On Writing and Drawing

February 23, 2014

I noticed that Robert’s most important advantage of being taught many, so-called, academic skills, was that he was simultaneously learning something else, something more basic, and thus much more difficult to teach.
For instance, when I was teaching Robert to add numbers with regrouping the most important benefit was that he was exercising and improving (?) his working memory.
When I was teaching Robert the meaning of words: “south, north”, it was to help him learn such basic words like “up” and “down”.. While teaching Robert to print and, later, to write in cursive I was aware that he was simultaneously appropriating concepts related to the basic shapes and directions. While “typical” learners might use those very basic skills to learn more advanced concepts, for my son, the opposite was true. It is a process of learning/teaching a rebours. Most of the typically developing youngster use what they know and/or what they see in the picture to draw a similar one. Robert is copying pictures as a way to SEE them, to notice important characteristics.

This morning, Robert wrote a check to pay for his ski lesson. He printed all the letters including those in his signature. In the evening, he practiced writing capital letters in a simplified cursive as they were presented in Handwriting without Tears. Later, he wrote summary of his winter vacation activities using cursive. Every time he had to use a capital letter, he consulted with the page, he had just finished. It seemed such a great achievement and yet…..
Copying simple drawing is still a huge problem for Robert. The proportions and the angles are very challenging for him. Not once, I asked myself, “How it can be that Robert can write relatively well but is unable to complete a simple drawing even when he has a model in front of him?” He might have a sequence of steps needed to complete the picture, but the end result is a far cry from the “original” drawing.
To teach Robert to print letters, his private school and I used Sensible Pencil program. It seemed to match exactly Robert’s needs: his difficulties with slant segments, difficulties stopping at the corners resulting in curves instead of verticies, and a few other issues. A couple of years later, he completed two volumes of Write from the Start by Ion Teodorescu and Lois M. Addy. Drawing curvy lines, sharply connected segments inside and outside of other shapes seemed to be a good way to address some of the problems Robert had with copying drawing and at the same time preparing him for cursive writing. I suspect that there were many additional benefits of that skill like improving eye-hand coordination, learning to plan and execute movements…
Except, I did not plan on teaching Robert cursive at all. It seemed to be unnecessary skill. He could print letters and he could type them too. So what would be the point of cursive? Moreover, I simply didn’t like American cursive. It was so different from printed letters. No wonder the whole year of practice was devoted to cursive at schools. I was never taught to print. I learned cursive from the start. Except it was a very simple one. Just like the one I found in Handwriting without Tears
For the reason I don’t understand, at some point, Robert’s writing became very messy. His printed letters were written too fast, with too light a pressure placed on the pencil. They were both messy and hardly visible. Sizes and shapes fluctuated in almost every word. Robert simply didn’t pay attention and didn’t care.
Instead of reteaching Robert the same skill, I decided to teach him cursive. In a simple, straight manner. No slant writing!
As Robert was slowly learning simplified cursive, his printing also got better.
But not his drawing.
In the past, Robert used many books for young kids to learn to draw animals by following three to six steps. I don’t think however, he internalized those steps. Besides, the goal was not to learn (YET) to draw a specific animal, but to learn to copy the lines, reproduce angles, got an idea about proportion. For the last couple weeks Robert has been drawing people with the help of I Can Draw People by Ray Gibson and Amanda Barlow. Robert draws one part of the picture a day (one person or one object), after he finishes the whole picture, he colors it, shows it to his dad and then they proudly attaches it to the refrigerator. So far, he completed three pictures – a soccer game scene, ocean diving scene, and skiing scene. And he is still drawing.
Well, copying.