Helping Children who are Struggling with Handwriting
January 31, 2016
Today’s children are being asked to do more and more at younger and younger ages. Many children are not ready for complex tasks such as reading and writing, because they have not had time to develop the necessary underlying skills. For these children, a little extra assistance can help them get back on track with these essential academic tasks. Allowing children to struggle too long with writing can make all academics seem like a chore. It can also be detrimental to their confidence with school-related tasks and may contribute to significant difficulties in school later on. It is the role of the occupational therapist to assist children with these types of difficulties. Our children are being introduced to handwriting earlier in their school experience. This goes along with an increased emphasis on academics and testing and a decreased emphasis on play as a primary means of learning in Pre-school. In the past, children usually began to learn letters and their sounds in Kindergarten, but were not expected to write short words and sentences until first grade. Now, children are learning their letters in preschool and many are expected to be able to write their first names before they enter Kindergarten. In third grade, when cursive is introduced, there is less time allotted for teachers to actually teach the letters, and to allow students to practice writing at school. Many children are ready for the challenge and are able to learn to write without difficulty. Some children, however, struggle and work extra hard to compensate. Often, when the writing demands increase in fourth and fifth grades, a number of these children can no longer keep up. What is involved in handwriting? Handwriting is a complex task that involves the hands, eyes, and the brain. All of these elements have to work together as a team to produce handwriting. Ideally, handwriting becomes automatic so the writer no longer has to think about forming each letter, but can focus instead on the ideas he or she wants to convey. The hands need to have an adequate amount of strength, dexterity, flexibility, and stability to hold a pencil correctly and write. The trunk and shoulder provide a stable base of support for the hand to work farther out from the body. The most efficient grasp is called a tripod grasp, which involves the index finger and thumb rounded on the pencil, with the pencil resting on the middle finger. The hand also needs to have adequate sensory perception to sense where it is on the paper and send this information to the brain. The eyes need to be able to work together to move across the page smoothly in all directions. They need to be able to focus clearly, as well as efficiently shift focus from close up to far away. The eyes need to be able to coordinate with the hands to produce written output that matches what they are seeing. The brain plays an important and complex role in handwriting, which will not be elaborated here. However, on a basic level, the brain needs to be able to accurately perceive what it is seeing in order to copy letters and words. The brain also needs to be able to remember what all of the letters look like and how they are formed. Hopefully, this becomes an automatic motor plan in the brain, so the child does not have to figure out how to form the letters and spell words each time he or she writes. We have many teaching aids that can help parents do with children to help them build skills needed for handwriting.
With young children, one of the best preparations for handwriting is to use Pencil Grips, Pre-Writing Motor Skill Board, Metal Inset Board, Fanta Colour Pegging Board etc.