Sunday, November 17, 2013

Handwriting: The importance of repetition and perfection.

A few months ago I wrote a post about cursive and the art of handwriting.  I had not yet re-entered the classroom when I wrote it.  Now that I've been there for almost 3 months, it is something I see as essential.  My experience thus far is difficult to write in a short post, but what I will say is how it has made me love and appreciate the Montessori materials and philosophy even more.

From my experience before and now, and even seeing my own child's development in language and handwriting there are somethings I have come to realize.  I will try to summerize.

Today language is viewed as reading.  It's more important to read than write.  Whereas in Montessori, we teach children to write before they read (another post I wrote).  I see that reading is vial in most traditional education since children need to read and comprehend for test taking so they can color in a bubble.  Not to simplify this issue, but it has come down to test taking and finding that right answer, so reading and reading comprehension is valued over writing abilities.

The results are valued rather than the process.  Not so in Montessori.  In our classrooms you have all the time in the day/week/month to work through the task.  There is no rush.  We invite the children to take their time, take care and pride in their work, take the time in between to work on something else, and work on things at their pace and pleasure.  It is not a task to be crossed off a list or be weighed down by.  It is the process of doing, and re-doing (repetition) that builds the synaptic network.  A young child is joyous when doing a task that is of interest to them.  This is part of what we call "following the child".  We are guided as teachers by their interest and so we provide them the opportunity to further their interest in that field.

Bringing home "work" and homework.  Often we find ourselves telling parents not to give children workbooks and apps that "help" children learn at home.  This is mostly because when a child is doing all this work at home, coming to school where they have freedom to choose their work and friends gives them the opportunity to also choose to socialize instead of choosing work.  Mostly because they are already exhausted from working at home.  Every child needs a break from work.  This is why you will see a child working for hours with the moveable alphabet or the addition strip board and after they put it away, they are calm and collected and choose "lighter" work where they color or do some sewing, or just sit and watch others work.  They need that time to process what they have done. 
So, why do Montessori children not bring loads and load of paperwork?  Two reasons; 1. Dr. Montessori was an early conservationist.  She believed that we do not need to waste.  She found that using materials like the sandpaper letter, moveable alphabet, and other hands-on materials allowed a child to work and not have pages and pages to take home. 2. The children perfect their work in the class with the materials, with the chalkboard, they practice their handwriting with the sandpaper letters and various alphabets, then when they are ready, the take out a small piece of paper and transcribe their intentions and ideas onto that paper.  As they become more proficient, they can lose the materials and simply move onto paper, but that takes 3 years of being in a classroom. 

Handwriting.  As I wrote and copied the authors essay in the handwriting post, handwriting is a lost art.  Children are comfortable and choose to write in print.  They see print around and find it easier to copy.  Handwriting is not simply about copying written symbols, but a means of expression.  Just as it is individual and personal so should our handwriting be.  It is an expression of who we are.  The typed/ printed word is static even with the myriad fonts out there.  A handwritten note is still valued over a typed email, why?  The personal touch.  So, why do we not encourage a young child to develop that ability and sensibility?
Is it really worth it and beneficial to teach a child the easy way or the short-cuts?  What are the long-term effects when we have adults who are lacking these skills, sensibilities, and executive functions?

One of the key philosophies of Dr. Montessori was “Never give more to the mind than you give to the hand.”  And this is why a Montessori classroom looks the way it does!

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