My name is Melanie Harwood and I am the founder of specialist handwriting company, Start-Bee. That’s not always been my job. I was a mum and Television producer up until five years ago when I began eating, sleeping and breathing handwriting.
In 2011 my four-year-old daughter, Hannah-Jane, was refused entry into a local primary school because she couldn’t write her own name. I was completely taken aback; my daughter not able to write? How did this happen?
I remember thinking ‘I can’t have my daughter fail so I’ll do something about it myself’. Many, many hours of research later, I developed my very own method to fast track Hannah-Jane’s handwriting. Within a matter of days, my daughter was writing her own name. Within a few weeks, completing the handwriting exercises I had created for her, Hannah-Jane had gained entry into her chosen school and then proceeded to overtake the entire first year of her primary school group in handwriting. She went into Year 1, aged 5, able to write entire pages of writing and her spelling skills improved too. Her reading age jumped to an ORT reading level 11 within a year (unheard of) and her maths skills improved to such an extent that she was raised to the upper skill set of her age group. She now absolutely loves every aspect of school, whether it is geography, science, history, English, everything!
In response, the school asked me if I could help other pupils struggling with handwriting and my Start-Bee handwriting method was born.
Since then I have spent five years researching, developing and delivering a handwriting teaching method to after-school groups. Today my method for teaching handwriting bridges the gap between a how-to-handwrite book and a teacher trained in handwriting. It’s a method that works within a child’s limited attention span, incorporates a font which has been scientifically proven to aid reading and writing and uses a back-to basics approach which focuses on developing the correct pencil grip and strong writing muscles to make writing a pleasure not a pain. Within seven lessons the Start-Bee method can take a complete handwriting beginner from making marks to writing their name (to UK’s Ofsted standard for Foundation Stage learners), that’s every child – including dyslexic and SEN learners.
Take Adam for example. Adam was in his final year at primary school. Although his handwriting flowed, some of the letters and numbers were very ambiguous and the overall presentation was scruffy, making his writing and numbers difficult to read. In fact, his script was so poor that teachers had commented on it indicating that Adam could lose marks in exams if the problem wasn’t corrected. Something had to be done before Adam entered secondary school where different teachers in different subjects would be reading his work and the problem of his illegible script would really affect his ability to get on in school. Within only three, one-hour Start-Bee Handwriting Club sessions, Adam transformed his spidery scrawl into a clear, fluent and legible script that he was so proud of. Watching Adam develop his handwriting skills over the three weeks was wonderful to see but even more powerful was Adam’s growing confidence in himself. He reported that he was getting ten out of ten for his maths tests as his teacher could now clearly see that a nine was, indeed, a nine and that all his numbers were written clearly too.
Adam is proof that any child can re-learn to write. The key to success here is understanding what might be holding the child back. This is why, before embarking on a Start-Bee handwriting programme, every pupil is assessed using Start-Bee’s Handwriting Match Fit Assessmentä to understand an individual pupil’s current handwriting ability and needs. By establishing the starting point and outline for each and every pupil, schools are better placed to create a handwriting strategy for their pupils, as well as the means to document a pupil’s attainment as required by Ofsted. You can read more about it on our website.
Adam’s not the only one. One in three children are leaving primary school, like Adam, unable to write to the required standard. But my method is proof that any child, with the right understanding, approach and tools can learn to write just like that.
If you want to talk to me about Start-Bee handwriting programmes, come and say hello to me and the teachers involved in our school trials at the Birmingham NEC’s Education Show. Drop me a line to say you’re coming. We’ll be at BIC’s stand F28 (opposite the entrance) on 17th, 18th and 19th March.
Start-Bee works. Watch what teachers are saying about us.