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Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Story behind your child's untidy handwriting

Children writing

Nowadays, it has become common for children to display poor handwriting. As a parent, we should not accept poor handwriting as the norm but must make sure that our children put in the effort to write legibly and neatly. Bad handwriting is detrimental to the child as he will be penalised when the teacher is unable to decipher what has been written. As teachers mark countless written assignments daily, they will find it easier to mark neat handwritten work and give them high grades as compared to chicken scribble by other children.

Signs of Trouble

Sheer laziness or maybe even poor eyesight could be the reason behind your child's bad handwriting, but if it is something more, it is good to detect it early. The following are some telltale signs that can help you raise the red flag early:

* Poor or awkward pencil grip;

* Not clearly right or left handed;

* Difficulty concentrating when reading or writing;

* Slow or laboured copying or writing;

* Immature drawing and copying skills;

* Avoidance of writing tasks;

* Reversed letters or numbers, that is, writes "b" for "d" or "12" for "21";

* Confused order of letters in words;

* poor spelling and the misspelling is not phonetic;

* Variation in letter size and writing quality from top of page to the bottom;

* Random punctuation errors or virtually no punctuation;

* Inconsistency in writing, that is, print mixed with cursive or upper mixed with lowercase letters;

* Difficulty organising and completing written assignments; and

* Poor presentation and content management.

Handwriting may reflect learning disorders

Any of the above signs could indicate a possible learning disorder. A learning disorder is a difficulty in an academic area ( reading, mathematics, or written expression ) that results in the child achieving a level of academic performance below that expected for his age, educational level, and level of intelligence.

Take note, however, that most children with learning disorders have normal intelligence. However, the difficulty experienced by the child may be severe enough that it interferes with his academic achievement.

Following are some types of learning disorders:

# Reading disorder or dyslexia:
A reading disorder is present when a child reads below the expected level, given his age, grade in school and intelligence. Children with reading disorder read slowly and have difficulty understanding what they read. They may have difficulty with word recognition and tend to confuse words that look similar.

# Mathematics disorder or dyscalcullia:
A mathematics disorder is present when a child has problems with skills related to numbers, such as counting, copying numbers correctly, adding and carrying numbers, learning multiplication tables, recognising mathematical signs, and understanding mathematical operations.

# Disorder of written expression or dysgraphia:
A disorder of written expression is present when a child has difficulty with writing skills, such as understanding grammar and punctuation, spelling, paragraph organisation, or composing written information. Often these children also have poor handwriting skills.

Learning disorders are treatable. A coordinated effort between parents, teachers and relevant health professionals provides the basis for individualised treatment strategies that may include individual or group remediation, and / or special classes or resources.

Generally strategies fall into three categories:

* Accommodation - providing alternatives to written expression;

* Modification - changing expectation or task to minimise or avoid the area of weakness; and

* Remediation - providing instruction for improving handwriting and writing skills.

Unfortunately, there are no preventive measures to reduce the incidence of learning disorder. Early detection and intervention can reduce the severity of academic difficulties and improve the child's quality of life.

Monitor your child's handwriting regularly and do not be too quick to make any judgement. You may want to discuss with his teachers first and if both of you feel that there really is reason enough to be concerned, the next step then is to have him assessed by a qualified professional.

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Myopia in young children

Child wearing spectacles

Does your child complain of having headaches? Have you caught him squinting at the television, blinking, rubbing his eyes or holding his latest clutch of comics close to his face just to get a better look? If you had, he could have myopia.

Myopia, or shortsightedness, is a visual condition that allows those with it to see objects which are nearby with clarity while more distant objects appear blurred. This is because the images of distant objects are focused in front of the retina rather than on it. The individual's eyeball could be too long from front to back.

Myopia develops most often in children of school-going age and typically worsens prior to stabilising during the individual's twenties.

What Myopia does

The younger your child is at the time of him developing myopia, the more shortsighted he is likely to be in future. With higher degrees in myopia, comes greater risk of developing complications that could lead to blindness or reduced vision in later years.

These complications include greater chances of developing cataracts at an earlier age, as well as the occurrence of macular degeneration, a condition that occurs when the retina degenerates, causing reduced vision.

Other complications such as retinal detachment, which takes place when the inner layer of the eye separates from the eyeball, could also take place.

Possible reasons for developing Myopia

1. Genetic factors
2. Lack of proper diet and nutrition
3. Near work

Of the 3 factors, near work can be considered as the significant cause for Myopia. As children spend considerable amount of time on school work, take home work, enrichment classes as well as spent time on handheld gadgets such as gaming and entertainment devices as well as on hand phones and personal computers, all of which amounts to what is termed as Near work.

Playing Hand Held games

The best way to prevent or at least reduce myopia would be by Naturing good eye care habits.

* Get your child to hold reading material approximately 30cm from his eyes. He should seated in a comfortable chair with good lighting. There should not be excessive light so that a glare is present on either reading material, or his face.

Naturing good eye care habits

* Make sure that when your child watches television he is not lying down but seated at least 2 meters from the screen in a well lit room. The television screen should be at the room's centre and placed at eye level.

* As for PC usage, make sure that your child is at least 50 cm away from the monitor and that the glare from the monitor is adjusted to the minimum. Also, do ensure that other sources of light do not cause unwanted reflections off the monitor's screen. Be mindful that your child is seated upright instead of leaning towards the monitor screen. The screen should be 10 to 15 degrees below eye level.

* keep the time spent on Near work to a minimum. When your child is engaged in near work, encourage him to take a break at 30 to 40 minute intervals. Children can do this by involving in outdoor activity such as a stroll or by spending some time looking at objects in the distance from a window. These short breaks allow your child to relax his eyes and further allow him to return to his books refreshed.

Far - Sighted Advice

* All children should have their eyes screened.

* Take your child to the family doctor or an optometrist if you think he might have a visual disorder. If necessary, your child will be referred to a specialist.

* Ensure that your child's eyes are measured properly for his spectacles as wrong prescriptions can worsen myopia.

* There is no cure - all for myopia at present so be wary of claims to the contrary.

MYTHS About Myopia

Myth 1 : Wearing prescription glasses worsens myopia.
Fact : Refusing to wear properly prescribed spectacles where
necessary can lead to the development of a lazy eye. The
child's vision can be permanently harmed.

Myth 2 : Taking vitamin supplement regularly reduces myopia.
Fact : Provide your child with a balanced diet with adequate
nutrients and vitamins. Overdosing on vitamin supplement
can harm your child.

Myth 3 : Eye exercises and other forms of vision training can
reduce myopia.
Fact : Such exercises relax the eye and are part of good eye care habits but do not correct myopia.

Tackling MYOPIA

There is no cure for Myopia. However, if your child does have this visual condition, there are a number of options from which he can choose in order to see better. Note however, that he might not be able to pursue some of these until he is older.

Prescription Glasses

At present, the most common care available for those with myopia, and particularly for young children with the condition, is the prescription of minus lenses. These prescription glasses provide clear vision for your child by focusing rays of light further into the eye so that a clear image is displayed on the retina. However, as the degree of your child's myopia changes, you will have to take him on annual checks to ascertain if he will need to have his lenses changed.

Contact Lenses.

Contact lenses can be an alternative to prescription lenses for children who are shy or refuse to wear glasses in public and at school. However, ascertaining when your child is ready for the responsibility of caring for their contact lenses appropriately should be a key priority for parents who choose this option.

Laser surgery

Laser surgery is not recommended for children as the child's myopia may not have stabilised before the surgery is done. Thus, this may result in repeat surgeries. Moreover, children's eyes are also more prone to inflammation induced by laser surgery.

Look out for your child's vision by encouraging good eye care habits and regular eyesight screenings.

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Friday, March 7, 2008

Dealing with Dyslexia

The term dyslexia was first introduced in 1884 by a German opthalmologist, R Berlin, who coined it from the Greek words "Dys" meaning ill or difficult , and "Lexis" meaning word.

Dyslexia is a common neurologically based, specific learning difficulty that is characterised by difficulties in one or more of the reading, spelling and writing discplines.

Recognising Dyslexia in your child

Parents need to watch out for one or more of the following seven examples fo difficulty, as they are typical symptoms of dyslexia:

1. Directional Confusion
Your child "Mirror" writes by reversing letters, whole words or numbers. For example, instead of writing "boy" he writes "doy"

2. Squencing Difficulties
Your child may omit letters, or put letters, syllables and words in the wrong order. Some examples, "act" for "cat", "there are" for "are there" and "wet" for "went".

3. Difficulty with the Little words
Your child misreads, reads twice or omits words like "a", "the" and "from".

4. Late Talking
According to Dr. Beve Hornsby, author of "Overcoming Dyslexia", about 60% of dyslexics are late talkers. You should be concerned if your child talks immaturely, or continues to make unexpected grammatical errors in his speech for his age.

5. Difficulties with Handwritting
Your child's handwritting is generally illegible, with letter inconsistencies, a mixture of upper/lowercase letters, irregular letter sizes and shapes, etc.

6. Difficulties with Maths
Your child revers or transposes numbers, is confused by similar looking mathematical signs (+ and X; > and <, etc) or has problem with mental arithmetic, times tables and time telling.

7. Short working memory
Your child forgets easily and thus needs to be frequently reminded to do things.

Do note that each dyslexic child is different and thus it's difficult to find them all having the same or uniform difficulties. However, the most obvious are difficulties with spelling, reading and writing.

Helping your child overcome Dyslexia

Although there is no cure for dyslexia, the learning problems it causes can be largely overcome through skilled specialist teaching and compensatory strategies.

Teaching dyslexia is a specialist procedure entailing a lot of variable techniques far beyond the capacity of parents.

So how can a parent help? Parents must ensure that the child is helped to appreciate that his self value and self esteem should not suffer because he is dyslexic. Thus a parent should not give a negative or uninspiring response such as " You are stupid or incompetent" etc.

For effective learning to take place, parents should provide a positive and rewarding environment. You could give little rewards such as star stickers etc. for targets achieved such as an improvement in his spelling.

It is important for the parent to praise his child for all his effort and to console him if he doesn't do well or live up to expectations.

It is also important for the parent to inform the child's teacher of his difficulties so that the teacher would be understanding of his problem and not berate or embarrass him for his weakness.

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Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Story Books - A starting point for teaching Preschoolers

Mother reading to child
A storybook is a versatile tool that can help your child develop an understanding, respect and appreciation for other cultures, people of all works of life as well as the things around her.

Stories are beneficial in many ways, as they help children to:

* Enrich their understanding and learning experience.

* Develop listening and concentration skills and facilitate greater verbal communication.

* Develop positive attitudes towards print, text and eventually reading. Teaching your child to handle the books with care and love.

* Exercise the imagination and explore the creative side through the illustrations.

* Develop new ideas - I have always wondered how children would end a story given their own choice and are not shown the end of the book. I belief we would get quite creative replies!

* Be exposed to correct grammar, varied sentence structure and tenses.

* Become more willing to express their thoughts and feelings.

Ways to promote learning through stories:

1. Books provide facts as well as fiction, so let your child be a researcher for a day or imaginative author creating fantasy stories.

2. Use the language from the story books in role-play and games.
Mother and child role playing as pirates

3. Retell stories in a more simple way.

4. Let your child recall and tell the story in her own words so that she will develop her memory and language skill.

5. Let her create her own version of the story by changing the ending, giving a twist, adding a character from another story etc.

6. While you read to your child, use variation in volume, pitch and tempo as well as use your voice for pause and effects. You should also use body language, facial or hand gestures to express the story. It not only makes the story more interesting, it will also help your child to develop her interest in books and her own reading style.

What kind of books to choose?

For young children, books that are attractive, have original illustrations will capture their interest.

Make sure that the book is age appropriate, otherwise you will not be able to sustain your child's interest and thus she will not engage in a positive way with the book. (She will be bored)

Choose books with the following elements

* Repetitive rhymes or text.

* Fun engaging characters and a simple story line

* Great illustration for discussion

* books that allow your child to participate - some examples are those that your child can answer questions or pull or lift tap to find the answer etc.

* A moral or behavioural pattern that you wish to reinforce, or an environmental issue or cultural understanding that you want to promote.

* Potential to learn a diversity of things. For example, The Hungry Caterpillar - where the days of the week, counting, names of fruit, life cycle of a butterfly - all can be learnt from one book!
The Hungary Caterpillar

What other ways have you found reading books to be beneficial to your children. Is there a special or interesting book that you would like to recommend. Please feel free to give your thoughts and comments.

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