Handwriting is an essential skill despite the ever-advancing technological world we live in. It is a fact that in the classroom, handwriting remains the primary tool of communication and knowledge assessment for students.
Currently in the state of Texas, students within local school districts are required to take a standardized assessment that requires handwriting skills not only to complete the composition section, one of the main subtests, but also to finish the other sections such as math.
The bottom line is that children spend a majority of their days using handwriting skills and this only increases with age.
When your child is unable to write legibly or fluidly, you might find that he or she becomes frustrated, avoids doing homework, receives poor grades despite knowing the information or even begins to have a poor self-esteem.
Since most schools no longer emphasize handwriting, they rely on parents to assist in teaching the necessary skills. This is not an easy task, but with some guidance it can be accomplished with some quick tips.
- A multisensory approach is always best and will capture any learning style. So when working on handwriting use things the child can feel, see, hear and smell.
- Provide an appropriate environment for learning that will limit distractions, but have some fun with teaching in different places.
- Writing utensils may need to be adapted so that an efficient grasp can be obtained. An efficient grasp is typically one in which the child uses the tip of their thumb and first two fingers. Technically this grasp is called a tripod grasp. Signs that you may need to adapt the utensil or work on the grasp is if they move their fingers or thumb during the task or complain of pain.
- Start with simple shapes first and educate on the directions in which you form the strokes (ie: start at the top and draw a straight line down, start at the top and make a big curve, etc.) and then progress to letters and numbers.
- Be patient and consistent.
Many approaches and several programs can help guide you through the process of teaching handwriting. Some of these programs are:
- Handwriting Without Tears
- Loops and Other Groups
- Zaner – Bloser
- First Strokes
Try these activities to make writing a bit easier and more enjoyable for your child:
- Use of dough is multipurpose – it exercises the muscles of the hand needed for handwriting and you can use the dough to form shapes, letters and numbers. The dough can even be scented to your child’s preference.
- Most think of paint, but also think about other options such as shaving cream, pudding, hair gel, etc. You probably have lots of options at home. These can be used with fingers, brushes, sponges, Q-tips, etc., to work on handwriting skills.
- Popsicle sticks can be used when working with straight line letters, numbers and shapes.
- Writing on a vertical surface can help the child strengthen and use the needed arm and hand muscles. For example, tape a piece of paper to the fridge and have them color or draw, or even have them lie on their tummy on the ground while doing handwriting tasks.
Always remember to make things fun – this is how kids learn best! Also, if you run out of ideas there are a ton on how to make handwriting fun and build fine motor skills on the web.
For patients who have handwriting challenges, therapy can help. During individual sessions, therapists are able to focus on strength, skills and techniques to enhance the child’s abilities.
While a group session offers slightly less one-on-one time, group activities allow the kids to work together to accomplish their goals. It is also nice sometimes for kids to see that others their age also struggle with handwriting.
Regardless of which avenue your child receives he or she will always leave with greater confidence in their skills as teachers report what improvements they have noticed. Nothing is better than getting a paper or test home with positive comments or a grade that reflects the child’s knowledge rather than discounted for illegible handwriting.
This post was contributed by Stephanie Patterson, OTR, formerly a clinical manager on the staff at Our Children’s House at Baylor in Waxahachie.