When Henry started kindergarten last year, he showed absolutely no interest in handwriting. None. He failed every fine motor screening at his well child checks from the time he was two. At 5, as far as I knew, as far as he would demonstrate to me, he could not even draw a straight, vertical line.
I alternated between freaking out and searching for occupational therapists that accept our insurance, and telling myself it would come in time. I considered not only purchasing Handwriting Without Tears, but taking the full training so I would really know how to implement it. I used all of the tricks in my bag to entice him to develop his writing skills. I listened to advice from people who know less than I do on the matter. I listened hard to the tiny little voice in me that said, “he’s fine. He just needs time.”
On his first day of classes at his homeschool enrichment program, he came home with a paper that he’d written his name on. Not a scribble. Much more than a straight, vertical line. Five letters, that I could read: H-E-N-R-Y. Huh. Little stinker. Apparently he was capable of much more than I even knew.
That fact tormented me for a while. What else does he know that I don’t know he knows? Is he not showing his skills because he’s a perfectionist? Is he bored? And, of course, what have I done wrong? Why will he write for these strangers at school and not for me?
But again, I managed to hear the tiny little voice that said, “he’s fine. You’re fine. Everything will be fine.”
When I asked Henry who had written his name, he said, “I did.” I asked him, “who taught you how to write your name?”He answered, “you did.” Really? Huh.
So although it had been established that he could, in fact, write actual letters on paper, Henry was still loathe to put pen – or crayon, or pen, or paintbrush, or even a finger loaded with paint – to paper. I didn’t push it. I just made materials available and left it be.
Throughout the year he experimented more and more, but it never became his favorite thing to do. And then, one day, it happened. We had a Very Bad Day. It was the kind of day that makes you hang your head as a mother and wonder 1) how could I have produced such a rotten kid and 2) how can I look at these events and bring some growth out of them.
I’ll spare you the details of his transgressions. What’s important to this story is that on this Very Bad Day, Henry had to give up his TV time to write three apology letters.
It was brutal. It was excruciating. It took him a whole hour to write three letters that averaged about 10 words each. And they were pretty much illegible. I was embarrassed as we presented these tortured writings to their recipients. I feared the judgment of my failure as a homeschooling mom to teach my son to write.
I was still in a funk from the events of the Very Bad Day when my husband returned from work. He cheerfully asked Henry, “how was your day?” Henry’s response? “Great! I learned how to write all by myself!”
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
From that time, Henry has become quite the writer. He makes signs, labels pictures, and writes letters. He’s also started drawing pictures, which he’d never really done before.
So there you have it. While no expert I know would ever recommend that the way to encourage a reluctant writer is to force him to write letters of apology, that is, in fact, what worked in our family. Your mileage may vary.