Ask the Experts - How To Make Handwriting Practice Fun
Hi I’m Vicky, children’s Occupational Therapist (OT) specialising in children with additional needs. I have worked with thousands of children who are finding handwriting tricky, whether that’s holding their pencil correctly, sitting at their desk, forming their letters, or a refusal to even try! My job is to find out WHY your child is struggling with their writing and to provide a plan to help!
More often than not, poor handwriting is just the tip of the iceberg. This is what parents and teachers see. But what many don’t realise, is that there are SO many skills that are needed for our kids to be able to write efficiently. If they are struggling with one or more of these underlying skill areas, then handwriting will take a big hit! As an OT, I specialise in the development of motor skills, visual processing, sensory processing, gross and fine motor skills, and all of the other areas that are
essential for your child to be able to write. Who knew that handwriting was so complex?!
So, let’s break it down in to some key areas and share fun activity ideas that can help your child!
1)Sensory Processing: is how we take in sensory information from our body and our environment, in order to make sense of the world. Poor sensory processing can affect your child’s attention and concentration, body awareness, ability to hold a pencil, motor planning… it affects everything!
So how can we help?
1) Tactile (touch) play to develop your child’s tactile discrimination. Notice I call this ‘tactile’ play, not messy play - not every parent wants to do messy play, and that’s fine! Of course, messy play has lots of amazing benefits, however we can stimulate your child’s touch sensations through non-messy play too. For example, exploring how leaves and grass scrunch in their hands when playing in the garden, ‘paint’ fingernails using shaving foam or go hunting for small toys hidden in a big ball of play dough!
2) Move! When we move our body, we are stimulating 2 really important sensations in our body called vestibular and proprioception. These are important for lots and lots of reasons, including posture, balance and body awareness… all of which are super important for handwriting! For example, climbing frames, play wrestling, rolling down grassy banks at the park, dancing in your living room!
3)Pre-Writing Shapes: These pre-writing shapes are essential for handwriting: — | O + / \ X Δ Supporting our kids to learn how to copy and draw these shapes will be a huge help when we start to teach them letter formations! For example, if your child finds it tricky to draw a triangle, they will struggle with the letter ‘A’. If they find a circle difficult, they will struggle with circular letters such as o, a, d, p, q. So how can we help?
1. Draw shapes in shaving foam, rice, lentils etc for some lovely sensory play
2. Draw BIG shapes on the ground outside using chalks
3. Then walk, hop or jump along the lines to get their whole body involved!
3)Gross Motor Skills: involve the use of larger muscles of the body, including arms, legs and trunk. When we think of handwriting, we many not automatically think of gross motor skills, however they are really important! We need strong core muscles in our trunk to be able to sit still and hold our body up against gravity, and we need good shoulder stability to help isolate our wrist, hands and fingers to move and control a pencil. So how can we help?
1. Stick a large sheet of paper on the wall and encourage your child to paint, scribble, draw… any form of mark making. Working on a vertical surface gives those shoulder muscles a great workout!
2. Animal walks – Can you walk like a bear? Slither on your tummy like a snake? Walk like a crab? These animal positions work those core muscles!
4) Fine Motor Skills: involve the use of smaller muscles of the hands and fingers. We need so many different fine motor skills for handwriting, such as good hand strength to grasp and control the pencil, a well-established hand dominance so we know which is our writing hand and which is our supporting hand, and the ability to skilfully manipulate the pencil. So how can we help?
1. Stick clothes pegs all over your child’s clothing. Encourage them to remove the pegs by squeezing the ‘legs’ firmly.
2. Rip strips of newspaper and scrunch them into balls, for an indoor ‘snowball fight’!
My final, and most important, tip would be to take away the pressure off writing – PLAY and have FUN!!