By Dianne Craft, MA, CNHP

The Great Debate occurs every year: “am I expecting too much of my child, or not enough? Is this moaning and groaning about writing just a discipline problem or character issue, or is there really a problem here?” A few common remarks that I hear from home school moms are:

         “She can tell me the answers well orally but then it takes her an hour to write it down!””He leaves letters out of his spelling words when he writes them down while he is in the process of learning them!””He can write neatly when he wants to. He’s just sloppy.”

Symptoms of Stress in the Writing System
  1. Reversals in written letters or numbers (younger children).
  2. Poor spacing of words in a sentence.
  3. Laborious writing – takes a long time to complete an assignment.
  4. Prints instead of using cursive (older children).
  5. Copies poorly from books.
  6. Knows capitalization rules, but ignores them in writing.
  7. Makes letters bottom-to-top.
  8. Good orally but written work is poor.

If your child exhibits some of these symptoms, it would be worthwhile to do some further investigating to see how pervasive this writing problem is.

Further Investigation

Check your child’s eye/hand dominance. There are several ways to do this but one easy way is to tear a small hole in a piece of paper and have the child hold it at arm’s length while peering through the hole at an object on the wall. Instruct the child not to move his or her arms while you go behind and cover one eye and ask if he or she can still see the object without moving the paper. Do the same with the other eye. We sight with our dominant eye, so when you cover that eye the object on the wall will seem to disappear.

If your child is left eyed and right handed or right eyed and left handed, he or she is mixed dominant. This invites a great deal of confusion in the writing process and requires considerably more energy to write than for a child who is uniform dominant—right eyed and right handed or left eyed and left handed. It is as if they are starting the writing process with only “half a battery” so to speak. Therefore, we recognize mixed dominance as being a possible factor in the child’s ability to easily think and write at the same time. The writing process does not become automatic so the child continues to have to think about letter formation rather than the subject matter he or she is writing about.

Another good investigative procedure is to see how the child makes his or her letters. To do this, have your child print the alphabet using lower case letters only. Watch your child carefully as he or she does this. Look to see how he or she makes the letter “o.” A child who is naturally hardwired for right handedness will make the letter “o” counterclockwise. A child who is naturally hardwired for left handedness will make “o” clockwise. If your child does something opposite from this, that is a sign of major stress in the writing system. Watch to see if he or she reverses any letters or hesitates before directional letters like “b,” “d,” “p,” and “z.” See if your child makes letters like “f,” ”i,” and “l” from bottom-to-top: this is called a vertical reversal and also indicates stress in the writing system. See if the beginning of the alphabet is made with larger letters than at the end. All of these characteristics are indicators to us that there is a real reason why this child is resisting writing assignments and not just an argumentative child or a character problem.

Some Solutions
  1. Reduce the amount of writing that the child has to do. In math, do every other problem only.
  2. Eliminate copying work wherever you can. Copying is the hardest thing for them to do when they have a writing glitch.
  3. The writing gate will not be the best learning gate for your child. Therefore, don’t write spelling words five times each and expect the child to learn them. Remember, he or she is thinking about how to form the letters, not how to remember the spelling of the word. Instead, show the child how to take “pictures” of his spelling words: we call this right brain spelling. This involves showing a child how to store words in his or her photographic memory, which is what spelling bee winners do.
  4. Choose a curriculum that doesn’t require much workbook work or have the child answer the workbook questions orally rather than in writing. Remember that workbook writing was designed by schools to keep students busy while the teacher worked with others and to assign grades for a child. Neither is required in home schooling, so save the child’s writing energy to write paragraphs and essays for language and history.
  5. Correct a child’s learning glitch by giving him or her a stable midline, or plumb line, as we think of it. The easiest way to do this is by having your child perform a daily writing exercise that is designed to give the child a midline for writing and take the stress out of the writing system. This exercise that rehabilitates a child’s visual/motor system and was created by Dr. Geteman and Dr. Paul Dennison. The exercise is performed on a large piece of construction paper with a large figure eight drawn on it. The child sits directly in the middle of the eight to encourage the body to recognize the midline. This exercise has been used successfully for years in sports to increase eye/hand coordination. Basketball, baseball and football coaches have used it with their high schoolers with great success but it has been used for children as young as four years old to improve fine motor coordination. This low-tech, inexpensive exercise is fully described in my Brain Integration Therapy Manual and demonstrated in the “Understanding and Helping the Struggling Learner” DVD, both of which are available from the Dianne Craft Web Store.

When working with bright children who resist writing or even putting a pencil in their hand to even do lengthy math problems, preferring to do them in their head instead, it is so easy to assume that they are just being lazy or uncooperative. Once you correct the midline issue you will find that they become willing participants in writing. This is one of the most common learning glitches we find in bright children who are not completing the written work required for their grade and who have not learned the spelling words that we have taught them throughout the grades. It is also the easiest of the four learning gates to correct. It does, however, require diligence on the parent’s part. Consistently do and carefully monitor the vital writing exercise four days a week for six months. However, when this is done, writing becomes fluent.

Learning and writing, specifically, do not have to be so hard.

The information in this article should not be construed as a diagnosis or medical advice. Please consult your physician for any medical condition and before adding supplements or changing a child’s diet.


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