Thursday, October 31

New American Cursive & Dysgraphia {Review}

One of our sons has dyspraxia –he has : dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, and oral-motor weakness.  Every day is a challenge for him to complete even the simplest tasks...  

When we were given the opportunity to review The New American Cursive Penmanship Program, I was excited to give it a go – we had been told that it might be easier to teach him cursive than print…now was our chance to find out!

A little background
Most of us know what dyslexia is, but dysgraphia means difficulty with handwriting.  There are several different kinds of dysgraphia.  Some people with dysgraphia have handwriting that is often illegible and shows irregular and inconsistent letter formations.  Writing requires inordinate amounts of energy, stamina and time.

According to research, students with dyslexia have difficulty learning to read because their brains associate sounds and letter combinations inefficiently.  Cursive writing can help them with the decoding process because it integrates hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills, and other brain and memory functions.

Research also indicates that cursive writing has advantages for children with dysgraphia because it eliminates the necessity of picking up a pencil and deciding where to replace it after each letter.  Cursive writing can help them with the decoding process because it integrates hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills, and other brain and memory functions.  Cursive also has very few reversible letters
The program
We received Book 1, for beginners, and it has a teaching guide at the front that was followed by 68 instruction and exercise lessons.  There are illustrations and exercises for letter connections, and practice sheets for extra practice.  Every few lessons, there is a “Fun Exercises & Artwork” lesson that allows the child to take a break from daily work and have some fun reviewing previous material.  I like that the books are in black and white with a few drawings, but are not cluttered and detracting from the lessons.

The company also has a mascot, Mr. Meerkat, who teaches the way to draw each letter.  He’s cute, and brings a light-hearted element of fun to an otherwise boring subject.  In fact, my son was so enthralled by Mr. Meerkat that we had to go to the zoo and learn about meerkats!

The lessons are broken down into three steps :  the say the letter, feel the letter, and then write the letter.  “Feeling the letter” means writing them in the air or on the table with your finger.  Our therapist recommended that he write them in shaving cream, but that went over like a lead balloon…no ickiness for him!  They learn both the upper and lower case letters together, and after three or four letters, they have a page where they practice linking them all together.  We practiced our cursive daily, and continue to do so.
Our thoughts
My son was very excited to try out this program – he wanted to write cursive like big brother. However with limited teacher instruction on the formation of letter he has yet to find much success.  We are continuing to plug away at this program because he is making tiny baby steps of improvement, and as any parents of a special needs child knows, tiny steps are HUGE steps!  

It has been frustrating, but I cannot think that any other program would be much better.  It is just the nature of the beast.  If you have a child with dysgraphia, this is a program that helps with improvement, both in skills and confidence.  He may be frustrated, but I can see his confidence slowly growing as he makes those loops…..they don’t resemble letters at the moment, but I promise to come back one day with a sample of his writing and proudly show it off!
Positive Points
  • Simplified font is designed for beginners
  • Only takes 15-20 minutes each day to practice cursive
  • Slant is good for left-handers (not just right-handers) and very simplified
  • Black and white pages aren’t cluttered with graphics – easy to focus
  • Fun Exercises & Artwork pages provide a break from the daily drudgery (every couple of days) and much-needed extra practice
Negative Points
  • Very little instruction for teachers (there is a teaching guide, but it is sparse) – needs more background on formation of letters
  • Letters taught in alphabetical order – grouping them by stroke style might be a bit easier for learners
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