Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Before and After

Unschooling Typing, Spelling, and Writing
A Progress Report...

I know I've mentioned before that I started suspecting Padawan has dysgraphia not long before I pulled him out of public school in November 2010. He is also not a natural speller. And forget about anything handwritten being legible, unless he takes a REALLY long time to write it.

Most of the writing assignments and worksheets that he had done in public school consisted of a lot of filler words, lines drawn across the worksheets to indicate the answers that should have been written on a line, scribbled out words, crumpled up worksheets that he refused to do, drawings in the margins instead of answers to the questions, and other creative things that only a boy could think of to get out of a writing assignment.

Occasionally, (there was about a 50/50 chance..on a good day possibly more) he would put in the effort to write something with good content AND make it legible...if he was in the mood. Otherwise the work was sent home and I got to make him do it. I had literally spent entire weekends with both of us in tears trying to get him to finish incomplete assignments.

At the beginning of our homeschool journey, I thought that doing "school at home" was how everyone homeschooled so all of my choices were made with that in mind.

I wanted Padawan to work on improving his handwriting, so I had carefully researched and purchased an italics handwriting workbook. I was "making" him do one lesson a day. Getting him to practice in this workbook went over about as well as all the other battles we had endured over homework when he was in school, and by this time he had already developed his own way of writing. He was doing the exercises in his own handwriting instead of trying to form the letters the way the book showed.

After a few pages of this and a lot of unnecessary stress for the both of us over just getting it done, I decided to give it up. Instead, I asked him to focus on learning to type. Most things are typewritten these days anyway, and I concluded that if he REALLY needs or wants to write something by hand, he can take as much time as he needs to make it legible.

For typing we were using Type To Learn. I thought it was a really cool typing program. I would have loved to use something like that when I was learning to type. He didn't like it at all. He quickly got frustrated with the lessons and decided he didn't want to do them.

I explained to him that he was going to need to be able to communicate effectively and legibly with the written word, and asked him if he would like to use a speech to text program instead.

So, next we tried Dragon Naturally Speaking. He liked it for about a day. He quickly realized he had to train this program. He got frustrated with telling it to "delete that" over and over when it didn't type what he had told it too. This made him determined to teach himself to type. His way. I was worried about him having proper fingering, because that is the way you are "supposed to type". Right?

It wasn't long before I noticed that he was typing pretty fast with just a few fingers. It was a big improvement over his previous hunt and peck method. Out of curiosity I had him to an online timed writing. In less than a year he was typing around 37 wpm. That was good enough for me. After all, I don't think being a professional typist is in his future plans, so who cares if he has proper keyboarding skills.

Poor spelling is a pet peeve of mine. My husband is not a natural speller, and it has made life difficult for him at times. So, when I brought Padawan home last year, my biggest concern was he wasn't even putting vowels in every syllable.

He did fine on his multiple choice spelling tests at school (yes, multiple choice spelling tests- don't get me started), but when he is writing, he spells words how they sound to him.

I also started to notice that some of his spelling issues had a lot to do with having to concentrate so much on forming the letters when writing that spelling the words correctly was taking a back seat. He was still spelling at about the same level as he had been since 2nd grade. If we didn't accomplish anything else for the next school year, I was determined that I was going to teach this boy to spell.

So after days of research, I picked out the perfect spelling program for him and his learning style. (All About Spelling) I wasn't sure which level to start him on because his spelling skills were what I considered so far "behind", so I started at the beginning. I knew that he had been "taught" phonics at school, but I also knew that he didn't "learn" phonics at school.

I diligently worked with him through book one and part of book two to review phonics. I taught and he...kind of...sort of...halfway listened...some of the time..and grumbled..most of the time...even though I tried to adjust the lessons to fit him. He was mainly frustrated with me that I pulled him out of school where he had already been bored only to teach him something so "babyish".

I eventually let the phonics lessons go too, because by now I was learning about these things called Relaxed Homeschooling and Unschooling. My first thoughts were, "Hallelujah, there are others that think like me...and...not everyone that homeschools does school-at-home". That made it a lot easier for me to relax and do what I had already felt was logical.

My new motto became "Why battle over learning when you don't have to?!".

So, instead of doing these boring babyish lessons, Padawan took it upon himself to improve his spelling. He was chatting with older kids on Roblox and he didn't want to get flamed. He started asking me, "How do you spell ____?"  all.the.time. And his spelling skills began improving.

One Unschooly thing I did do at the beginning of homeschool had to do with writing. Padawan hates writing, and I had already decided that the stress we went through in 3rd grade over writing assignments was enough to earn him a break from writing assignments for at least a year.

Maybe until High School.

Or later.

I know I've mentioned this before, but his 3rd grade teacher had her class writing 5 paragraph essays almost every week. This included an outline, rough draft, editing, revised copy, and final copy. How my child who already abhorred writing got the teacher who pushed her class more than any of the other teachers, I'll never know. But after that experience, I can be thankful for one thing; I know the boy can write a paper!

Since he's been home, I have been able to convince, beg, bribe him to write a few things here and there. He knows that I love to read what he writes, so he figured out that he has some negotiating power in the writing department.  He also knows that I'll gladly pay him with computer time tokens to be able to get to read one of his stories. Yes, my powers are weak, but we both get something we want out of the deal.

Now that the handwriting hurdle is out of the picture and we are working mostly off of intrinsic motivation instead of extrinsic motivation he is less reluctant to write. When he does write, he focuses more on content and chooses words on level with his spoken vocabulary instead of using words that are easier to write or just adding a lot of filler words in order to complete some arbitrary assignment.

Here are a some before and after examples of his writing:


This is the rough draft of a story that Padawan wrote as an assignment for Public School. (5th Grade) It was handwritten and barely legible. I typed it as true as I could to how it was written so that he would be able to edit it at school. (I pulled him out of school the next week, so he never finished working on it.)
Seed trouBle

I was eating lunch I had water molon. I ate 12 peses. then I thernd into a gree alion. when I shod my my she gave me medsen but it did int work. So She took me to the docter he gave me 12 shots in the arm But it DiDint work. we went back home then I went to bed wen I woke up I was in ara 51 they zapd me with a nuclar ray I was my self agin the gave me a rid home.

the Next day I at a ornge I tern in to a ornge alon that grlowed. my mom sed “not agin”! So we went to the store and both a blue berry we wnt bak Mom and I hate it and i ternd in to a blue alion.. So we went to the stor and bout a sraBerry and a par I ate the srawbery I ternd in to a red alon So I ated the pear and I was myself aigan.

the Nex Day I at a dregnfrut then I tend in to a dragon. I dint even show my mom. then I ate a kiwi fruit I ternd in to a “kiwibird”. So I shod my mom. she didnt now it was me. So she cald the pond. the came and got me and took me to the truck on the way to the pond my mom saw the Hafe of the Kiwi fruit on the floor. She relised that the kiwi bird was me. So She ran out to the car and Headed to the pound. Meanwile I had manged to et a peper and I hoped it wold trun me in to a human. but it didnt. It turnd me into a fireBall I was So hot I melted trouth the truc. I sarted headind to my hous then I sall moms car so I hopet in the care and ate a mint it word I was a human agan! I said hi mom I sad to her she headed back home. I Neve ate a thing with a seed again.


These are two rough drafts of stories that he typed "for me" recently. Neither one of them have been what he calls "grammartized". The first was originally written in one long block in all caps, but I changed it to all lower case and broke it up a little to make it easier on the eyes. You're welcome. (The program he used doesn't have spell check, so all the misspellings are his own...or typos.)

Story 1

he walked arcross the rotten wooden board and he jumped down from the bridge onto the soft leafy ground and beheld an old abandon blacksmith shop he looked around to see if any body was there
and then he busted down the old rotten door...

and beheld a table witch under had a chest with an old rusty lock he took out his sword that his dad had giving to him when he was just 5 when his dad left for the war and hit the lock a few times and it opened...and a almoth glass-like light red sword with a white glass-like handle...

he had remebered this sword from a story his dad usted to tell him it was the legendary sword of the chapion of fire lightus...as he watched the sunn glare on the sword he remebered what his dad had told him...

son im going to tell you a story now...long ago in this very kindom there was a solgier in the royal millatary who the kind said could not be beat by anyone so the solgeir want to travil to far far away lands if was said that one day he had returned with a clear red and white sword that he said he had got from defeating the champion of fire then in defeat the fire chapion gave him his blade then once battling with the ice champion the ice chapion in deafeat had givin his handle of ice to him and then on his way returning he met a blacksmith and he had got the blacksmith to made the blade of uncontrolible fire and the handle calming ice into one of the greatest sword of all time but then while the kingdom was being ivaded an evil rules of many kindoms ordered for spy to get him that sword and so after years of waiting the great solgier deid and the evil ruler after handling the blade that only the champion of ice could control the ice handle to calm the fire blade down and make the sword useible so in anger he orders for the sword to be traded to an blacksmith for 10 of his best swords...
Story 2
As he pointed the AK-47 at the workers head he wistpered something in Russian to the worker. I didn't know what he said I heard a few words but I didn't understand the other words and all the sudden the sound of C4 And windows bursting the door was breatched and all of the windows were broken he told me to "gaurd the-"   a sniper rifle buttlet barley missed him then he said "GET THE CHOPPER HURRY IF WE LOSE THEM WE LOSE THE WAR I'll TAKE CARE OF THE SNIPER!" So I ran to the chopper and took control of it blasted the other transport chopper, and I was out of there, And to think this all started when the Terrorist kidnapped the launch code keepers for the missles.

A verey short, confusing, and weird short story by, your son.

Overall, I'm impressed.


  1. I'm impressed too! That's a dramatic improvement! You both should be really proud!

    "I also started to notice that some of his spelling issues had a lot to do with having to concentrate so much on forming the letters when writing that spelling the words correctly was taking a back seat."

    EXACTLY. I notice that with my son's writing too. Dysgraphia really causes more problems than any other learning difference my son has. Which I wish he'd get motivated about learning to type IN WHATEVER MANNER HE CHOOSES, like Padawan did. :) I'm still waiting!

  2. Ooh, meant to add, thank you for sharing this. Our boys have similar learning challenges, so it's great to hear about your son's improvement with unschooly methods!

    P.S. Have you checked out the new Christian Unschoolers website? It's now a contributor's blog (and I'm one of them). It just relaunched. Check it out!


  3. You're welcome! (I don't know where your other comment went but I did read it.) Sorry it took so long to respond. :)

    I saw the new CU blog. I like the new look and Loved your post!


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