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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Peterson Directed Handwriting Review

When my oldest son was younger, he was diagnosed with Sensory Integration Disorder. The therapist recommended Handwriting Without Tears, and we used that loosely for learning to print. But printing was some time ago, and while I picked up their cursive books, I never got around to them.
That's the great thing about being part of the TOS Crew. It is making me get around to several things I planned on doing but never actually DID. Cursive writing is one of those things, and as a result, I had children who were 11, 9, and 7 years old and could write nothing more than their first names in cursive.
So I was very excited to see that a handwriting curriculum, Peterson Directed Handwriting, was scheduled for us to review, and I chose their cursive program for my children to try out.
I want to be honest about my initial impressions. I had never stopped to consider that each handwriting curriculum not only has a different way of teaching handwriting, but a different finished product-meaning differences in the appearance of the resulting cursive. Peterson's handwriting reminds me very much of my mother's writing, and is a polar opposite from my own. While they maintain that their method and the resulting cursive looks the way it does based on legibility studies, I personally found some of the letters to be, well, oddly formed. And I don't think my own handwriting, while drastically different from Peterson's, is at all illegible. So I found myself in a quandry. Do I teach a handwriting method when I don't particularly like the look of the resulting handwriting? To me, the answer was YES, because I made a committment as a reviewer and I take that seriously...and I'm glad I did, because I have revised my opinion somewhat.
One of the main reasons I decided to go ahead with it is that I was drawn to the fact that their products are non-consumable, and they recommend and encourage a multi-sensory approach to learning to write. In that, it is very similar to HWT. With Peterson's though, students learn a rhythmic sequence of words and muscle movements that breaks almost all the lower case cursive letters into four basic motions. Students learn the words to say and practice "writing" by saying the words and tracing their fingers over letters in their workbooks. They are also encouraged to try other methods of practice like air writing all to gain muscle memory for how to make each stroke. The lessons are short, and my children all enjoyed doing it. We followed Peterson's schedule mostly, and it seemed like the children were able to write real cursive letters in short time, although the curriculum is meant to build fluency over time for a lifetime of good penmanship habits. The lessons are easy to follow and guide your student(s) through, and I think breaking the letters down into 4 common strokes is brilliant, and one of the best features of the program. Another "pro" would be that the people at Peterson Directed Handwriting are exceedingly helpful. They are passionate about good, legible, fluent handwriting and helping your child achieve it. They are available to answer questions and were wonderful to deal with.

On the con side would be the fact that some of the letters are formed strangely. While they maintain it is for greater legibility, I actually find they made it harder for me to read when I saw the first samples of text.

Letters like "d", "a" and "g" have odd entrance strokes (above), and "c" is formed without a curve. Lowercase "p" is made with a beginning stroke that extends all the way up to the top line instead of just going half way up like most people write it.
Above you can see a sample of what the workbook looks like, and what the cursive looks like. You can see the odd looking "c" also. It's the first letter under the "odd top letters". When joined to other letters it looks less odd (see the word "ice"), but it is different for sure.
I decided to teach it the way they present it, but not correct it if they made them "wrong" by Peterson standards but correct based on the standard way of writing. I figure my handwriting has changed with time, and theirs will too, so they can make adjustments if they later decide they want a more standard look. As I said before, my mother writes in a style very close to Peterson's (maybe that's what her school district used since Peterson's has been around since 1908) and it has served her just fine. And I learned long ago to take what works for me/us, and leave the rest, so we adopted that approach with this handwriting curriculum too.
The bottom line on this one is that it comes down to personal choice. I like the multi-sensory approach and focus on word/muscle rhythm to guide handwriting. I like the short lessons, and my kids have had good results. BUT, ultimately, I don't care for how the actual writing looks. Maybe it's because my own writing is big and bubbly, but Peterson focuses on perfecting the slant of the letters a lot, and the some of letters are odd. The curriculum is reasonable in price with a basic homeschooling set costing just over $15. And since it's not consumable, you can use it over and over. This is one you really need to investigate yourself by visiting their website HERE to see if you like the handwriting results. If you do, I wholeheartedly recommend this program. You won't be disappointed as it is easy but thorough. But if you don't care for the end result, then you probably want to find a programs whose handwriting you prefer.
Other TOS Crew members reviewed other levels (the cursive is grade 3), or may have a different opinion about the cursive program, so please check their reviews out HERE.
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