Handwriting Without Tears.
While these words might look like gibberish, they are actually the names of some of the most common handwriting programs used in schools today. Believe it or not, I’ve had some pretty hot debates with parents and colleagues over which program was best. I even remember a parent scolding me for allowing her child to form the letter “C” in HWT style, stating it should never be considered a “center starter”. I know, I know, the life of an OT can get pretty spicy…
So before you swear your allegiance to your favorite program, allow me to share a little objective insight from my experiences.
Handwriting Without Tears (HWT)
-Ok, I’ll just go out there and say it. This one is my favorite. (Oops, I guess there goes my objective stance…) The main reason is the jargon used with the program. Letters are grouped by starting point and have simple instructions to remember their formation sequence.
-Strokes are simple: big line, little line, big curve, little curve.
-The program has tons of activities and various ways to incorporate kinesthetic learning through building letters with wood pieces, using a magnet board, chalk board, or play-doh type letters.
-Mat-Man. (That should be reason enough right there. I love that guy.) During this activity, children use the wood pieces which represent each letter stroke (big line, big curve, etc.) to build a person. This has helped many children with the skill of drawing a representational figure of a person. Plus he has a cool theme song.
-This program has its own simplified writing paper. If your child isn’t using this program in school, then it can be difficult to switch back and forth for some children. If this is the case then I will adapt the program to follow the HWT outline with whatever paper the child is using at school.
-I have had more problems with this handwriting program than any other. This printing allows for a pseudo transition to cursive with slanted letters and little tails added on the end of each character.
-While this program is supposed to bridge the gap between printing and cursive, I find it just adds another detail to muddy up the process of learning print. For the kids that I work with, visual perceptual, fine motor, and sensory processing issues interfere with writing in the first place. Adding a tail to a letter just seems to make it more challenging. A lot of “a”s end up looking like “q”s.
-One of the most commonly used programs in schools. This program uses the paper with a blue top line, dotted midline, and red baseline. For most typically developing kids, this program is completely fine. For some of my clients? Confusing.
-“Start on the top line, then draw past the midline to the baseline, slide to the right, then curve back up to the midline with a swooping action, then curve around again until you meet up with the top line.” Ok, I’ve exaggerated a bit, but this is how I feel their instructions come across. They are very detailed and wordy. For kids that have a difficult time processing all of this information, it can be challenging.
-I do love the Z-B paper. The red base-line gives a strong visual cue to stop, and the midline helps kids size their letters appropriately. This is why I will use this paper with the HWT program for some children. However, on that same note, for kids with difficulty processing visual information, HWT has a simplified paper which may work out better.
The bottom line is that each program has its benefits. Plus, parents don’t always have a big choice when it comes to the program used at their child’s school. As an OT, it is our job to adapt whatever program we use to allow the child to gain the skill at hand. (Get it? At hand…handwriting… ok, you get it…)