Category Archives: successful kids

Dysgraphia – when a pencil becomes an enemy

broken pencil

Kyle is in first grade and sitting in his Friday morning spelling test; a test he knows he is about to fail.  It’s not that he hasn’t studied the words for this week because he can spell them forward, and if his teacher asked, backward as well.  His pencil sweats in his hand because he’s trying to make it spell out the word ‘circle’ and his hand won’t cooperate.  Of course, he doesn’t know that other children around him aren’t having the same problem—their pencils are scratching along on their papers while his sits paralyzed.  Now he’s just feeling stupid again.  When the test ends, Kyle has only a few letters on the page but no whole words.  This isn’t a spelling problem; it’s dysgraphia.

Dysgraphia means a dysfunction in the ability to write or recognize graphemes, which translates to mean, any written material.   Dysgraphia is a lesser form of the more serious disorder called Agraphia, where the person is totally unable to write, hold a pencil or copy even a simple line.

Although the cause of Dysgraphia is still not know, just by correctly identifying it and then introducing therapeutic measures and accommodations, a child can function very well in the class.   Studies show that there is a slight decrease in this problem around puberty.  One interesting fact is that more than 75% of children with dysgraphia are male. (A percentage that stays fairly constant when studying ADD, speech and language problems and stuttering.)

Many students with or without this disorder struggle with producing neat writing that concisely expresses thought.  So why is there such an emphasis on writing?  There are very good reasons why writing is such an important part of any academic program: It helps with memory, thought and concept organization, and visual processing as well as fine motor coordination.  The act of writing engages a part of the brain that helps absorb and solidify the material being written.  Writing takes the child from being a passive listening to an active learner.   Unfortunately, the child who struggles with dysgraphia may laboriously complete the assignments but not have learned anything about the content of what he wrote.

Some of the signs of Dysgraphia are:

  • Overall illegible writing, even when the child gave it his best effort
  • Inconsistent mixtures of upper and lower case letters, printing and cursive, irregular size and shape of letters and the slant may change within the same line
  • Unfinished words or letters or whole words are left out of a sentence
  • Inconsistent spacing between words and letters
  • Unusual position of the writing on the page.  They may not use the lines or the margins correctly
  • Using a cramped or unusual grip on the pencil, such as, holding it too close to the paper or using odd finger holds that make him write from the wrist
  • Strange paper, body or wrist positioning
  • Talking to himself while writing
  • Watches his hand while he writes, almost like he has no feedback as to what it’s producing unless he can see it
  • Slow or labored copying or writing
  • The content in the finished project is not equal to the higher ability of the child’s language

What should you do if your child has dysgraphia?

            School Accommodations:

  • Allow more time for written tasks which includes note-taking, copying and tests.  Allow a classmate to be a ‘note-taker’ or allow a tape recorder.  Give large projects to the child earlier than the rest of the class to allow time to complete them.
  • Encourage good keyboarding skills to increase speed and legibility.
  • Teach your child to prepare his assignment papers ahead of time with his name and numbering already in place so that he won’t be stuck concentrating on writing his name when the teachers is ahead of him dictating words.
  • Have the teacher provide an outline for your child on which he can take notes or a math paper with the problems already written down.  This reduces the need to take down the full set of information first.
  • Allow oral testing or allow your child to dictate to a ‘scribe’ what he wanted to write.
  • Remove neatness or spelling as a part of your child’s grading criteria.
  • Allow abbreviations or shorthand in you child’s work and have your child develop a list of these that he can keep in his notebook and refer to during writing assignments.
  • Have the teacher provide a ‘model’ of the finished product that your child may keep in a binder.  This allows him to have a working template so he’s not re-inventing each assignment from scratch.
  • Allow the child to use cursive or manuscript skills, whichever one is easier.  (Cursive is often easier to manage because once the motor flow starts, it can trigger the rest of the word.)
  • Allow colored paper or colored ink if it helps your child see the paper easier.   Try using different pencils, pens and pencil grips.
  • Word processing is a solution for many children. Teach the use of ‘spell-check’ as early as possible.

Remember, Dysgraphia, doesn’t put an end to your child’s ability to learn, to achieve great things or to believe in himself.  With the correct identification, treatment and accommodations, your child can also have the ‘write’ stuff!

<!– HTML Credit Code for Can Stock Photo–>

<a href=””>(c) Can Stock Photo</a>

Is too much praise ruining your child’s success?

girl with a trophy

Let’s lay out a scenario. You decide as a parent that you will build your child’s self-esteem, no matter what, because they will need great self-esteem to stand up for themselves and to succeed in this oft-times challenging world.

From the moment your child starts walking and talking, you let them know they are winners! “You were the best today in karate” even though they may be the child that is behind on all of the moves. “I don’t know what the dance teacher was talking about; you danced better than the other girls.”  Your child’s confidence grows and they believe you…they are the best in the activities they get involved in. They are the smartest in preschool and then in elementary school. Life is good!

Then a strange thing happens. As soon as new activities get hard, your child won’t step up to the challenge. They bulk and choose the simple road, choosing an easy activity or a sport they have always played over a harder one or something new. They read simple books instead of trying a story that is at their grade level. They don’t “like” games or activities that are hard or challenging, calling these things “boring.” They seem to be playing it safe.

What in the world happened to the winning spirit you have infused in this child?

In the book Mindset, (2008 by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D.), she explains in simple terms what has happened.

She talks about two mindsets that we can have. The first is called a Fixed Mindset. In this one, we believe (even as young children) that our talents or our traits are set. That our talents don’t change. We are successful because people have told us we are successful and we seem to have a few talents we just were born with.  We become caught up in success and failure situations to validate ourselves. Working harder wouldn’t matter to us since we believe that our talents are not developed. We are just lucky enough to have them.

The second mindset is called Growth Mindset. In this mindset the individual is focused on stretching him or herself to learn something new, to improve. Effort is a good thing. There is no judgment after each activity of success or failure; just an assessment of what could be done next to improve upon the last results.

Numerous studies in Dr. Dweck’s book looked at children and adolescents who were given the same task, but they were praised differently.  An experiment was done with answering questions. One part of the group was praised for being smart and getting a ceratin number of problems right and the second group was praised for their effort and how hard they had worked on the problems. When the examiners offered harder, more challenging problems to the same participants, the “smart” group refused to do any more problems for fear harder questions would make them seem less smart – a failure in their eyes. 90% of the “effort” group asked for as many new problems as possible because they thrive on learning how to get better, on earning their successes. One more astonishing fact came from this study. The children were all asked to write down their scores for other school students to see what it would be like to go through the 10 questions they had just completed. 40% of the group that were praised for their ability, and not their effort, lied about the scores they achieved, because in the Fixed Mindset, imperfections are shameful.

So, with those two mindsets established, how are we to praise our children without driving them into the Fixed Mindset group? How do we get them to stop thinking in the black and white terms of “I have to win or be the best otherwise I have lost?” How do we shift to a Growth Mindset?

  • Children know when they are being falsely praised. Sure, they will take the praise and run with it but, in the end it’s hollow.
  • Start thinking of how you as a parent can change your statements to reward effort. Let your child hear you talking about how other people tried and failed and then succeeded, not because they were smart, but because they worked hard to change, improve and to stretch themselves.
  • Begin praising the effort in your child’s day, whether emotional effort, (“I know that was a hard thing to do but your apology was very good.”) or physical effort (“When you went after that ball today in the game, that was great hustle. Soon, you’ll be able to catch that player.”)
  • Make your statements to your child non-judgmental. Don’t give opinions about their traits or talents but instead, talk about their development and how exciting that is.
  • Don’t label your children! “This one is the artist and this one is our runner.” Try, “He really worked hard on a drawing yesterday. You should see how much he has improved.” Or “She has been really working to improve her running times and it’s really paying off.”
  • Teach children that there are tiny steps in reaching a goal. Things don’t just happen. Lay out each stage your child will need to accomplish in order to achieve something hard that they want and then reward every little step in that direction.
  • A mindset can be changed – yours and your child’s.

No parent sets out to undermine a child’s skills or to create a child who is afraid to attempt anything hard because it knocks them off their safe pedestal of always being the smart one or the fast one. But when we continue to praise ability, and not effort, we fall into the Fixed Mindset and our children will follow along with us.  We are all capable of reaching for a Growth Mindset; it just takes, well, it takes some effort!




Handwriting: a lost art?

pen writing

In our grandmother’s day, writing was one of the major 3 R’s, along with Reading and Arithmetic. (yes, arithmetic was counted as an R word…) Writing was considered a basic skill that all children needed to learn. Lessons were rigidly taught with endless drills.

Today with so many budgetary cuts, National Core Standards continue to chop away at handwriting in the schools, leaving millions of children with sub-standard handwriting when it comes to legibility and function. Other concerned groups point their fingers at the computer and key boarding skills as eroding the need for handwriting. And don’t get me started on texting, which eliminates the need to touch a pencil at all!

Bea Johnson, a national expert on childhood development states, “What happens to the child who is not allowed to write?  The latest research about the development of intelligence leads us to believe this is dangerous ground.  Windows of opportunity that only open once might be missed and potential for learning, lost forever.”

The problem with a lessened focus on handwriting or penmanship, started long ago. From the 1900 to the 1940’s, handwriting required that a teacher be trained in that field, and like a drill sergeant, she taught posture and pencil position right along with letter formation. Left-handed children were made to write with their right hands. We ruined a lot of kids.

From the 1950’s to the 1970’s, two accepted ways of handwriting came out that made everyone confused. Should schools adopt the Zoner-Bloser method (ball and stick) or The D’Nealian method (slanted with flares on each letter)? And to further compound the issue, in the 1970’s the Whole Language approach to learning was introduced. That approach said, we don’t care HOW they write as long as the CONTENT is good.

In the 1980’s handwriting woes became the number one referral to OT’s in the schools. At present day, teachers work hard to fit handwriting into the busy curriculum, but as a parent you can also help to child as he learns to form the letters.  Good letter formation fosters a tremendous sense of accomplishment when another person can read a child’s writing.

Take it from someone who was plagued her whole childhood with atrocious handwriting that there’s more to sloppy handwriting then just a bad habit. Writing is an extremely difficult skill for children to master. It involves a process that requires both mental and physical cooperation to be able to channel one’s thoughts onto paper.

First, it’s important to know that there is more to handwriting than picking up a pencil, placing it on the page and pushing it around. There are at least seven necessary components in any handwriting experience. They are:

  1. Memory: does your child recall hoe each letter is formed? Does he have to sit and think for long periods how the letter should look before he writes it?
  2. Orientation of the letter: Do any of the letters get reversed? The ‘d’ is often the letter that is most often reversed because it occurs more often than the ‘b’, ‘p’, or ‘q’.
  3. Placement on the line: Does your child’s letter float above the line or sink below it?
  4. Size of the letters: As a child gets older, the size of the letters should shrink. If your child is in second grade and the letters are still the bigger size of a Kindergartener’s, this would be an area to practice.
  5. Sequence: Does your child start writing the letters at the top of the letter? All capital letters are properly written by starting at the top and lower case either start in the middle like on an ‘e’ or at the top. No letters are written from the bottom up!
  6. Control: Does your child have a smooth formation to each letter or is there jerkiness?
  7. Spacing: Is there enough spacing between letters so that they don’t touch each other? Is there enough spacing between words so it is obvious where one starts and the next begins?

Now that you know the technicalities, there are plenty of things to do to help your child develop good handwriting skills. Handwriting Without Tears offers a whole line of curriculum and handwriting products that are meant to be fun and game oriented ways to practice writing. They offer everything from workbooks and guides, to special paper, to great hands-on materials for your learner.

Early skills involve crafts like lacing macaroni noodles onto yarn or thread, which works on the bilateral hand motions needed to learn how to write well.

Allowing your kids to trace shapes in sand or make forms and letters in play dough is another good way to get the fingers ready for holding a pen or pencil correctly. Sand tracing or play dough gives students an opportunity to practice their spelling as well.

Break chalk or crayons into smaller, more manageable pieces. This allows children to practice writing with their fingertips without having to hold the whole pencil just yet. You can even let your little ones play with finger puppets to help those fingers get working.

  • Trace in mazes or connects dots to learn the feel of going in all directions.
  • Teach upper case first since those are mostly straight lines. Then lower case, then numbers.
  • Write on dry-erase boards to get arm movement going, instead of just hand movement.
  • Color within the lines.
  •  For the older writer, allow your student to practice on a vertical easel. This is good for wrist and finger movement and dry erase markers can be a blast.
  • For too much pencil pressure, practice writing on a balloon. For too little pressure, shorten the pencil.
  • Draw a picture of a pencil with a cowboy hat to remind the child to start at the top of each letter.
  • Use Wiki Sticks to form the letters on paper. This is good for memory of each letter.
  • For a two player game, have kids try guessing what letter another child is tracing on their back. This is a fun and social way to get kids to practice their letters.
  • Also, make sure you invest in lots of fun writing options. Rainbow markers, disappearing ink, and magic colors are all types of writing utensils on the market that make the task of fun!

Other writing resources: (Handwriting Without Tears)

I’ll take the rose-colored glasses, please!

glassesI’ll take the rose-colored glasses, please.

I got glasses when I was really little, somewhere around 2 years old. No need to wait to see if I could read from the blackboard in school, apparently I couldn’t see five inches in front of my face. I ping-ponged off walls, completely missed some of the steps on the stairs, and stared off to the side of any speaker’s face, blissfully happy in my blurry world.

Then BLAM! I got glasses.

When people are fitted for hearing aids, we tell them to only wear them for a few hours a day, building up to a full day of usage trying to prevent over-stimulation to the auditory cortex.

Well, my new, pink glasses with their embedded silver sparkles were strapped on my tiny noggin and I wore them every waking minute. I had no idea that things had specific shapes, that the dog had individual pieces of hair or that a coloring book had a purpose. The saying, ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’ was so true.

I still have that first pair of glasses, but thank goodness contacts were invented.

Visual processing problems present themselves in the same way. A child who sees the words turn wavy on the line, or the text disappears altogether, doesn’t know that this is not the norm. I tested a girl who threw up almost everyday at school.  She had been to doctor after doctor, including psychologists and psychiatrists, and all that had been decided was that school made her very anxious.  She started taking the medications to reduce stress, so then when she threw up each day, because that didn’t stop, she wasn’t as upset about it.

I diagnosed her with the Irlen Syndrome (previously called Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome), a condition within the sight regions of the brain that make reading more difficult and causes fatigue. Words can move on the page, and in this girl’s case, her page spun. It becomes hard for a person with the Irlen Syndrome to shift gaze from different surfaces, for example, from a book to a notebook or from blackboard to paper, without losing their place.  It can cause headaches, fatigue and anxiety if not treated.  Many people with it report lower energy levels, decreased motivation or depression.

When this girl was asked why she never said anything about the page spinning, she said, “Because that’s what it always does.  The other kid’s pages look like they are moving, too. I just thought they were tougher than I was.”

The solution was placing Irlen colored overlays over the printed material to make it calm down and stay still.

Helen Irlen, a reading specialist in Long Beach, CA, discovered the Irlen Syndrome while working on her dissertation. Now with over fifty different research studies world-wide, the Irlen Syndrome has been proven to interfere with reading, writing, focused attention and to cause stress and fatigue in visual activities. The research can be viewed at

The symptoms of the Irlen syndrome can look like other problems, in particular ADD or ADHD.  If the words are moving on the page, a child is not going to spend a lot of time reading or trying to read.  Some of the common symptoms of the syndrome are:

A child may skip words or lines, misread words, repeat or reread lines, demonstrate slow, choppy reading, need lots of breaks, rub their eyes, complain of tiredness or eye strain, fall asleep while reading, experience headaches or dizziness from visual activities, have a hard time comprehending or remembering what they’ve just read, become bothered by bright lights or read from the page with it turned at an odd angle.

The Irlen syndrome affects 15% of the general population but in struggling readers, it is 46%.  There is a strong genetic component and we often find that several children in a family can have it but at varying degrees of severity.

The Irlen syndrome has baffled educators and scientists in the past.  It seemed too easy a solution to throw some colored sheets over the page and then a child started reading.  It still remains undetected by standard educational or medical tests.

Understanding that the Irlen syndrome may be a piece of the puzzle in a child’s academic struggles is the first step. Asking the right questions is the second.  The next time your child balks at sitting down to read, instead of asking him why he won’t read, you should ask him, ‘What happens when you look at the page?

I’ll bet if my parent’s had asked me, “Can you take your doll to daddy?’ I would have said, “Which blurry thing is daddy?”

(reprinted with permission from Karla’s blog, The Learning

What is my child’s learning style?

detectiveIdentifying how your child learns!

Everyone has their own unique learning style. Some people learn best by seeing or reading, others by listening, and still others by doing something with their hands. You can help your child by identifying his or her primary learning style: Is your child a visual learner, an auditory learner, or a kinesthetic (hands-on) learner?

Visual Learners:   Learn by seeing or reading

  • Do well when material is presented and tested visually, not verbally
  • Benefit from written notes and directions, diagrams, charts, maps, and pictures
  • Often love to draw, read, and write; are good spellers and organizer

Auditory Learners:    Learn by listening

  • Do well in lecture-based learning environments and on oral reports and tests
  • Benefit from classroom discussions, spoken directions, study groups
  • Often love music, languages, and being on stage

Kinesthetic Learners:   Learn by doing and moving

  • Do well when they can move, touch, explore, and create in order to learn
  • Benefit from hands-on activities, lab classes, props, skits, and field trips
  • Often love sports, drama, dance, martial arts, and arts and crafts

What you will find is that although your child may have attributes in each column, there should be a predominant style that has more checks than the others. Once you have a general idea of what kind of learner your child is, share this knowledge with adults who will interact with your child.  But just realize that even though others are aware, it’s still important to utilize additional ideas to enhance the child’s learning time.

Helpful tips for visual learners:

  • Teach them to take detailed notes. Use highlighters and colored pencils to underline different areas or to organize material into categories. For example, red is for verbs, yellow for articles and blue is for adjectives when learning the parts of grammar.
  • Learn to make outlines, diagrams, and lists. Create a pre-typed document that allows for this type of listing skill so your child just needs to fill in the high points he hears.
  • Use drawings and illustrations, preferably in color and the more detailed the better.

Helpful tips for auditory learners:

  • Use a recording device to tape lectures that can be used later to review notes.
  • Teach him to read his notes or to study the materials aloud
  • Memorize by using verbal repetition.
  • Study with other students, talk things through, have him teach a brother or a sister the material to ensure he has learned it
  • Provide oral testing as an option
  • Follow along with Books on Tape

Learning tips for hands-on learners:

  • Teach by doing experiments, looking things up on the internet, doing activities that teach the same material but where the child can interact with it by doing something.
  • Take field trips, collect items, explore similar topics to help show the correlation with the new material
  • Use activity-based study tools, like role-playing or building models, designing
  • Use memory games, computer activities and materials that can be held and manipulated or used in a shared experience
  • Study with music on in the background or allow TV with a familiar program playing as random backdrop noise.

Other considerations

  • Even though your child may struggle in one area of learning, they may excel in another. Pay attention to your child’s interests and passions. Helping them develop their passions and strengths which can help them with their areas of difficulty.
  • Children can be shown their strengths, weaknesses and special talents which will help with their self-confidence in knowing that they are not “dumb” just because they learn a bit differently than others in the classroom. Appearing dumb is a child’s number one fear in school!
  • The ability to set realistic goals is important. Being flexible in adjusting the goals is also important. Help your child identify a few short- or long-term goals and write down steps and a timeline to achieve the goals. Check in periodically to check progress or to mark off an item.
  • And because children do not want to appear different than their peers, they often have a very hard time asking for help. Talk to them about a few successful people, about how they must have asked for help when they needed it and how they used others for support.
  • Completing homework can be a frustrating time no matter what your child’s learning style. Start by showing an interest in your child’s homework. If they know you are interested, they will take more pride in it. Teach/help your child to organize his homework materials before beginning and establish a regular time with your child to do the work
  • Discovering your child’s learning style will open up the discussion for ways to learn ideas faster and better, without the anxiety that something is wrong with them.

Helping Children Succeed—it does take a village!


Success, which is just another word for triumph and victory, can be elusive for many children. Humans are meant to accomplish things, and with that accomplishment comes a healthy self-esteem. But what can we do for the child who has not been successful yet? The child who is shy or sad?

Childhood success has been a hot topic over the last twenty years and researchers and psychologists have learned many things. Just a few of them are:

  1.       The more love, support, and adult contacts a child has, the more likely it is he will grow up with a good image of himself
  2.       Children need to be valued by their community and have opportunities  to help others in that community
  3.       Children need clear, consistent boundaries and high expectations. When you lower the bar for your child, they will reach that goal every time!
  4.       Young people need constructive, enriching opportunities with caring adults
  5.       Behavior (good or bad) comes from the motivation to fulfill a need, like having attention, feeling loved, or gaining praise

In the huge amount of studies, it’s found that the more resources a child has, the lower the incident of problem behaviors, drug and alcohol use, school problems, depression, and social failure. In other words, lots of assets or resources, create successful children.

Ideas for home—

      Remember that children learn by example, so showing love to a spouse is a lesson in itself. How we talk about our relatives or neighbors is being watched, and will be modeled in the future by our children.

      It’s important to be your child’s biggest fan because the outside world might not be cheering them on yet.

      Take the time to spend a few moments alone each day with each of your children so they have someone to talk to about heir private fears or their triumphs. When your children talk, really listen to them and always thank them for sharing their opinions even though you may not agree with them. Foster the idea that very few subjects are off limits to talk about.

      Eat family meals together and plan one family activity each week. The whole family should have a say in ideas for these events. It could be as simple as having a picnic at the park or camping in the backyard.

      Tell you children what you expect from them and ask them about what they expect from themselves. Look for creative ways to stimulate your child to achieve their goals and remember to admire them for more things than just their grades. There is kindness, manners, talents and ability to have empathy that are worth noting.

Ideas for in the neighborhood—

      Welcome neighbors with a plate of cookies or a liter of soda. Have your children go with you so they get to know them.

      Have your children volunteer to help elderly neighbors with yard work or other tasks that are hard. Have your child make a food item and take it to a neighbor or leave it as a secret admirer.

      Teach your children how to speak to adults and how to include other children who seem shy or who play alone to join in.

      Identify neighborhood areas where children seem to get in trouble and start a community discussion to try to improve the area.

      Have your child write notes of appreciation to positive adults in their day. Maybe the bus driver, teachers, mailman, coaches, clergy, babysitters, and your office co-workers.

Self-esteem is earned! It can’t be thrust on a child without having them work for it. You can help them get started now!