Friday, July 12, 2013

Creating Custom Handwriting / Writing Journals for Young Children

Ok. If you follow here regularly you might have noticed that I'm somewhat... detail oriented. (That sounds much better than "Type A Obsessive" right?) I knew that I wanted to include formal handwriting instruction and writing in our homeschooling curriculum. I searched online for something I could just print and use, but didn't find anything just right for our needs, so I designed something myself.

First, I found Educational Fontware. For $49.95 you get the licence to use 33 handwriting font families and some specialty and decorative fonts. You can print most of the fonts with dots, outlines, arrows, rules and so on. It was a great investment. I compared all the print fonts and chose the one I liked best for teaching the children. I made a chart so I could clearly see the differences between the different fonts.

I ended up choosing Steck Vaughn. That was simply the one I liked best for a variety of reasons. Then I dove in to actually creating the pages for our writing journal.

Each day the children complete a two-page spread. On the left is a handwriting practice page and on the right there is a writing journal page. I began with uppercase letters although if I were to do it again I would have chosen lowercase first. I wanted the handwriting page to include both tracing the letter and writing the letter. I wanted them to practice it alone and in a word. I also wanted to include a visual discrimination section. I also prompt them to go back and circle their best letter to encourage self-assessment. I include pictures of things that use all the sounds that the letter can make. Here are a few examples of our handwriting pages. Later I began having the children write the entire word in the "Practice in a word" section to facilitate review. The lower half of the rules is highlighted to help them discriminate between the part of the letter that goes in the top half of the rule and the part of the letter that goes in the bottom half of the rule.

For the writing journal pages on the right-hand side of their journals I wanted them to write their name and the date. Then there is a written prompt inside a box followed by blank handwriting rules. The rules are sized to match the handwriting practice on the opposite page. They are instructed to use at least three colors in their picture to encourage them to spend some time on their picture and to add a little complexity. After they finish their picture, Ava dictates a sentence to me. I write it in pencil on the bottom of her page and then she traces over it. If Michael's sentence is short, I write it on a dry erase board and he copies it into his journal himself. If his sentence is longer and I'm worried he won't be able to fit it all, I write it in the journal in pencil and he copies over it. In the second half of the writing journal I moved from two lines to four because the children constantly needed more space than they had for their thoughts. I also plan to have Michael move to using invented spelling and writing his thoughts himself rather than using a dictation method, but we haven't started that yet.

Here are some examples of our writing journal pages. I began with very simple prompts and moved to more imaginative, open-ended prompts later.

Here are a couple of writing journal pages complete. The name and dates have been cropped out to protect the anonymity of the author-artists.

Our first handwriting/writing journal consists of a handwriting sheet for each of the uppercase letters and a few practice sheets with words at the end and the facing writing journal pages. When we finish the first book, I will make another one with the lowercase letters and new writing prompts.

So far the children love writing journal time. They enjoy working in their journals and showing off their work to anyone who will sit down and look through the journal with them. We typically spend 30-45 minutes per session working on the lesson.

Later, I'd like to expand our writing curriculum to include a weekly "storywriting" activity where I sit down at the computer and take dictation of a story created by the children. Then I'll print it out and let them illustrate the story. It will allow them to experience writing longer stories than they can currently create in their journals without being held back by their current fine motor/handwriting slowness.

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