7 brilliant techniques to support handwriting

What does a pig have in common with handwriting practice?

 

I’ve had a few conversations with people recently who have said how their child is struggling with handwriting.
I must admit when my 3 were young I did buy a lot of the pre-school/ early years books that support your child with creating various letter shapes. But they often just sat on the shelf after a few days and were money down the drain.
I bought them because I thought that was the best way to help your child learn to write. I had no other suggestions to hand.
With the benefit of experience as a parent, in educational settings, reading, learning and experimenting(!) I now have many other / better suggestions to offer.
Here are a few of my favourites. I hope there is something amongst them that inspires you too.

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1. Colouring in

There is a huge craze at the moment for adults to take up colouring. It’s relaxing and helps you to unwind.
In addition, it’s also a great way for children to practice the fine motor skills needed to create legible handwriting. (I appreciate for a child with dyslexia or other similar SLD, there is more to it than just improving those fine motor skills).
But colouring is fun. It’s not patronising if presented properly and will no doubt be happily embraced.

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2. Cutting, sewing, threading and popping bubble wrap!

Again, these are great ways to practice/ strengthen the fine motor skills needed to improve your writing skills.
A task I do with a lad I go to (he is dyslexic and autistic so talking and communication are 2 things we often focus on) is:
a) Colour in a range of pictures that all start with the same sound. All the while chatting about what we are colouring and the colours we are using.
b) Colour in a range of pictures that start with the same sound. The labels for the pictures have all been muddled up. Once we have finished colouring the pictures, we cut the words and the pictures out and glue them back down so that the words and pictures relate.
c) Finally, we colour the picture (all starting with the same sound) then write the word (free-hand) next to it.
All of these activities are purely focused on idle chatter, colouring and building confidence. Once we have these in place, we can then move onto putting the words into sentences, etc.

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3. Gloop

I love gloop. Many people don’t love gloop because it’s messy!
Gloop is baking powder and water. It turns to a cold, smooth slime on the bottom of the container you are using. You can then trace the letters/ words into the gloop. The sensory experience is great. Even better, if you make a mistake, the evidence has vanished within seconds and it smooths itself away and becomes smooth again.

I often mention how learning is more productive if we use a range of sensory experiences and activities to help us learn. Each different activity helps us to create a new memory in our mind. This makes it easier for our brain to find this information when needed. (I won’t dwell on this too much as I have mentioned it many times in the past, but if you do want more information on it, please do ask in the comments below).

Therefore, Gloop is amazing because it is tactile and it is, so completely different to using a pen and writing in a text book.

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4. Clay, plasticine and pipe cleaners

These are also fantastic methods of manipulating something so that you are left with a visual and sensory image of the letter/ word that you are trying to create.
It might take some practice to get the letters to look as you wish them to look. Always remember, that learning is more productive if it’s fun. Do these tasks together, enjoy the experience and watch the child’s confidence grow.

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5. Using a variety of resources

Handwriting practice doesn’t need to be done with a pen and paper sat at a desk.
A couple of years back I worked with a couple of lads (both individually and completely unconnected) to improve their handwriting. The weather was nice so we made the most of the situation. Using large paint brushes and water we set about writing words and letters outside on the wall of the house and the patio. The letters could be as big as they liked as they would have evaporated within moments and would leave no last effects.
We also used large scraps of wall paper and chalks and other forms of resources needed to create marks.
Removing ourselves from the confines of the house and into the garden made it so much more enjoyable and memorable. We could “go large” initially to practice the shapes,/ sequence of letters, then as we perfected the skill, we could start to downsize and make the marks more and more precise.

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6. Drawing letter pictures

A final idea that came to me as I’ve been writing this is a suggestion my mum gave to me many years back.
Pictures can easily be made from letters:

pig

This pig has been drawn from a large “O” for the body, a “w” for each leg, an “m” for the ears and an “e” for his tail.
A swan can also be drawn by using 2 “2’s”.
Waves of the ocean can be created by using cursive “w’s” or flying birds can be drawn by adding a beak to an M.
By using the letters to create pictures, it’s far more entertaining than repeatedly writing a letter symbol for the sake of it.

 

Each week I send out an email, offering suggestions to parents on how they can use simple techniques to support their children at home.
If you would like to receive the email, just fill in the box below and let me know and I will happily send it to you as well.

 
Final suggestion that has just occurred to me.
Noughts and Crosses (Tic Tac Toe)!

letters for noughts and crosses
Instead of taking it in turns to draw a nought or a cross in the grid, pick a letter and use that to represent your square instead.
Enjoy the games and let me know how you get on in the comments below.

Enjoy

5 things to consider when choosing a tutor

 

We are all individuals and our reasons for needing a tutor will vary widely.
Regardless of your reasoning for seeking out a tutor, here are 10 points you might want to consider:

1. Where will the lessons take place?

Are you willing to travel to a central location for the lessons or the tutor’s home? There are obvious advantages to this including the tutor will have all their resources on hand to easily adapt the lesson if necessary. However, if you hold a busy schedule and have other children that you would need to take with you to drop your child off, is it easier to try and find a tutor who is able to come to your house.

 

2. What would you expect to pay for a tutor?

The price charged by tutor’s varies widely. Some tutors will charge as little as £10/ hour. These are often online lessons carried out by students. If you travel to a tutoring centre/ a tutor’s home where the tutor is physically present you will expect to pay more. However, the range of resources available will be greater and the because the tutor is present it is often easier to hold the student’s attention. These are often group lessons. Another alternative, is to pay a premium and have the tutor travel to your home so you are relieved of the need to travel and possibly hang around somewhere whilst the lesson takes place. It also means that because the lesson is taking place in your home you are better placed to see what is happening in the lessons.

 

3. Do you want your child to have one to one tutoring?

Very often when children are struggling, they feel unable to ask questions in front of their peers. It’s hard to put your hand up and admit that you don’t understand what is been explained. One to one tutoring offers the child an hour of the tutor’s undivided attention. They can focus purely on what the child needs to find confidence in. They can pay attention to the areas where your child needs to grow. Everything has a consequence and here you would expect to pay slightly more for the lessons.
The advantage of group lessons is that your child will also have support of peer learning.

 

4. How does your child learn best?

When I was young, I used to love reading books, making notes and writing essays. I know for many people this would be their worst nightmare!
When we tutor, we always use a range of activities: games, worksheets, code breaking, discussion, mind maps.
You need to find a tutor that has a similar teaching style to your child’s learning style. We need to acknowledge that we are all individuals and as such we all teach and learn differently. Find a tutor that will embrace your child’s individual needs and requirements.

5. What experience and qualifications do you want your tutor to have?

To some people this won’t be of importance, they will be more concerned with the rapport of the tutor and their ability to pass their knowledge onto their child. I have met very intelligent tutors who have no ability to teach. I’m not a qualified teacher but I have a degree in childcare and education.

I have nearly 20 years of experience working in a huge variety of educational settings, but I’m not a qualified teacher. I have had tutors working for me, freshly out of A’ Levels that have had amazing feedback and I regularly get asked if they are likely to come back. I have tutors whose experience is working one to one with special needs children in a private schools, those whose background is accountancy, business growth, teachers. They are all amazing but without being qualified teachers some people will have their doubts to their abilities.
When I started tutoring, I had my own doubts but it was explained to me that teachers are taught to teach one way. If the child does not grasp this method at school will they grasp it at home?
Another lesson I have learned that reinforces this was when I was at school. My dad was an accountant. He lectured occasionally at the local college to help pay for our family holidays but he wasn’t a teacher. We had been learning solving equations at school and I couldn’t get it. The teacher had gone over it so many times and she was clearly getting fed up with me.
At home that night Dad spent an hour or two going over it with me in his words, using his own techniques, and I got it. It was crystal clear. I still use his explanation when I explain it to people today.

Like I say, we are all different and have our own learning /teaching style. What suits one person will not always suit another.
I hoped this has given you food for thought if you are considering getting a tutor.
If we can be of any further help, please do get in touch here

Learning is Not Just Measurable. It’s Emotional

Starr Tutoring Guest Blog.
Lois Letchford
www.loisletchford.com
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nF-H07Ct7R0
I’ve written a book Reversed: A Memoir mostly my son Nicholas Letchford and his learning journey.

Today his title is Dr. Nicholas Letchford, D.Phil. (Oxf) BSc (Hons) BEng (Hons) (UTas).

 

Indie Author News - Lois Letchford - Reversed A Memoir - NR

But, he was once the “worst child seen in 20 years of teaching.” The school diagnostician branded him with this label…at seven years old.

Nicholas, now thirty, is a confident, delightful, knowledgeable man, and married to an equally wonderful woman, Lakshmi. He talks with passion about mathematics, engineering, and the challenges of the modern world.
It is only when I ask him about his early schooling education that he shut down.
In 1994, Nicholas learning, as a first grader hit rock bottom. He withdrew in class, a place where his teacher shouted at him. He stared into space, which earned him even more shouting, and by the end of the year, he could only read ten words. In hindsight, his teacher destroyed him.
Finally, there was a turning point. In 1995, my husband had study leave in Oxford. Our family joined in, leaving our home in Australia. I decided to teach Nicholas at home. Of course, my initial efforts at teaching regular phonics instruction ended in failure—abject failure. I was no different than his classroom teacher.
It was at this point—the turning point—when my mother-in-law said to me,

“Lois, make learning fun.”

Her words caused me to re-evaluate what I was doing. I began writing poems; simple rhyming poetry which Nicholas and his grandmother then illustrated. My teaching transformed as we investigated simple poems, then expanding to follow more complex ideas, like the changing map of the world. He was beginning to make different connections while appreciating maps and world history. This became our inquiry project. By tapping into Nicholas’s curiosity, immersing him in language and learning, as well as providing meaningful experiences through seeing various museums, artifacts, and libraries, his love of learning grew.
I found a series of books which helped me teach him to decode words: Hear it, See it, Say it, Do it! by Mary Atkinson. The books were brilliant, and Nicholas and I were finally able to connect through the multi-sensory word games.
Nicholas and I enjoyed this learning—both in the short and, amazingly, the long term.
Yet, long-term—like today—still brings up painful memories. I recently asked Nicholas about his early learning experiences and he dissolved into tears.

Twenty three years after his poor schooling, he still could not talk about the pain or the scars left from those years.

When I asked about his reading teacher, he responded with a quick, “I don’t remember her!”
“Nicholas,” I said, “You visited her four days a week, for 30 mins a day…for four years!”
“Ahh,” he said, searching for this memory. “Yes…she was a witch.”
Recalling his early learning from living in Oxford in 1995, Nicholas talked about a growing passion for knowledge, a lifetime love of mapping, and relishing poetry. He remembered some of the poems, the fun he had illustrating, and thinking beyond the poetry. He even remembered that he wrote ingredients for a witches spell!
With this type of education, he became emotionally involved, and this time in our lives determined the trajectory for his future.

So, when we have these young lives in our hands, we know what has to be completed in terms of learning. But how are we doing to do it? What memories are we creating today for our students to recall tomorrow?

Make Spelling Fun!

Learning needs to be an enjoyable past time because it is something that we will inevitably do through out our entire lives!

3 varied games to help your child learn to spell

For some people an ability to spell correctly seems to be instinctive. For others spelling seems to be an uphill struggle.

We can all try and encourage our children to find a love for books and reading but for some parents you might as well just bang your head against a brick wall!

There are other ways to help your child’s confidence boost when it comes to spelling and that’s through playing spelling games with them.
In the following lines / video I will show you 3 of my favourite games that I use as a tutor to help children improve their spellings.

 

Before we get onto that though, I’d like to quickly explain how games can be so important when it comes to helping your child learn.

Firstly, when we need to retain some information there will inevitably be a certain amount of repetition involved. This can be boring and a lot of children will lose interest at this point.
However, if you are able to make the learning activities enjoyable the child will be less resistant. The less resistant the child is the more susceptible they will be to taking and retaining new information.

 

The other benefit of playing games is that through playing a range of games we create a wider variety of memories. That means that when we need to recall the information, our brain has more places to find it. This makes it more likely that we will get the spelling that we need correct.

These 3 games range from taking no preparation, from costing nothing more than a piece of paper and a pen/ pencil to purchasing a truly addictive word game.

I hope they inspire you, I’d love to hear your comments below or for you to share it with a friend if you think they would benefit from the ideas.

Pairs:

make learning fun
This can be played in a few ways depending on the age/ability of your child and the words that you are focusing on.

The first method is to create two sets of cards.
The first set of cards will clearly have the word displayed. For this version it will probably be a noun (person, place or thing).
The second set of cards will have images of the words used in set one.
Lay all the cards face down on the table.
Then take it in turns to pick up two cards. If they are a corresponding picture and word, keep the pair and have another go.
If they don’t match, place them back down and the other person has a turn.
It is the person with the most pairs at the end of the game that is considered the winner.

The other version of the game involves writing the words out in fairly big text. Then cut each word in half.
These will be your playing cards.
Place each of these “cards” face down on the table.
The first person will turn over 2 cards. If they choose a corresponding beginning and end to a word, they win the pair. They then have another go.
If the 2 parts of the word don’t belong together, lay them back on the table and the other person has a go.

Once again, the person with the most pairs at the end is the winner.

 

Rummikub Word

This game is addictive. I was first introduced to Rummikub by my daughter a couple of years ago as a suggestion to take on holiday. By the time we came home I was 100% hooked.
I then discovered the game “Rummikub Word” which is equally addictive!
I can’t show you a picture of the one I own personally as it is so bashed and battered from the amount of use it gets.
The purpose of the game is to create words out of the 14 letters you choose at random. The winner is the first person to use all of their counters. You can manipulate the other persons words by adding or subtracting letters from it to create new words.
This game also seems to be seriously enjoyed by dyslexic learners. The ability to physically move the letters around to create new words seems to make the creation of words considerably easier than when they are fixed to a piece of paper. (I have found many times over the years with various games the ability to move the letters makes spelling words significantly easier).
If you have the ability to buy a game that will support your child with both spelling and vocabulary, I strongly suggest you make it this one.

Funny Pictures

Funny pictures mini

I’ve saved my best to last. I love this game!
Fortunately, the ability to draw well is not a priority. Nothing more than a stick person is really necessary though if you can go slightly beyond that it will help.
In the video I will explain to you how to make the game.

 


The purpose behind Funny Pictures
Once you have drawn your image and stuck it on to a piece of paper you need to think of as many words as you can to describe him.
So, for example for the image above I might state:
Long neck,
Round body,
Stick arms
Knobbly knees, etc
Spiky hair, etc

For older children or more capable children you may make it more challenging. You can do this by writing the letters A to Z down the side of the picture.
The aim is then to think of a word starting with each letter of the alphabet to describe the funny picture.
In this instance you might go:
Angular nose
Big feet
Curved body
Delightfully big eyes

In order to achieve all the letters, the level of the vocabulary you use, really has to go up a level. It will stretch your abilities to think of various adjectives and stretch your vocabulary.

I’ve put together a great course demonstrating 6 more of my favourite games that support spellings including which witch, lily pads and my own take on battleships. You will be able to download an updated version of the book I had published a couple of years ago. The e-book goes into far more depth of the importance of using a range of learning styles, the need to reinforce your child’s learning with praise and how we all learn differently.

If you want more details when they are available, fill in the box below and I’ll keep you posted:

 

 

 

Please don’t forget to share and comment on this blog if you have found the ideas beneficial to you and you think someone else might benefit from them as well.

 

Enjoy

3 simple games to help your child with spelling

A lot of people struggle with spelling for many reasons.

 

3 simple games to help your child with spelling linked in
As a person who struggles to spell, it can be frustrating. As a poor speller it can be even more frustrating….

Below are 3 games which I often play at Starr Tutoring to help children/ adults become more confident with:
Words they regularly spell wrongly
Their weekly spellings
High frequency words
Terminology

I’ve played these games with children who are as young as 5 or 6 right up to 16-year olds sitting their GCSE’s. I’ve also played them with adults. Providing you are willing to accept that learning can be fun, these games will work.

The 3 games I chosen to show you here I’ve chosen because they’re so easy to make and fun to play.

The first game I will share with you to support spellings is:

Battleships

battleships mini
I love this game. I can take about half an hour to play but if your child is learning fairly short words you could make the grid smaller and the game will finish more quickly.
I think every person I have ever played the game with has also found it to be a firm favourite!
To play the game you will need to draw (print) out 2 grids on 2 pieces of paper.
The grids need to be 10 squares by 10 squares.
Miss the first square on the left of the bottom row. On the following squares write the numbers from 1 to 9.
Then in the left-hand column miss the bottom left square. In the squares above it write the letters from A to I.

Watch the following video to learn how to play the game.

 

Make a word search

Make a word search

This game is great.

It not only helps with spellings but can also help with hand writing.
When I first started attending courses on dyslexia it was suggested not to do word searches with dyslexic children. However, over the past six years since I started Starr Tutoring I have used them a lot. I generally find that as long as you keep them appropriate to the age and the ability of the child they will be enjoyed.
In fact, very often the dyslexic children I work with are far better at word searches than non-dyslexics! Coincidence? I don’t know….
There are 2 ways to do this activity.

One:

You create a word search containing the words you are working on and the child endeavours to find them.
If you make the grid approximately 10 squares by 10.
List the hidden words underneath
Write in lower case as these are the symbols your child will be more familiar with when reading.

 

Two:

The second method (and my preferred method) is to print out 2 grids which are 10 squares each.

On a separate sheet have the words that you are focusing on correctly spelt and available for the child to copy from.
Choose between 6 and 10 of these words each and put them into the word search.
One letter per square.
The words can go: forwards, backwards, up, down or diagonally but they must go in a straight line.
As before list the hidden words underneath and fill in all the remaining squares with random letters.
The benefit of this method is that the child must present each letter so that it is possible for the other person to recognise what it says.
They get to focus on each letter and its position in the word as they create the word search and then again as they try to solve it.
For children who do struggle more, you may choose to use a smaller grid and larger squares.

Anagrams

anagrams
This final game will involve a small investment.
I use bananagrams but scrabble letters are pretty much the same thing.
Again, you will need the list of words that you are focusing on to hand.
Both players choose a word but doesn’t tell the other person what that word is.
Find the letters you will need to create that word and give them a shake to muddle them up.
Pass the letters to the other player.
The goal now is to try and work out the word that those letters form. You can either keep the list face up to make the task easier; or cover it to make the game more of a challenge.
This game was suggested to me by a boy I used to work with. It’s been played many times since and everyone seems to enjoy it.

Enjoy

Enjoy the games and I hope you see a difference in your child’s confidence and ability to spell.
As with everything a certain amount of repetition is required. When the repetition comes in the form of a game, most people are generally fairly obliging to participate.

In the coming couple of weeks, I will be putting together a course to help children become more confident at spelling. If you would like more details when it is completed, just drop me a message below.

Enjoy the summer holidays and have fun spending time with your children.

Learning needs to be fun to be effective!

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Over the past 18+ years of working and studying in education I have had a keen interest on learning styles.
The one thing that continually emerges is that learning needs to be both fun and varied.

Why does learning need to be fun?

Human behaviour has evolved over time. When we are suffering from stress or a fear of something the “fight or flight” instinct kicks in.

It can be recognised as your heartbeat racing faster, a tight sensation in your chest. Your senses also become more heightened to what is happening around you.

The reason behind this is because in prehistoric times our ancestors may have found themselves in situations which required a rapid response; such as coming face to face with a wolf, bear or other threat.

They needed to be able to respond quickly so that they stayed alive. Therefore, they instinctively took flight or stayed to fight.

Although we don’t have such threats in the modern world, a fear of something will still create this same response from us.

For a child or anyone who struggles with learning there is a heightened sense of fear when face to face with something unfamiliar to them or something that they have previously struggled with.

As parents or educators, I feel it is our responsibility to remove that sense of fear.

As parents or educators, I feel it is our responsibility to remove that sense of fear. blog insert

 

How can we reduce / remove the sense of fear?

This is quite simple.

We teach through the use of enjoyable resources so that the focus is aimed not only on the end result but also the journey there.

Teach through the use of enjoyable resources so that the focus is aimed not only on the end result but also the journey there. Post insert

The more enjoyable we can make the journey, the less inclined the child will be to want to flee the situation. This is in part why young children are encouraged to learn through play.

Why can’t older children learn like this as well?
The children I work with at Starr Tutoring are aged between 5 and 16 years old. We also work with adults who are returning to education.

We always play a variety of games in our learning such as:

Hangman, creating word searches or playing battleships for learning new terminology or spellings.
These ideas can also be used to stimulate ideas before writing a story, piece of persuasive writing or other piece of extended writing.
Lily pads, snakes and ladders and pairs are frequently used for ideas that need definitions or specific answers (such as in maths).
Drawing pictures to illustrate what a scene in a book describes rather than writing it down.
Annotating pictures of characters with key quotes that they use and the relevance of these quotes.
Use colour and reward every small step that is achieved.

By doing this you are also building confidence in the child that they can succeed.
The more confident the child is feeling the more likely they are to want to participate as the fight or flight mode is removed.

The more they participate the more practice they gain.

More practice means the better they become.

The spiral of success grows and so does the self-fulfilling philosophy of achievement and success.

The spiral of success grows and so does the self-fulfilling philosophy of achievement and success. post insert

Making learning an enjoyable experience, has got to be beneficial. Leaving them inspired and feeling good about themselves will also positively affect them in other areas of their life as well.

If you are looking to support your child with learning their times tables this summer and are keen to make it fun, why not click here and find out more about “The 1 Million Times Tables Challenge”

Or if you want to have weekly emails offering techniques you can use to support your child with their maths or English drop me an email and I will make sure you get them.

Either way, I would love to hear your comments below and please do share this post with the people you care about on Twitter or Facebook.

 

 

 

Homophones and Homographs

More and more emphasis is being put learning different grammatical terms.

Here are two which you’ve possibly heard of, but not sure what the difference is; homophones and homographs.

Here’s what they both mean:

Homophones: words that sound like another word, but has a different spelling and meaning.

Homographs: One of two or more words that have the same spelling but differ in origin, meaning, and sometimes pronunciation.

 

This is a really simple game that I often play in the lessons with children who are learning about these. It also helps with the spelling of these words as you are creating a visual image to associate with each individual spelling.

I bring with me a list of homophones/homographs. The list might include:

 

  1. Witch / which
  2. Hour / our
  3. Bear / bare
  4. Here / hear
  5. Eight / ate
  6. Ant / aunt
  7. Piece / peace
  8. Flour / Flower
  9. Bow / bow
  10. Meet / meat
  11. Four / for
  12. Tail / tale
  13. Berry / bury
  14. See /sea
  15. Knight / night
  16. Knew / new
  17. Sale /sail
  18. Eye/ I
  19. Deer / dear
  20. Write / right / white
  21. Blue/ blew

 

Take it in turns to choose a word from the list.

Don’t tell the other person which word you’ve chosen.

Now cover the list up and try to draw your chosen word.

The other person has to try and guess what the word is that you’re (attempting) drawing.

Once they have correctly guessed, you need to write the word next to your picture, making sure you choose the correct spelling / version.

Some of the words will obviously be easier than others to draw but that just adds to the challenge of the game.

Don’t forget this is a game and games should be fun, so remember; if your child makes a mistake, mistakes happen. Ask them if they’re sure they’ve written the correct word (they’ll normally spot it themselves once pointed out), ask them to change it and move on to the next person’s go.

Most importantly, enjoy sharing the time together.

 

If your child is struggling at school and you are thinking about getting a tutor, we can probably help. Click here to find out more details.