Friday, December 16, 2011

Pencils on Ice

Smoother writing means faster writing (and drawing) and less tired hands

WHAT: Bazic Pencils #2B
DOES: Let's you write more smoothly, less tiring to your hand, good for drawing too
INVEST: $4- $5 for a pack of 12 pencils
TOOLS: Express Yourself; Foment the Love of Language

I know we are all in the midst of holiday craziness.  I myself have done countless stupid things this week.  Pretty soon, it will be over and I know I will be relieved but sad because the prelude to the celebrations were just series of near misses and complete failures.  So today, I have decided to reject the craziness.  Instead, I will post something that helps me think ahead into the New Year where we all take the opportunity to make new promises to ourselves.  The news media usually does this in the beginning of the year but I will set the trend today and ask you all to think about it right now.  If you have to prepare for it, you'll want to make any necessary purchases before the New Year starts, right?

So here it is, my first New Year's resolution:

I will refocus my efforts on building Number 1's writing AND pencil-using skills.

It breaks my heart that Number 1 hates writing.   I love writing.  I had a really rough five-year period and last month I decided to give myself a year to write Toys are Tools as a present to myself before I get a "real" job even though this site itself is a lot of work.

But Number 1 feels differently about writing.  He feels the same way about writing as I do about calling customer service for anything. "Agent, I said, Agent,  Representative! What? I just punched in my account number!"

Number 1 feels stressed before his pencil hits the paper.  I get stressed before he even sits down but I talked with a few moms this week who are a lot more patient than me and have helped their children in gentler and more effective ways.  I must be kind too.  Being kind and understanding is always more effective.

Step 1: Get a better tool

The first thing I decided to do is to use my time to understand how I can make the experience of writing more comfortable.  One of the problems I see is that his words and thoughts are in a picture but unfortunately we don't spit out our sentences in frames.  We spit them out word by word in a line.   But his line breaks, gets whipped around, replaced with other bits of line here and there as his pencil is still moving on the paper.

If only he could write faster..... he could spit out his line faster... giving less time for breakage and knotting.

But his pencil tip breaks, sometimes I can barely see his letters on the page... I don't know if he's behind in handwriting skills but I am told that he's okay.

So after a little digging, I found a different pencil.  Actually, I found several different pencils with the exception of one pencil, none of them were No. 2 pencils.

No. 2 pencils are all HB pencils, the ones that kids use everyday.  I guess HB pencils are great for filling out a circle in a standardized test because your pencil is likely to stay inside the circle but for my older son and his homework, No. 2 pencils slow him down.

Thus, I found the 2B pencil which means that it's less hard and so it results in smoother writing which hopefully leads to better writing. I think you might find the difference to be akin to ball-point versus gel pens. I hate ball-point pens.

Finding the 2B took some work.  First I had my older son try various drawing pencils in an art supply store and then we selected a pack to try.  I figured out that he probably preferred the 2B because 6B (much softer) was too soft.  Those are good for smearing techniques I guess.

I had Numbers 1, 2, and 3 ( ages 4, 7,and 12 at the time of trial) try out different kinds of pencils. You couldn't tell the results on paper but they all had an opinion on what felt better.   The pencils tested were the 2B, another was a B (more soft than No. 2 pencil) and another one was a  No. 2 pencil but had a triangular prism shape with grips.  They also all tried the familiar regular-grasp No. 2 pencil as well and that was the least liked.  However, they all liked the new pencils but the 2B was the preferred tool of choice.

The only problem is that in September, with those big back-to-school sales, I bought 74 pencils for $5 but this pack of 12 almost cost me $5!  I wish I had good news here but I don't except to say that the Bazic brand is something I have seen in dollar stores (not these pencils though) and other 2B pencils that I see online are twice the price of the Bazic brand.  For us, I have decided to consider this a priority expense this year.  So I just try my best to make sure that I do not let this child lose these pencils.  I don't let him oversharpen them either.

Hmmmmm... okay, but how is this a toy?

"Maybe she's running out of things to say...." you might think, but to my husband's dismay as he cringes at the thought of our next credit card bill otherwise known as the Toys are Tools R & D Expense Account, I am not running out of ideas.

Ed Emberley's "Make A World" shows you step-by-step how to draw everything

Truth be told, I bug everyone with a "What's in your toybox?" question but one friend, whom I adore and think is Daria reincarnated into 4D form, told me that her daughter can always rely on her colored pencils and blank paper to entertain her.

Step 2: Do Good PR for the Pencil- it does more than write words

To practice step-by-step drawing which Number 1 Son loves to do, I bought Make a World, a book by Ed Emberley.  However, after looking at this book again, I see that this is a great book for practicing the use of a pencil.  I think we can remind our kids that black pencils can make art too.  It's not just for essays and tests.  If my son associates pleasure with pencils then maybe the act of holding a pencil will at least begin with a smile. With each use, he'll be more accustomed to the whole act of writing (sitting, holding the paper still, picturing in his mind what he wants to do, deciding where to start, starting, continuing, tweaking, and finishing) Whoo!  So many steps, that must be what is called executive functioning.  The whole thing makes my head spin.

And so with the Bazic #2B and other pencils, I want to make the whole act of using pencil less ominous for him this year.  I will encourage him to draw more.  He can doodle but I like having a book that teaches drawing and it looks like those drawings can be done well in pencil.

Step 3:  Don't wait until middle school to use technology! 

I know that we will continue to learn typing and I will make myself check out those voice recognition apps. (See suggestions below) I need to accept that he may never love writing like I do and that there is no reason why he can't start typing out his homework right now.  The transfer won't happen overnight so since he's young, I can start preparing slowly.  I am convinced more and more that this is the way to go because I want my son to feel successful and be successful.

But I am going to be stubborn for just a little bit longer and continue to help him use his pencil more effectively through both writing and drawing.  Drawing is a different kind of pencil use but as he draws more, he will practice just using his hand to make what he wants by using a pencil.  This will add fluency and that will help the speed he needs to make the train of words rush out of his head to form his sentence.

My son is full of speed  (ten persons' worth) but he could use some of that speed in his hand.  In a sense, the 2B pencils allow his hands to trade their tight uncomfortable dress shoes for a pair of smooth sailing recreational skates.  What kid wouldn't want that?

Other Pencils Pictured Above:

Ticonderoga No. 1 Pencil (B) (Yellow pencil)
Faber Castell GRIP Writing EcoPencils (HB) with Eraser  (grey pencil with black dots)
Bazic #2B is the blue one in the middle

Other items:
This set of drawing pencils looks like a good deal today (12/16/11) $6.35
I have not tried it but if you want to try out different grades of hardness of pencils, maybe you might like this set which contains grades HB, 2B, 4B, 6B, and 8B and other pencils, sharpeners (looks very sharp), erasers, and even charcoal.  I love charcoal.  Kids who don't like messy hands can try with gloves but drawing with charcoal is fun (just don't let them eat it and I don't know how washable it is).  You can't erase it so you gotta get the kids to go S-L-O-WWWWWW.  Either way, if you want to see which grade is for you, this set is reasonably priced.

This post is dedicated to Pam!  Pam is a very awesome mom who helps her son show his brilliance despite not loving the writing thing so much.  This has got to be hard to do since kids in school show what they know through writing.  ie. we don't get to sing our answers to math equations or dance to show  our ideas for a greener world.  Pam told me that her favorite voice recognition apps are:
Siri on iPhone 4S
Dragon Dictation

This post is also dedicated to my fellow explorers in our Twice Exceptional in NYC yahoogroup especially my partner Melissa.  This group inspires me with our diversity (2e kids are everywhere) and closeness (minority within a minority).  I wish everyone a  no-ball-dropping, mindful, safe, peaceful, and productive final last week in school before the kids' winter break begins.

Disclosure statement: Toys are Tools has not been compensated in any fashion by the manufacturer or retailer of any of the mentioned products for the publication of this post. 

Just in case you were wondering, the next post will be a toy or a game for those of us who just cannot think anymore and could use one more good idea.


  1. We use the Ticonderoga pencils you mention and I wanted to add that I recently bought a scented pencil at the AMNH my son loves.

    Also my husband gave him his old art pencils for homework and I was amazed at the difference. He enjoys drawing more with them. Probably because there are more colors to choose from. This is the brand

  2. Looks very interesting. Thanks for sharing.

    We're trying out Faber Castell's Grip 2001:\

    The little "gripping" bumps help with grip plus provide some interesting sensory
    stimulation, and the lead is pretty smooth. The eraser is GREAT. (My son hates
    erasing--I'm sure it isn't just because he finds the physical act challenging,
    but that is a part of it.) The eraser is shaped like a thick crayon, also has
    the grip/sensory bumps.