books, and the reward of coloring the pictures on the page once I give him a thumbs up on his letter formation.

Something else to notice about the above picture, see the bunny peeking out of the black hat with the letter 'c' on it. That's the Magic 'C' Bunny. HWT groups the letters by they way they are formed. Included in the Magic 'C' lowercases is 'd'. By teaching the child to start with Magic 'c' when making the letter 'd' it is almost impossible for them to write the letter backwards. Lowercase 'b' is taught later in a different group. It is a diver letter, because you first dive straight down, then swim up and over. It is actually taught after lowercase 'h', since the only difference is the curve around at the bottom. At the workshop, one great way we learned  to remind students how similar the formation of 'h' and 'b' are... honey-bees!

We are now onto sentences. They gray box is still appearing here, but it does disappear from the pages toward the end of the book. The only letters used in the words are letters we have already learned. These pages, by the way, are from the Kindergarten level book. My son is a young 1st grader and in most states he would in fact be in Kindergarten, but not in New York. By homeschooling him I have the freedom to work with him at his level. Next week we start the 1st grade book, with confidence.

As for the two lines vs. the very common three lines (and the four-lines of some programs)... again, less variables. I can tell you truthfully that my son found three-lined paper very confusing, never knowing for sure which line he was supposed to be writing on. HWT doesn't actually teach the lines, they teach spaces. As with the gray box where in you are teaching students to make all their capital letters, the two lines provides a middle space in which to create 14 of the lowercase letters.  For my son, this truly was a lot less confusing because he did not have to think about which lines to use. Then we have 5 descending letters that drop below into the bottom space and 7 tall letters that start above in the top space. At the end of this book he will write some sentences on three-lines, as well as single lines, and HWT believes that once a child can write well on two lines, there is a smooth transition to the others. So far, I'd have to agree. We do have a lot of other writing books floating around our home. Since we started keeping our handwriting instruction to two-lined paper, my son has seemed a lot more confident when confronted with three lines.

OK, that was a lot of info. And of course, I did not share with you everything I learned at the workshops. That would take 10.25 hours!

You can find out more about Handwriting Without Tears at, or go directly to the Two-Day Combination Workshop page if you are interested in attending. I really did enjoy it, and I have no doubt my money was well spent. 

Want to know more about why Sonlight packages Handwriting Without Tears with their Ready-made Newcomer Packages, and what other handwriting programs are available through Sonlight? Visit

Related Post:

**Next week I plan to share another great handwriting tip I picked up at the workshops. It is not Handwriting Without Tears specific, and it involves food. We like to play with food, and this one is sure to be messy☺

April 8, 2011: Well life does not always go as planned, but here it is a few days late, our fun with food, word building and word spacing activity. ENJOY! 

1 comment:

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The adventures we have and the methods we use may not be suitable for all families. Our approach contains a blend of love, guidance from God, a desire for adventure, an appreciation for the outdoors, and a fair share of mistakes. No artificial ingredients have been added. If you attempt to use our methods, please do so with caution, knowing that your family may grow closer in the process. Due to daily learning, the opinions and views expressed in these posts are subject to change without notice. Happy schooling!