Teaching Handwriting in the Digital Age: Is it Worth it?

by Christy Griffith, TLC Occupational Therapist

In the age of technology with kids texting, clicking, and typing on a computer from a young age, do we really need to continue focusing on teaching good handwriting?  Many schools have decreased their focus on teaching this skill, and many no longer teach cursive letters at all. However, current research shows that handwriting is still a crucial skill and offers great advantages to those children who do practice and master both printing and cursive writing.

Here are some of the top reasons to make sure your child learns to write properly by hand:

It improves their brains. Research has shown that children  who have formal handwriting training learn their letters faster,  have improved language fluency, and  their acquired knowledge becomes more stable. Handwriting training also helps coordinate the right and left sides of the brain, stimulates intelligence, and builds pathways in the brain that improve mental effectiveness. Handwriting engages different brain circuits than keyboarding does. Children who received structured handwriting instruction and practice regularly had brain scans that looked more similar to an adult’s than their peers who did not participate in handwriting instruction.

  • Cursive handwriting is faster. Studies show that cursive handwriting is faster than printing or keyboarding, so allows children to write better. Research has shown that elementary students tend to write more complete sentences, give longer answers, and complete their work more quickly when they use cursive writing. High school and college students can take notes during class lectures faster as well.

  • It improves the memory and understanding of content. Just the physical act of writing something down, whether it is a list, a sticky note to ourselves, or notes in class, improves our ability to remember what we wrote down. And when our handwriting is efficient and effortless, we can focus more on the content of what we are writing rather than the physical act of forming the letters. This comes with lots of practice, which is not always provided in school to the necessary levels.

  • Some things still require handwriting, like taking notes in some classes, exams such as SAT still have essay portions that are completed by hand, some college professors and teachers still require handwritten assignments, tasks such as writing checks, medical prescriptions, quick lists or reminder notes, etc. are usually still completed by hand. Legibility is very important for these types of tasks. Students score higher grades and test scores when teachers can easily read their handwriting.

At TLC, our preschool classrooms offer age appropriate pre-writing activities in fun, multisensory ways to introduce letters, drawing and writing to children. Our teachers utilize the Handwriting Without Tears curriculum as well.  On-site occupational therapists help children learn to write both print and cursive, and improve handwriting delays in children ages 5-12. 

Resources for Parents Looking for Early Education & Childcare

By Cindy Wickham, TLC Educational Services Manager, and Shari Karmen, TLC Therapeutic Services Manager

Choosing a high quality child care program is one of the most important decisions parents will make:

  • 90% of a child’s brain develops between birth and five years of age.

  • Education begins at birth. An infant is born with approximately 100 billion brain cells. If an infant is immersed in an environment that is stimulating, nurturing, and responsive to the baby’s needs, the child’s brain will more closely resemble his pediatrician’s than a newborn’s by the age of three!

Quality care means more than a safe place to sleep:

  • A focus on relationships, including nurturing touch, is essential for a child’s physical development, intellectual development, positive self feelings, developing trust, and developing independence.

  • Bonding (attachment to a caregiver) is essential by the age of two years. Trust cannot develop without bonding, and children who don’t bond by the age of two years, show permanent impairment in their capacity to make human attachments later in life.

  • When touring a child care center, ask yourself: How does it “feel”? Warm and friendly? Do the children look happy? Do the adults seem open to your visitation? Do the adults look happy? Does the environment appear to be clean and sanitary? Ask to see the child care license as well as the accreditation certificate.

 A child’s future success and the choices for care made now are deeply intertwined:

  • High quality preschool programs can boost language and literacy skills.

  • School achievement in the 6th grade directly correlates to a child’s development between 12 and 42 months of age, and an enriched environment ensures 25% more brain connections!

  • Research shows us that learning to read is a lengthy process that begins before children enter formal schooling.

Indicators of high quality childcare centers:

  • Licensed by the Department of Human Services.

  • Accredited by Qualistar or NAEYC with a high rating (4 stars for Qualistar).

  • Highly qualified teachers and staff (degrees in early childhood education).

  • Low adult-to-child ratio (more nurturing adults to meet the needs of each child).

  • Teachers and staff who engage in conversation with children, helping to develop language and vocabulary.

  • A variety of experiences available to children (opportunities to explore, safe outdoor space, fine and gross motor development experiences, etc).

  • A center that gives you, the parent, a sense of warmth, security, and a nurturing environment.

If you have questions about indicators of a quality early childhood education center, TLC staff is happy to answer questions. Comment here, email Cindy Wickham at CWickham@LearningWithTLC.org, or call us at (303)776-7417

 

Learning Letters with Zoo-phonics

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By Amanda Brunning, TLC Preschool Teacher

TLC uses research-based curriculum to teach early literacy skills to all of our students.  Zoo-phonics is one program we use, in conjunction with the Creative Curriculum, the Storybook Journey, and Handwriting Without Tears. Zoo-phonics teaches children language arts with a multi-sensory (sight, sound, movement) integration to engage young learners of all learning styles. 

Zoo-phonics body signals chart

Zoo-phonics body signals chart

To teach letters, Zoo-phonics first has children look at the shape of a letter, then listen to the sound of the letter paired with an animal, a hand movement (called a "body signal"), and the name of the letter.  For example, children learn all about Allie the alligator to learn the letter "A." As a teacher tells students an animal's name, they always include a sound and a movement for the animal.  For example: "Ally the Alligator says /a/,  /a/,  /a/." While saying this, the teacher opens and closes their hand like the mouth of an alligator. 

Allie the alligator puppet and umber the Umbrella Bird from Amanda's TLC preschool classroom

Allie the alligator puppet and umber the Umbrella Bird from Amanda's TLC preschool classroom

Once all the letters are shown, teachers use the animal characters and body signals to help children with beginning spelling and sounding out words.  For example, "cat" can be broken up by sound:  "/c/ Catina cat cleans her face, /a/ Ally alligator open and closes her mouth, /t/ Timmy tiger like to show his strong arms."  The teacher makes each letter sound with the hand movement, then places the sounds together.  To help the children remember the sounds, we use them in different parts of the day.  We make the sounds and do the hand movements as we walk down the hall way. I use it at table work activities and with some of the puppets in my room.  Teachers and parents can create games with the animal characters and their sounds. 

One game that I love to play with the children is similar to Memory, but is a game that gets the kids up and moving around. I place pictures of the animals around the room (normally more than one of the same animal).  Then I make the sound and hand movement and have then find that animal. This is a fun way to engage the children in learning the animals, the letters, and what sounds each letter makes. These lessons help set kids up for success in reading and writing once they enter kindergarten, and are easy to reinforce at home through fun stories and play with the Zoo-phonics characters.

"TLC" Means Excellence for ALL Children

By Greg Ludlow, Vice President of TLC Board of Directors, Finance Committee member

TLC is One of the BEST Childcare & Preschool Centers for All Kids

The Tiny Tim Learning Center was founded many years ago by a dedicated group of parents of children with special needs. My step-daughter, Casey, was one of the early enrollees.  She is 41 today, lives on her own, and is largely self-sufficient, thanks to her involvement with places like Tiny Tim (now called TLC) and the wonderful people who worked there throughout her young life.

Casey in preschool while attending Tiny Tim

When she entered Longmont High School, attending a few classes with typical children was called "mainstreaming."  Today, having children with special needs in a class with typical children is referred to as an "inclusive classroom."  The world is a better place today because of inclusive classrooms like those at TLC, where special kids like Casey aren't locked away from their peers at a young age. This was the driving philosophy behind the founding of Tiny Tim, and remains the mission of Tiny Tim, called TLC, today: Kids with special needs and kids with typical development should learn side-by-side in inclusive classrooms to benefit both the children with special needs, and the children with typical development.

Candidly, TLC has little issue with attracting children with special needs to enroll in its programs. TLC's long-standing reputation as a wonderful early childhood education program for children with special needs is just as well-deserved today as it was when my step-daughter attended. Even though the name has changed from "Tiny Tim" to "TLC," the mission, the standard of care, and the quality of the education and services to families remains the same. Because of TLC's reputation and word-of-mouth referrals, TLC almost always has a wait-list for children with special needs to enroll in its classrooms.

The wait-list stems from TLC's commitment to classroom ratios of 6:4, meaning classrooms are comprised of 60% children with typical development, and 40% children with special needs. This is a research based best-practice ratio to ensure each child receives the maximum attention, care, and service needed to build kindergarten-readiness.

TLC classrooms and teachers help ALL children learn positive behavior, learn critical early-learning concepts, grow up healthy, make friends, and become kindergarten-ready

Despite TLC's ability to prepare EVERY child for success in kindergarten and beyond, enrolling the typical child has proven to be a difficult task for TLC. TLC's most common feedback is that families don't know TLC serves typical kids as well as kids with special needs. This misunderstanding is disappointing, in that TLC can only enroll more children with special-needs when there is a sufficient enrollment of typical kiddos to create the 6:4 ratio in every classroom.

Thus, the recent name change from The Tiny Tim Learning Center to TLC Learning Center. It is the Board of Director's and the staff's hope that the name will decrease the misconception that TLC doesn't serve typical children with the high-quality education they need. TLC absolutely serves typical children with research-based curriculum, outstanding and caring staff, and carefully monitored progress of skill acquisition and development using the Teaching Strategies GOLD assessment portfolios.

Beginning in 2013-2014, TLC teachers switched from paper portfolios to virtual portfolios, so all preschool student achievement and growth data was collected online, making it easy for data to be shared with kindergarten teachers after students graduate from TLC.  The Educational Services Manager, Cindy Wickham, collected data on TLC students for the Board in August, 2014. The data included:  percentage of TLC students leaving for kindergarten who were “kindergarten ready” based on Literacy and Math (achievement), and the number and percentage of students who were meeting or were above the expected growth. This growth data was aggregated by age (3-4 year olds, and pre-kindergarten/4-5 year olds). The growth data was collected in each of the following areas: social-emotional, physical, language, cognitive, literacy, and mathematics. The results are highly indicative of TLC's success in preparing ALL children for success upon entering kindergarten:

Achievement data: Of the eleven students who left TLC at the end of 2014 to enter kindergarten, 94% were “kindergarten-ready” based on math and literacy data collected in GOLD portfolios.

Growth data:  In the 3-4 year old group, the percentage of students meeting or exceeding growth expectations was between 87% (language) and 96% (social emotional). In the 4-5 year old group, the percentage of students meeting or exceeding growth expectations was between 94% (literacy & mathematics) and 100% (cognitive and social-emotional).

These results are especially noteworthy, when one remembers that TLC's classrooms are not 100% typically developing children, but include 40% children with special needs.

Infant & Toddler Care at TLC, and Preschool Open Enrollment

The Board and staff's desire to better share with the community our work with typical children also triggered our interest in launching Infant & Toddler childcare.TLC now provides inclusive, high-quality, Four Star Qualistar Rated Infant & Toddler childcare five days a week to better serve families, and to create a continuum of care for children from birth to five.

This is why I am writing this article. We need your help letting the community know that we serve typical children as well as special needs children, all while maintaining our same mission to provide comprehensive early childhood education and therapeutic services to assist each child in reaching his or her highest potential. Please take a moment and think of parents with newborns or infants and refer them to us, either by calling (303)776-7417 or by emailing Cindy Wickham at CWickham@LearningWithTLC.org.

While TLC is a 501(c)3 non-profit, it operates as a business in order to be able to fulfill our mission. As with any other business, operating at full capacity would allow us to both operate more efficiently and offer more children the opportunity to grow, learn, and become better prepared for entering grade school.

TLC's Impact on My Family

Casey and her brother, Tom

And if I might make it more meaningful by sharing a personal experience, please keep reading.  Cathy and I met and blended our existing families in 1983. She had Casey, and I had two daughters. Shortly thereafter, our son, Tom, announced his pending arrival. Fast forward to Tom's first day of kindergarten at Hygiene Elementary. Cathy was a panic stricken mother-bird when he did not get off the afternoon bus. Tom called her a short time later to say his friend, who was born with a cranial birth defect, was being teased on the bus by some older boys, and Tom was afraid to get off and leave him alone with those boys. So Tom rode the whole way home with his friend.  I have been proud of my son many times in his life, but never more so than that day. He learned to be such a sensitive and caring person in large part by being raised with an older sister with Down syndrome. This is the type of compassionate behavior children with typical development learn in addition to literacy and math skills, by being in classrooms alongside children with special needs.

Don’t you want that same thing for your child, grandchild or just a young neighborhood kid?  That is what an inclusive classroom setting offers, among many other positive learning experiences for typical kids.

Telling the community what we do and who we serve to help us enroll more typical kids helps not only the typical kids, but the special needs kids we can take off our wait list and enroll in a classroom because of the balanced ratios created when typical kids enroll.

Could you help us spread the word?

Casey, Tom, and Tom's wife, Lindsay today