By Nan Jay Barchowsky
Barchowsky Fluent Handwriting
Learn to write for lifelong pleasure and reward. Learn to write logically. Learn to write in a linear manner. Start with basics. Then, progress step-by step to fluent, legible handwriting. What are basics? Capital letters? No. Lowercase letters? No. What then?
Young children should first learn to love writing. Playful activities that focus on good writing habits are the key. Older students and adults can fix problem writing. They too can enjoy writing.
There are two essentials for good handwriting: posture and rhythm. Young children can learn both with playful activities. Posture relates to an appropriate position of the body, especially arms, hands and fingersand to paper position. Posture is critical to handwriting just as it is for any physical activity, playing the piano or kicking a soccer ball. Rhythm evolves from focused, yet relaxed movement.
Start with a sound, logical program that progresses from pre-writing activities to basic letterforms to fluency. Fluency develops from established habits of movement. Barchowsky Fluent Handwriting conforms. It’s italic based, and basic italic letters never change in order to join for a true cursive. BFH (Barchowsky Fluent Handwriting) pre-writing, letter-related patterns conform as well. Strokes start at the tops and move in a manner consistent with letter formations. NO letterform changes from basic to cursive. That’s logic!
If children are taught letters before they have the hand strength to use handwriting tools effectively, they will develop an inefficient, tense, hurtful hold on pens and pencils. Young children are usually eager to please a teacher, and fascinated as they watch grown-ups write. They see the pensive look of a parent while writing a grocery list, or the apparent importance of writing down a phone message. It means that here is another intriguing discovery to be made in the world of grown-ups.
There are many activities that work for good posture and writing tool hold. Some are play, and some may even be chores. Present them as ways children can be helpers for their grown-ups.
Let children imitate writing with free scribbles. A crayon, marker or brush will be held with out tension. When children are introduced to those 66 different characters (56 letters and 10 numerals) before they are ready, they become tense as they try to remember shapes, where each starts, its direction, and how they can do it all so it pleases the teacher/parent. Of course, they tighten their grip in the writing tool. Drawing and painting are great activities because the shapes are just what the child makes to suit himself.
Children often use a fist-like grip, or the thumb dominates the writing. A baby’s thumb is strong, but fine motor tasks are best done with the more sensitive forefinger (I call it the writing finger). Both thumb and fist holds on writing tools are problematic. Later, if students write for extended periods the awkward, tight grip is painful. Don’t let a bad grip become a habit.
RHYTHM & PLAY
Hammering with a wooden mallet or an old metal spoon may test a parent’s patience, but it’s fun for the child and instructive. Children are learning rhythmic movement. Objects will probably be held in a relaxed manner, appropriate to the tool, but differently from the way a pencil should be held. No matter. The hand and fingers will be strengthened. There are so many playful activities that work to develop hand strength and dexterity. Make marks in sand or mud with a stick. Play-Doh is great. Collect tiny objects. Put them in little holes. For small objects children will probably use thumb and forefinger in the same way that they should hold a pencil.
Encourage children to help with household chores. In the kitchen stir a pot, or peel a potato (Use a safe tool, of course!). Movements are rhythmic. Stir while saying, “stir around and around.” Peel while saying, “Peel away, peel away,” or maybe the child will think of a song to accompany a movement.
RHYTHM & PATTERNS
Reinforce rhythm with spoken directions. Children should chant or sing directions with a parent or teacher. Auditory input is a huge advantage to learning first the rhythm, and later the correct movements for letter and numeral formations. The Barchowsky Fluent Handwriting program includes rhythmic exercise patterns that relate directly to the strokes we need to form letters and numerals.
Reinforce patterns, and then letters and words by writing with the eyes closed. Visual distraction is shut out. Students begin to understand that they write from mind to arm to hand to fingers, and the eyes can only review the trace made by the pencil. It’s fun too! Children often squeal with surprise at what they write.
It is difficult to state an age at which letters should enter the picture. Every individual develops different skills at different stages. “Picture” is an apt wordallow for all the drawing and painting children want to do. Perhaps introduce a letter, and let them illustrate it with whatever that letter means to them.
From our adult perspective, we tend to think of capitals as the simplest letters, and often introduce them to our children first. I am not sure why. Logically, lowercase letters should be taught first. They are the ones we use most. Look at this page and you will see only a few capitals. Lowercase letters are easier to write. Historically that is why they evolved from their parent capitals. Pick up your pen and write a print-script A, E and H. Now write a, e and h. The first three should have three or four strokes per letter. Using the usual handwritten, “one-level” a the second group should have one stroke per letter. In addition, lowercase letters can, and should have more inherent flow. (BFH lowercase letters are designed with more flow than other print-script models.)
The BFH, or Barchowsky Fluent Handwriting program organizes lowercase letters in groups according to consistent movement of strokes. All vowels except i move counterclockwise, so short words with strokes moving in the same direction can be taught more easily. That said, the program is flexible so you can introduce letters in the more usual abc-xyz way if you prefer. Capital letters have less similar movement, so BFH sticks with the traditional arrangement.
Adults who learned an italic method have consistently legible, yet individual handwriting, even at speed. Students freely develop age-appropriate fluencyspeed with no sacrifice of clarity. Spare them the disruptive retraining of fine motor habits of movement from the first-learned print, to the later requirement to switch to conventional cursive. Successful handwriting is automatic. Automaticity cannot exist if one has to pause to remember how to form a letter or group of letters.
Children form early habits of moving from top-to-bottom and left-to-right for basic letters. Because the BFH letters never change shape or formation, there is no need to relearn letters to make them join, as with conventional cursive. So many handwriting problems stem from the attempt to teach children new fine motor habits for lowercase letters change shape, starting points and direction. It is not easy to change habits. It is not logical.
OLDER STUDENTS & ADULTS
Many adults revert back to the print-script they first learned. They incorporate fluency with the addition of some joining between letters. The result can be a very satisfactory handwriting, legible, individual and fast. Others are not so lucky. It’s necessary to realize that poor handwriting is seldom the individual’s fault; rather it is the way he or she was taught (or not taught). Understand how handwriting works, and how to fix problems, and the relearning need not be daunting.
Older students with handwriting difficulties are clearly less advantaged than young ones who learn to write in a linear manner from the get-go. Students of about eleven years through adulthood must backtrack, rethink and undo habits that cause problems.
Most often pen or pencil hold needs attention. It is easiest to learn to relax one’s hold if practice sessions are short and frequent. For older students hand strength is seldom a problem; it’s just poor habits that become ingrained over time. Posture is important when practicing. You may often need to write while standing or balancing a pad on your knee, but practice works best at a desk or table with paper placed correctly for your right or left hand.
The BFH rhythm patterns work well for older students. They should be part of most practice sessions. Patterns present no need to think about specific letter formations. Meanwhile the rhythmic patterns directly affect consistent size, shape, slant of letters, and spacing. One progresses from patterns to separate letters, and then to truly fluent handwriting.
If practicing alone chant the actions you are making, such as, “down and down and… ;” you might feel self-conscious talking to yourself in a crowd! Play music that has an even beat at a pace compatible with your own writing speed. And, write with your eyes closed. It helps to focus on the feel of pen on paper and the movements you are making.
For young and older children, and for adults, the procedure is similar. It’s a linear, logical process, using posture (of course that includes a good hold on the writing tool and comfortable placement of paper) and rhythm to an end goal of fluent handwriting that’s useful, rewarding, and to be enjoyed for a lifetime.