Old Problem, New Solution

For anyone that has ever seen my husband’s handwriting, you’ll know that he would definitely not win any penmanship contests. Thankfully for him, being an adult in the computer age means that he doesn’t have to hand write things very often, and he doesn’t have to worry about his penmanship very often.

Unfortunately, one of the things that Brendan inherited from his daddy was his penmanship. At least part of Brendan’s issue stems from his lack of fine motor skills. He still sees an occupational therapist regularly at school to help develop his hand muscles. But we can’t blame the entire problem on that. The fact of the matter is he’s also lazy which leads to him rushing and making his already bad handwriting worse. We have been aware of the issue with his handwriting, but up to now haven’t had very good ideas for what we could do to help him. Matt is very sensitive about the subject because he had a teacher who took a very harsh tactic when it came to his handwriting, and despite her bullying approach his handwriting never did improve. So, he is very reluctant to take a strict attitude with Brendan when it comes to his penmanship.

However, last week the issue came to a point that we could no longer take a passive approach. At conferences Brendan got glowing reports about his academic skills, and his social skills. The only negative remarks on his report were that he occasionally talked a little too much (I take full blame for that one–my parents got the same note on my report cards for years), and that he needed to take his time on his writing. She went on to explain that she understood his inability to write at the same level as kids his age, but that when he took his time his handwriting improved immensely.

Knowing Matt’s view on the handwriting situation, I’ve been trying to think of ways to address it with him and sounding encouraging rather than demeaning. It took a few days, but this week I finally hit upon a solution. Since the third graders are taking the statewide standardized testing this week, they don’t have any homework. The only thing Brendan brought home was his spelling list, but not the corresponding homework packet. Wanting to make sure Brendan actually studied the words, I decided to have him copy them into a notebook each night. Then it hit me, why not have him try to earn rewards for improving his penmanship? So I explained to him that since it wasn’t regular homework I was going to have him copy the words into the notebook just one time each night (usually they do it three times each), and that I wanted him to go slow and use his very best penmanship possible for each word. I told him I would pay him a nickel for every word that was spelled correctly and looked as though he had tried his very best on. His eyes grew wide with excitement as he counted his words and figured out he could earn up to $.75 for doing this. Then I sweetened the deal. I told him if he could get through all 15 words without corrections, then I would give him a bonus quarter, bringing his earning potential up to one full dollar.

He very excitedly bustled off to his room to get started. The first day we did this, he earned nickels for just nine of his fifteen words. Three were mis-spelled and three more were not written in his best handwriting. I worried that Brendan would be upset over my assessment of his handwriting and that he would be upset that he didn’t earn the full dollar. But when I asked him about the three words, and asked if he had given me his best effort on those words, he instantly admitted that he did not, and went back and copied them neatly. The second day he did better, he was paid for twelve of fifteen words. Then today was the best day of all. All fifteen words were written with penmanship that I didn’t know was possible from him. The only reason he did not earn the full dollar for today’s effort was because he forgot to put the “A” in throat.

This gives me hope that by tomorrow he should be able to earn the full amount, and that if we keep going with this, he may learn to take his time on his own and with repetition be able to make the necessary improvements to his handwriting. Is it wrong to bribe my son to do something that he should already be doing? Yes, it probably is. But if it works, who am I to say that we shouldn’t do it anyway.



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