When pioneers were going west, ruts served as a guide in following others. Ruts are not necessarily a bad thing. However, when you need to veer off the beaten path when teaching cursive and composition because your well-worn path is not working, then you need a fresh perspective.
The first shift in my mindset that I had to overcome when teaching cursive and composition is to realize that they are two very different skills. As teachers we can forget that they’re related, but different.
Cursive is a fine motor skill and requires physical dexterity while composition is a mental process.
When both work together, it is an out of body experience as my son told me one time. Okay, okay, it is a total body experience.
Bottom line is that it can be flat out hard. Telling your child to pick his pencil up and start writing can be the demise of him.
For example, a child may be mastering fine motor skill, but needs help with ideas on what to write.
On the flip side, a child may be excited to write creatively, but his fine motor skills are holding him back.
Both skills are needed for a child to be an effective writer.
Honing both skills need to be done simultaneously as well as individually for both to emerge strong.Let me get one more idea out of the way too. Cursive is both hard to teach and to learn, but print can be harder.
As the parent, you are the only one to know if the problems you’re having with your child are because of attitude or aptitude.
Some children do better when typing, but before you give in to teaching only typing, read on about my experience.
Cursive takes patience, consistency, and fortitude to teach.
Devices today are suppose to speed up the time we have, but they don’t. They can make both children and adults overly anxious.
They also teach us to instantly master whatever it is that we’re learning.
Teaching and learning cursive rubs opposite of the educational grain being thrown at us today. It’s a slow process and not instant gratification. Parents are left wondering if their child has a special need when in fact they may be developing fine.
How to Rock Teaching Cursive
Look at these tips for teaching cursive from a fresh perspective.
1.) Don’t teach cursive later. Big mistake. I hear it all the time: “I’ll wait until my child is in 3rd grade or 5th grade.”
The best time to teach cursive is soon after he gains control of his fine motor skills. The rule of thumb is about half way through first grade.
One side note is that your child is still malleable and willing to learn cursive the younger he is.
By the time, he is in third grade or later, he may be too embarrassed or not patient enough to learn.
I started each child halfway through first grade and had plenty of time to teach it. Later is not better in this instance. Of course, this means if your child has no developmental issues.
By 3rd grade, my kids had a good handle on cursive and of course I expected them to use it all the way through to high school. And yes, they learned to type along the way.
2.) Don’t teach cursive and composition at the same time.
Direct teaching is very different from practice.
For example, in the beginning while your child is learning cursive don’t make him agonize in how to spell or how to be creative. Just give him the answers and move on while he focuses on the physical part of writing.
3.) Don’t teach composition or cursive back to back in the day.
Whatever you do, don’t do two back to back heavy assignments.
If your child is struggling with both of these skills then space them out in the day.
Do cursive practice work first thing in your day.
Then, switch gears and do other subjects. Add in composition later after your child’s hand has had time to recover.
4.) Strengthening fine motor skills goes beyond practicing cursive.
- Coloring is a great way to naturally strengthen skills. And coloring something worthwhile like science pages or history pages will make learning time productive. Check out the 10 Westward Expansion History Fun Coloring Pages and 20 Ancient Civilization History Coloring Pages.
- Copywork is timeless for teaching beautiful penmanship and again worthy of your child’s learning time. Poems, scriptures, history, or science are straight and clear prose which are practical for copywork. Look at my article, Free History Copywork – A Roundup of History Resources.
- Drawing and writing. Be sure to not criticize, judge, or grade these fun activities. But make sure they do BOTH writing and drawing. My sons wanted to draw a picture first and then the words swelled up from the inside as they viewed their magnificent drawings.
Teaching composition is equally teacher intensive. There are no short cuts. Learning how to express ideas clearly doesn’t just happen. It is modeled by the teacher.
It reminds me of summers I spent with my granny when she was alive. I watched a southerner master cook whip out the most delicious recipes I fondly remember to this day. As I stood beside her, I wrote down her ideas.
I added a few ingredients to her pot under her supervision and then learned to cook delicious meals like her.
Teaching Composition that Goes from Limp to Life
Composition can be the same way. Don’t make it an event where all life goes limp. Make it a time that is memorable for the right reasons. Tears are not a good sign.
Composition starts off as a shared project when your kids are just learning.
You start the “pot”, let them stir it by adding a few key ingredients.
As you model how to write, your kids learn by watching and participating.
Look at these ways to teach composition that are out of the box.
- Take a week and brainstorm topics instead of writing a composition. In order to have your child’s ideas flow abundantly, you take control of the physical act of writing.
- Let your child record his ideas on his phone. Then play them back and write them down. This breaks this hard process down into two steps.
- Have your child use his phone or your phone to take pictures of objects that might interest him. Go on a scavenger hunt. Scrolling back through the pictures is not only fun, but gets your child excited about what to write.
- Also, I would find a funny picture or some other picture that I thought would evoke a strong emotion and muse with one of my sons about what the title should be. How many titles or ideas can your child come up with?
- Make writing a group effort. One activity we did was to have each child write part of the story. This is not only fun, but it takes the pressure off of coming up with the whole story.
- Another thing I did was to write story starters on a strip of paper and have each child draw a topic from a jar. Some kids like the element of surprise and challenge.
- For one son, he loved it when I wrote as he dictated to me. He had beautiful prose, but his handwriting held him back. So I would write as he focused on his thoughts. When I finished the draft, he would copy it. Eventually, his physical dexterity caught up with his creative mind.
Also, there are many writing programs that I have used through the years, but one of my favorite writing programs that not only taught writing well, but gave me support is WriteShop.
WriteShop has a unique way of helping the homeschool parent because it was written by homeschooling moms.
Not only does it have a fun way of helping the littlest budding writer, but it gives you practical tips in how to teach.
A lot of writing programs can assume that you have a professional background as a teacher. I do not.
From the time you open the curriculum and read about setting a realistic schedule and see a visual of one to how to grade upper grade compositions, WriteShop guides you in every step.
Ruts can be valuable to a routine, but they can also hem you in.
Fresh ideas in how to teach cursive and composition need to be nurtured. Try one or two of these ideas above and let me know how it works for you.
What do you do when you need a fresh perspective?
Also, I know you’ll find these other posts super helpful!
- 3 Ways to Choose the BEST Writing Curriculum (for a Growing Homeschool Family)
- How to Rock Creative Writing When Homeschooling (and when you don’t feel like THAT creative mom)
- Cursive Matters; Handwriting Style Doesn’t + Free Resources
Hugs and love ya,