ELLSWORTH — While learning the alphabet, young children usually learn from A to Z.
Learning to write is less straightforward but it does involve straight lines.
“Making lines and curves, that’s the foundation of making letters,” said Shauna Esposito-Caldwell, child care director for the James Russell Wiggins Down East Family YMCA.
The child care center recently expanded its writing curriculum, “Handwriting Without Tears,” to include younger children.
Learning to write begins with basic tasks such as coloring in small shapes.
From there, children practice drawing straight lines, said Esposito-Caldwell. The letter “L,” for example, is the first the children learn how to write.
The letter “B” will come a bit later since that involves curves and a straight line, she said.
The Y — notice the straight lines — likes the “Handwriting Without Tears” program because it was created by an occupational therapist whose son was having trouble learning to write.
“The program is designed to follow natural child development which teaches to a wider array of children and builds upon this natural development,” said Esposito-Caldwell.
One of the activities the toddlers in the program do is put wooden pieces together to form the mascot of the writing program, whose name is MatMan.
There is a cost associated with “Handwriting Without Tears” so the Y, which is a nonprofit organization, would like to find a business or group willing to sponsor it, said Esposito-Caldwell.
The Y hopes that the offering will help improve pre-K and thus kindergarten readiness for all of its students.
“We’re excited to expand it,” she said.
All the elementary schools in Union 93 use various stages of Handwriting Without Tears as well as the Typing Without Tears program.
Learning to write helps with other types of learning, including learning to read.
There’s a direct relationship between writing by hand and brain activity, according to an article in the New York Times titled “What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades.”
“When we write, a unique neural circuit is automatically activated,” said psychologist Stanislas Dehaene at the College de France in Paris.
“There is a core recognition of the gesture in the written word, a sort of recognition by mental simulation in your brain,” Dehaene said. “And it seems that this circuit is contributing in unique ways we didn’t realize. Learning is made easier.”
But, what’s going to happen with handwriting in this era of touch screens and keyboards?
Maine legislators tried unsuccessfully in the last session to pass an act to require cursive handwriting instruction in grades 3-5. That bill was LD 387.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Heidi Sampson (R-Alfred), said she realized students were lacking “a fundamental skill” when she encountered a room full of nearly 50 newly hired teenagers who weren’t able to sign their employment papers.
Opposition came from the Maine School Management Association — not because the association is against handwriting instruction.
Steven Bailey, the association’s executive director, testified that “we oppose mandating curriculum through legislation.”