Thursday, February 5, 2009

Green Light - Red Light: Getting Kids' Writing Going in the Right Direction

Recently, I met the conscientious mom of a kindergartner who told me she was concerned that her daughter wrote her name and simple sentences from right to left; that is, backwards.

Is it time to panic? Get the kid tested for a learning disability? Nah. Young children's precious innocence sometimes keeps them from getting things straight (Remember the pint sized sociopath from last month's blog that was convinced old people should be put to sleep like her beloved geriatric dog?). Some kids as late as second or third grade still write their letters a little on the cock-eyed side. Truth is, sometimes getting things going in the right direction takes a bit of fun and games with a family member or friend.

Play "Green Light - Red Light" to get writing going in the right direction.

  • Remind your child that green means "Go."
  • With a green crayon and a ruler, draw a heavy, straight vertical line down the left margin of a homework paper, or put a good-sized green dot at the beginning of each line on the page. The green dot or line is the "Green Light." Ask your child to begin writing, or GO, next to the Green Light.
Note: Use a crayon because kids can feel the wax; that is, it makes a tactile boundary, unlike pencil, marker or pen.
  • With a red crayon, draw a vertical line down the right side of the page. Red means ... yep; it means "Stop." Say, "Red Light!" when the pencil gets to the red line to playfully remind the child to stop writing.
    For added fun, make car engine sounds for revving up, then driving, then squeak sounds for putting on the brakes at the end.
  • Ask the child to GO, or start writing again, on the next line at the "Green Light" a.k.a. the green line or dot.
  • For fill-in-the-blank or individual word answers on homework papers, put a "Green Light" or dot at the beginning of the space and a "Red Light" or dot at the end.
  • As soon as you think your child is ready, put the crayons in that miniature hand to place all of the Green and Red Lights on the homework papers to start the game.
  • For reversed individual letters, put a green dot where your child needs to begin writing a specific letter, and a red dot where forming the letter ends. Hint: get a crayon sharpener. Making dots with dull crayons is a pain in the neck (and a few other body parts).
For example, a lowercase b starts at the top line, goes down to the bottom line, up to the middle, and around to form the "belly," or however you want to describe that silly but ever so important letter.

For kids with b and d troubles, a d begins just below the middle line, goes up to the middle line and around to form the 'doughnut,' then reaches all the way to the top line and down to the bottom line again. Getting your child in the habit of forming these two tricky letters as described will save a world of frustration, for both of you!
  • If your child still reverses a letter while using Green and Red Lights, write the entire letter with the green crayon 21 times as neatly and consistently as possible.
    • Why 21 times? Studies show it takes 21 days to make a new habit, and I've found 21 repetitions works well for this game, too.
    • With your supervision, and your little one's car sounds, your child traces the entire letter going in the correct direction with a pencil. Remember: the wax from the crayon helps with tactile memory.

  • Play Green Light - Red Light for several days in a row, and watch your child's writing transform!
The beauty of games: They usually have wonderful, unintended side effects.

Green Light - Red Light helps in learning directionality. TRULY understanding left and right is a HUGE help in learning to read, too. The game also gets little people to put their margins in the right places, so expanding into writing paragraphs, essays and stories comes naturally.

Enjoy the moment. They grow up too fast!

Do you have a story to share? A question to ask? Leave a comment!