Why are fish so well educated? They swim in schools!
Yes, it’s that time of the year again! School is back in session. Which means younger students will be learning their letters and older students will be refining their writing skills. As an occupational therapist in the school district parents often ask me what they can do at home to support good writing skills. I thought this would be a great time to focus on handwriting and provide my top 5 home strategies for parents to support writing skills.
#1. Talk to the teacher! Each school and classroom is different. So I suggest meeting with the teacher to determine what program the class is using. There are many different handwriting programs used in schools today, such as Handwriting Without Tears, Fundations, Size Matters, and Zaner-Bloser. If your school uses a scripted program like Fundations, then each letter has its own verbiage on how to form the letter. Therefore, to keep letter formation consistent at school and at home, adults need to script the letters the same way.
#2. Practice, Practice, Practice! I think it is very important for kids to practice writing through a multi-sensory approach. In school and over summer programs I see students bored with paper and pencil writing tasks. However, once I pull out Play-Doh, sand, salt, shaving cream, paint, crayons, etc. to write in their eyes light up and they are more engaged. I see their work endurance increase because they are learning through play. With kids you have to keep activities FUN for them to be interested! If your kid dislikes textures try using a pencil to form the letters in the various textures or download an app on Android or Apple. If your kid has a difficult time spacing words, pull out some Skittles. Every time you can fit one Skittle in between two words, the child gets to eat the Skittle! This activity is very rewarding for some kids!
#3. Muscle strength and endurance. These two terms often go together, yet people do not understand the difference. Let’s break them down. Muscular strength is the ability to contract the muscle against a resistance for one single muscle contraction. Muscular endurance is the ability to exert submaximal muscle contractions for an extended period. Both of these are extremely important for handwriting. You need core strength in your muscles to sit upright. However, you need core endurance to sit for an extended period of time. Without adequate muscle endurance your child may have a hard time sitting upright throughout the school day. When this occurs I often see students with their heads on the table, which impacts their ability to write legibly because they have a difficult time sizing, spacing and writing on the line. If your kid needs to improve muscular strength and endurance, they may benefit from core exercises like superman and popcorn, as well as fun animal walks.
Muscle strength and endurance is not only needed for the core, but it is needed throughout the entire body. We develop from proximal to distal. This means we develop our core first. Our core strength and endurance impacts the development of our shoulder stability, which impacts our elbow stability, which impacts our wrist and hand stability. Therefore, we need to keep our muscle strength and endurance functional! The following activities are additional ways to improve shoulder, elbow, wrist, and hand stability.
- Writing /Painting on upright surface (easel, slant board, under a table)
- Playing on a jungle gym: monkey bars, climbing ladders
- Putting away groceries
- Animal crawls
- Light yard work (raking, digging holes in sand)
- Scooping and pouring sand and water into buckets
- Play-Doh sculpting
- Crafts that include ripping, cutting, beading, hole punch
#4. Visual Perceptual Skills. This is the ability to interpret what we see. If we look at an apple, we should say “apple”. If we say “banana” then we are not interpreting the correct information. This is very important in writing. I often see students reverse letters such as “b” and “d”, “m” and “w”, “r” and “n”, and “p” and “q”. Often times these students have a hard time with spatial-relations (i.e. left/right, up/down). These students may greatly benefit from completing obstacle courses. When completing an obstacle course, the student should verbalize the directions to increase their spatial relation skills. This may sound like, “I need to go around the tree, up the ladder and down the slide”. These students may also benefit from spot the difference pictures and handwriting practice that focuses on reversed letters. Hint: when handwriting, make it fun and multi-sensory! Try a “color all the d’s” worksheet, reversal flashcards, or make rainbow writing art by tracing the letters with different colors.
#5. Hand-eye Coordination Skills. In the school setting I often see that my students with poor handwriting have a difficult time with hand-eye coordination tasks, like throwing and catching a ball, completing mazes, beading, and tracking a moving object with their eyes. This impacts their writing because you need to move your eyes to and from the paper when copying from a book or the board. If the eyes do not track smoothly, the student may have difficulty writing on the baseline, spacing their letters and words, and copying the correct information. Therefore, the student may benefit from completing graded paper pencil mazes and coloring pages, beading and cutting crafts, target practice, dribbling a ball, jump rope, Lego building sets, and a balloon/ball toss in order to increase his/her hand-eye coordination skills.
So, what did the pen say to the pencil? What’s your point?
My point is to this blog is that there are so many variables and skill sets that influence your child’s writing. If you are concerned about your child’s handwriting then I would consult with your child’s teacher to see which handwriting program is being utilized in school. From there, I suggest asking if you can have extra handouts to practice (and letter scripts) at home using a multi-sensory approach. I have found that consistency is very beneficial when it comes to students correctly forming their letters! I hope you and your student have a fantastic 2018-2019 school year!