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Hey Mom! I Spell Better When I Type!

sailingWe were on port tack in the middle of the Atlantic, moving fairly smoothly toward landfall in the Azores. Our family of four was on the way from New Orleans to West Africa in our 31 foot sloop.  After some rough days, it was a relief to keep my food down and enjoy being at the helm. Melissa, 11, was reading in the hammock, and Matthew, 13, was wedged in the companionway typing his log.  I had been encouraging him to use our little portable typewriter, because he was left-handed and had considerable difficulty writing legibly.  I was sympathetic because I could remember my own elementary school tears, trying to write as a lefthander.  I remember forcing myself to turn the paper to the right and hold my hand under the line so I wouldn’t smudge the ink.

Matthew used the left-handed  “inverted” hand posture when he wrote, cocking his wrist and using the larger muscles of his wrist and arm rather than the fine motor coordination of his fingers.  The letters ran together as if his mind was racing ahead of his fingers.  He missed details, like dotting i’s and crossing t’s.  He didn’t notice his spelling errors and could hardly read what he wrote.


Losing Cursive?

A recent article in Education Week bemoans the fact that students are using cursive less and less, and in some cases, do not know how to read cursive. They still seem to do pretty well at printing, and reading what someone else has printed.  Interesting! My daughter is a calligrapher and loves forming letters in different “hands”. But those flowing letters may become over the next years more of an art form, rather than an everyday functional way to put words on paper.

1003374a-main_FullIt’s true that typing on the computer has become an easier way for all of us to write. Should we go back to cursive?  The educational goal for writing is for children to be able to express their thoughts in text and to edit and refine those thoughts in order to communicate clearly and effectively.  If this process is easier using a word processor—no erasing, no throwing out the paper and starting over—then children will spend more time writing and enjoy it more.  Research has shown that children write longer stories and make more edits and revisions when they use a word processor. Isn’t that what we want to encourage?

However they do not write more easily on the computer if they are “hunting and pecking”.  They need to learn how to type. So why are we waiting until fifth grade or later to teach children to type, when they can learn it in first grade?  It’s actually easier to press keys than to bend their little fingers around a pencil and form letters.  Why not help them do both? They could establish a touch-typing habit early, so writing can become as enjoyable as possible.  What do you think?

The Power and Importance of Literacy

Things People Have Said to Me That Changed My Life


Pilgrim’s Rest, Mississippi, 1965

“First, I’m gonna learn to read and write.  Then I’m goin’ home an’ teach my daddy!”

She was sitting alone on one of the church benches, watching some other five year olds play with the rocking horse. As co-founder and program director of the Child Development Group of Mississippi, I was visiting one of our many Head-Start projects stretched out across Mississippi that summer of ‘65.  We had 5,000 children signed up in a frighteningly racist state.  It was the very first Head-Start project in the country.

I wondered why she was not joining in the play. As I sat down beside her, she smiled shyly, reaching over with curiosity to touch my blond hair.

“What do you want to do here at Head-Start today?” I asked. She looked thoughtful for a moment, then her dark face lit up with a huge smile.

“First, I’m gonna learn to read and write.  Then I’m goin’ home to teach my daddy!” There it was, right in my face.  The enormity of our task.  The power and importance of literacy.

Questions Parents Should Ask Teachers of Kindergarten and First Grade Children

If you have been reading this blog, you are aware of the importance of phoneme awareness and phonics to the development of early reading skills. You may already have more knowledge now than your child’s teacher.  Parents can find out whether their children will be taught reading well by asking their teachers a few questions:

“Do you think it is important for children to learn that words are made of individual sounds?

How do you teach this skill? Do you teach a specific sequence?

How many sounds do you teach?”

(If teachers say they teach all 40 sounds of English, hurray!  If they say they teach the sounds of all 26 letters, you should probe further.)


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