Thursday, December 01, 2005

Good Habit Formation vs Waiting for Maturity

A mom asked a question about a seven year old being sloppy with handwriting.... should the mom let it go, or continue holding the child to a high standard. This seems to be a vexed question in the homeschool world. There's a wide variety of answers.

Charlotte Mason talks about the "habit of perfection". Don't ask a child to do anything you aren't prepared to see him execute perfectly. I always have trouble figuring out what "perfect" looks like in matters like a child's handwriting. Besides, "perfection" can be a stultifying goal for some types of people.

A John Holt would say that kids are constantly making mistakes and doing things which look sloppy to an older person. We don't reprove a baby for speaking incorrectly or a toddler for falling when he is trying to walk. So similarly, focusing on a young child's "technique" in writing may be counter-productive since writing is a secondary end, the goal is communication and perhaps a bit, aesthetics and orderliness.

Raymond Moore would say that most 7 year olds are not physically mature enough to handwrite with much competence. It would be better to wait until the child has reached a higher maturity level.

A classical educator of the Reformed persuasion would talk about the importance of proper habits and a Reformed homeschooler in general would talk about "heart attitudes". There seems to be an implicit "blank slate" assumption, that a child is capable of everything he is asked to do and if he fails, there is a moral issue there.

Aidan's OT, a modern "development" focused technician, would not question the goal of competent handwriting at the age of 7, but would be patient and creative in ensuring and building "pre-readiness" foundations. This type of person would not even think of it as a "heart" issue. If she saw reluctance she would work on increasing motivation by rewards, encouragement and support. There may be a slightly behavioristic focus but this type of method allows a teacher or therapist to be impartial and not assign motives to the child's difficulty.

After writing this all out, I think the modern method strikes me as the most common-sense approach if it stays relationship-oriented and does not treat the child like an animal or machine -- "input to output". Aidan's OT is very good at keeping the relationship going while working on the skills. Probably this is similar to what a seasoned mom or teacher would have done historically, but only recently has it been analyzed and researched and translated into specialized jargon.

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