August 17, 2011

Salt Letters Improved and the Letter of the Week Debate

Over the summer we got in a rut of just meeting the bare minimum to keep the kids in the habit of school work.  That's all we had time for, really, between park dates and camps and sunshine.  So my goal for this week is to get back into the habit of not simply giving them info and making sure they complete exercises, but to get creative again and make things more fun and interactive.

Yesterday I started with making Haven a new salt tray for his letter practice.  I've seen sugar trays (which I think have the potential for making the whole house sticky!), and flour trays, and sand trays.  But I went with salt because we have a ton on hand and because it's super absorbent.  You can use plain old salt, but why?  I placed it in a ziplock with 2 drops of food coloring and 2 drops of peppermint oil and rub it around until it's all blue.  If you've ever made home made bath salts, yo know the drill.  Now when the kids write in the salt it is pretty and it smells nice.  Theoretically, engaging all the senses helps cement the activity in the memory.  Who knows if that's true or if it simply sounds nice, but either way the kids enjoy it more when there is color and scent!

Haven knows all of his capital letters, and is now beginning to work on his lower case letters, so he practiced drawing his baby a in the salt with his finger and with a capped pen.  That's so he can feel it and also get used to holding a writing tool when he does it.  He loved it!

Next I had him go outside with a shopping bag and gather small items from nature that he would then bring back and arrange in the shape of a lower case a.  He loved it!  He was very impatient about the glue drying, though. 

I recently read a few articles making a plea against the use of the whole letter of the week phenomenon, and mostly they complain that this activity takes the letters out of context and deprives them of their meaning, which is to work together to form words.  I can see that, but I'm not totally sold.  I would say that having kids search for letters in passages of writing and understanding that they have context is important, but that eventually they have to learn how to make those letters and that happens one letter at a time.  So why not go all out on one letter a week WHILE observing them in context?  I guess that my push would be for a multi-directional attack on each letter.  Let's highlight it in a passage of writing for context's sake. Let's make the sound.  Let's write it in salt, paint, crayon, dry erase, sidewalk chalk, and sticks and leaves! Let's find it in the super market!

So, I'm not giving up on the letter of the week thing after reading these articles because it has served my other 2 kids well.  But since Haven can read, I assume he understands context and what he really needs to work on is the feeling of each letter, it's lowercase form and the strokes that it uses.  So, that's what we're focusing our creative energies on!

Back to the salt thing, one of our only major recurring issues with home schooling is the older kids seeing the "fun and fluff" that the preschoolers get to do and getting jealous that they are doing rigorous work and while someone else get's to play in smelly blue salt.  I can totally understand why.  Can't you?  Hunter was so distracted by what Haven was doing, so jealous, that I let him have a go at it just to get it out of his system.  Once he finished working in his handwriting book, he worked on his new letter in the salt.  You know why this is genius (if I do say so myself)?  Because the order and direction of the strokes really matters in developing good handwriting.  Right?  When he writes with a pencil, I can't always tell which direction he went when he wrote his O or if he went top to bottom on his T.  But in the salt, a little ridge is made towards the direction he moved and I can completely retrace his strokes based on where that little ridge builds up!  What looks like a perfect O, I can now see was drawn in a backwards direction, which won't help him at all once he starts his lower case As.  I can see that his T was written from bottom to top, leaving his hand in the wrong position for the formation of the next letter.  So, if you are using a handwriting book like Zaner-Blosser or Handwriting Without Tears, you under the importance of correct strokes in correct order, and in the salt you can finally see how they made the letter rather than just that it looks nice!  SCORE!

This is just my first step back into getting all tactile and creative with the little guy's pre-schoolish work.  So far, so good!


  1. I love getting your creative ideas for things to try with my kids when they're a little older!


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