I had been keeping an eye on my six-year old’s writing for a while, but two months ago, I went into full freak-out mode.
It wasn’t his teacher’s intention to worry me or make me want to evaluate him or even do anything differently. In fact, she said his issue was a concern but still fairly normal and that she would just keep an eye on it for now. He has an issue with letter and number reversals–writing his letters and numbers backward–which is a normal phase in language development that pops up occasionally in young childrens’ writing through the beginning of second grade. But instead of one reversal on a full page of paper, my first-grader has at least one on every line. And the red flag was his test on counting from 1-120 on which every single seven and nine were backward and many of his threes and fives. He also wrote all of the teens completely reversed.
In the following example, he wrote four whole words backward (although each letter was the correct direction this time)–in just one sentence! Translation: There were 10 fish in my boat. One fish flopped out of my boat. How many were left?”
As a parent who has been a teacher, my brain jumped to early intervention–getting him evaluated and started with help before he gets behind and discouraged. I went all Crazy Mom–fast forwarding to the boy who gets disenchanted with school and angry at the world because he can’t do what he’s supposed to do, constantly gets in trouble, develops an attitude, drops out of school and can’t get a decent job or girlfriend. Yes, it was premature, but I’ve seen the kids and parents still struggling as seniors in high school. I don’t want that for my sweet, intelligent boy. But I reigned myself in.
First, I looked up dyslexia, and I don’t think that’s what it is; my boy is good with words. He can read and understand what he reads–just slowly. I’m not even sure he has dysgraphia, which is problems processing and expressing words in writing. Then I found a blog by a homeschooling mom, The Homeschool Village, who said almost these exact same things, and she had discovered the book Brain Integration Manual by Dianne Craft in which several exercises are described to help get a person’s sides of the brain and body working together correctly. I decided this was a great place to start, but since the book costs $58 at Craft’s website, I decided to just try the Alphabet Figure 8s. I found more specific information here and a very helpful printout from Dianne Craft herself entitled Smart Kids who Hate to Write.
On a shoulder-width piece of paper, trace a paper plate on either side of the middle of the paper. With a fat crayon, the child should begin in the middle, tracing the circle up and to the left, then sweep back through the middle and trace the circle up and to the right, coming back to stop in the middle. We do the figure eight three times, then trace the letter a on the left side, then three figure eights, then b on the right, working our way through the alphabet. I make sure he doesn’t lean to the left when crossing the midline and keeps his left hand on the paper near his body in the middle, and ensure that he doesn’t rush the figure eights, otherwise it won’t be effective.
This is how the papers from two of his first weeks look (sorry they are sideways):
The jury is still out on how well it is working. It has been about six weeks, and we have been doing it three times a week. His control and posture are much better while doing it, which I suppose is a sign that things are changing. To add to his control, I did it hand-over-hand with him at first, which he hated. But it worked. Then I added pieces of masking tape at choice spots to keep him within about a half an inch on either side of the original line–we called them land mines, which added a bit of fun to the chore. He has also pretended his crayon was a car, an airplane and a train, and has used an actual toy car instead of a crayon, helping him stay interested.
I wanted to use the figure eights specifically to work on my son’s reversals, but crossing the midline will help develop his fine motor skills in his right hand as well. So on my list of things to do are ribbon and airplane figure eights, twirling them in the air in front of us; sitting back-to back and passing a ball with both hands to the person behind you then grabbing it again from the other side like an exercise I used to do with a medicine ball; card games with cards strategically placed so he has to reach across his body; window and mirror cleaning (think wax on, wax off) and more!
The more we do it, the stronger his connection between the two halves of his brain and the stronger his fine motor skills will be, and the more creative I get with it, the more he will enjoy it. If you have other ideas that would work, please let me know in the comments.