Handwriting with fluidity, speed, accuracy and over longer periods of time requires a complex range of whole body and hand strengths and skills. So, it is not surprising that many children find handwriting challenging.
The summer holidays are the perfect time to start working on supporting your child to develop the physical strength and skill sets they need for handwriting and many other everyday activities.
How do we do this?
Last week we looked at the importance of different types of play. By giving your child the opportunity to experience the different types of play you will also be supporting them to build their physical strength and skill sets.
Handwriting skills development is not all about paper and pencil worksheet activities (though these help later on).
So, it is the perfect time to go out and play or, as is often the case, stay indoors and play.
Play is often thought of as a frivolous pastime rather than a practical and meaningful one. However, here at Teach Children Ltd we see play as a vital part of a child’s physical, emotional, social and intellectual growth and well-being.
There has been considerable research over the years on play, which supports our point of view, with the consensus being that children need to experience five different types of play (Dr.D Whitebread, 2012). These five types of play are roughly based on the developmental opportunities they provide, especially if it is child driven rather than adult lead.
In our update parent section of the Teach Handwriting website we have a new ‘Learning Through Play’ section. Here you will find games and activities ideas to suit all ages.
If you click on the ‘Games’ button or follow the link (https://teachhandwriting.co.uk/games.html) you will find games split into the five types of play, which will help you encourage your child to experience them all.
This wide range of play opportunities will also support your child in developing their gross and fine motor, communication and turn taking skills.
At Teach Handwriting our aim is to move children off of worksheets as soon as possible. To achieve this, it is important to encourage them to transfer their skills to plain or lined paper whichever is most appropriate to their ability level. We realise that it is not always possible to buy paper with the appropriate line height in all cases, so would recommend creating your own on the computer.
Use a combination of worksheets and lined paper in each handwriting session with your child:
Use the colour worksheet, or a grey scale version, and complete one or two rows.
Then encourage the child to try the same patterns or letters on appropriately lined paper, again try one or two rows only.
Hopefully the worksheet will last over a couple of handwriting sessions and you and the child will see an improvement over the time. The sooner they learn to transfer their skills to paper the better.
We realise that printing off our worksheets and coloured lined paper can become costly so, to help reduce the costs:
Use a colour version of the appropriate worksheet initially and then try printing in grey scale. Children usually make the adjustment to grey scale well once they are used to how the picture clues and colours work.
You could also use the grey scale worksheets and colour the start of each row with the appropriate colour.
Choosing and using the right pen can help to avoid smudging; make handwriting look smarter and prevent hand strain when writing for extended periods of time. Everyone is different, so the type of pen required is different too.
There are three main points to think about when choosing a pen for handwriting:
The type of ink it uses.
The size and weight of the pen.
The type of point it has.
1. Types of ink used:
The ink is quick drying and so does not smudge easily
The ink flows smoothly depending on the point style of the pen
Ink can stop and start for no apparent reason
The ink does not dry as quickly as oil-based ink so can smudge
The ink flows very smoothly
2. Pen sizes and weights
Because pens come in different shapes, sizes and weights it is important for your child to try out a range of pen styles to help them find the best fit for them. Remember one pen style does not suit all, everyone’s hand size and finger length are different.
Things to consider when choosing a pen:
Does it feel too short or too long?
Does it feel too thin or too thick?
Does it feel too heavy or too light?
Some children like a smooth round pen shape.
Some prefer a textured round pen shape.
While others may prefer a hexagon shaped pen.
3. Pen points
Pens come with different point or nib widths and shapes. The size and shape of the point gives different line thicknesses and are usually purchased as point sizes: extra fine, fine, medium or bold (some will have a measurement on as well).
A fine pen point produces thin lines and some children will find this can help to make writing neater.
A medium and bold point give thicker lines which many may find smoother to write with, though the letter size may be slightly larger because of it.
Once again it is important that children try out a range of pen point sizes to help them find the best fit for them.
Remember one pen point style does not suit all, everyone’s fine motor skills and writing pressures are different.
Last week we looked at why pencils, rather than pens, are a good first tool for learning to handwrite.
Children can’t wait however for that magic day when the teacher moves them from pencil to pen. It really is a big moment and means more than just “I can write neatly”, for them it is an acknowledgement of their maturity (growing up) and a status symbol of intellect and ability in their eyes and those of their peers.
Moving from pencil to pen can have a dramatic effect on a child’s confidence and self-esteem. I have seen how moving a child from pencil to pen can give them a new found confidence and self-belief in their own ability, because I showed my belief in them by making that gesture. They may not have had the perfect font style in pencil but moving to pen did improve their ability to form letters more freely and become more consistent in their formation.
It is difficult to put an age on when a child should move from pencil to pen because every child is different. Schools have different policies on when this should happen, with most tending to make the move at around the age of 8/9 years old. It should really depend on the child’s ability rather than their age, as well as the potential benefits the move may have to confidence and self-esteem.
It does not make sense to keep a child working with pencil until they have a perfect handwriting style because that may never happen. For many a neat, beautiful handwriting style may never be a reality.
Advantages of pens:
A good quality pen will give an even ink flow.
A more consistent hand pressure is required, helping to develop and maintain a fluid handwriting style (reducing hand strain).
Fibre tip and roller pens can give the same look and writing experience as a good quality fountain pen, but are far less messy (especially for left handed people).
With the right pen everyone’s handwriting can look good, (I love my fountain pen for that reason).
Cheap biro pens require a lot of hand pressure and give an inconsistent ink flow (so not very different from pencils).
Cheap fountain pens can be scratchy and messy
Some schools will insist on using a particular type of pen which is not always good for all.
My tip would be to test a few pen types and weights to find out which ones your child finds the most comfortable and enjoyable to use. I realise this can be an issue if your child’s school insist on one type of pen. But if you can prove your child’s handwriting ability is great with a different style, I think it is worth talking to them about it.
Moving from pencil to pen is an important point in a child’s education, affecting their confidence and self-esteem, and like any transition stage it should be approached with thought and care.
Why do we use pencils when we start to teach handwriting?
Modern classrooms use a range of technology, such as interactive white boards, so why are our children still using pencils when learning how to handwrite?
Pencils are a great first tool for learning to handwrite!
They come in different widths and lengths (to cater for the different gross and fine motor skills of the children).
Have different lead thickness and grades (soft to hard) of lead.
Provide varying degrees of resistance (depending on lead grade) which slows down the letter formation process enough for young children to have the control required to start to form their letters correctly. The greater the resistance the more the body can neurologically acknowledge (feel) the movement and help to send appropriate information to the brain.
As a child develops their handwriting skills to a more fluid handwriting style the pencil type can be easily changed.
Cheap and easily accessible.
A drawing medium which young children are already comfortable using.
Often a one size fits all approach to the pencil type, rather than tailoring to a child’s needs.
Difficulty in maintaining a good writing point, results in the child needing to use different levels of pressure, making handwriting hard work.
Over use of rubbing out mistakes (wastes time and develops a culture where making a mistake is seen as a failure). Making mistakes is how we learn, it is not failing!
Pencils are practical in school:
With pencil, children find it more difficult to write on one another and their clothes.
You do not have a whole class of children clicking pens (Velcro is bad enough).
Pen lids are not constantly lost or being swallowed.
Pencils seem less of a problem when stuck in ears or up the nose.
They are cheap.
Pencils do not explode, leaving a mess all over the room and any child that happened to be in the room at the time.
Time not wasted by trying to suck the ink up out of the pen.
Handwriting is a complicated skill to learn and having the right tools for the job always helps. It is worth spending a little time with children using a range of pencil styles and lead grades to find ones that they find comfortable to use for handwriting. These will be different from those they use for drawing. As their handwriting skills develop so the type and grade of pencil they begin to favour will change.
There are a number of possible reasons why a child may reluctant to write or have a poor writing speed. Over the last seven weeks we have looked at a number of these:
Having the right writing tool
Letter and word spacing
Too much or not enough pressure
Visual and Motor Memory issues
Spatial Awareness and eye tracking issues
Copying from the board
Other key areas to look at we have also cover are:
Sitting correctly and why they may find this difficult.
The importance of learning to position and tilt the paper appropriately.
Pencil grip – is the grip appropriate for their age and ability and when to support them.
Having the writing hand under the writing line.
Learning to write their letter correctly.
Tips for a Child who Actively Avoids, or is Reluctant, to do Writing or Drawing Activities
Best tip – Don’t force them, the more you push the more reluctant they will become.
Assess their physical ability.
If weaknesses are found play the games that will build the appropriate muscles groups.
Develop directional skills and shape formation through activities that don’t require a pencil so that they are still developing their motor memory skills which will help them later on when they do start to draw and write.
When ready, try timed drawing and writing activities after your child has had a good run around or physical activity (but not when they are tired).
Set up a good writing environment where they are sitting comfortably and without distractions, such as the TV.
Correct poor posture and keep the activity short. One minute of happy drawing is better than no minutes.
Try a ‘Playtime Drawing /Writing Session’ (see below).
End the sessions with a fun activity or treat.
This will take time, patience and encouragement, each improvement, no matter how small, needs to be recognised and positively praised.
Remember as your child’s skills develop so does their confidence to try, and their self-esteem, as they succeed where once they felt they failed.
How to Organise a Playtime Drawing/Writing Session
When ready, try timed drawing or writing activities after your child has had a good run around or other physical activity (but not when they are tired).
Set up a good writing environment where they are sitting comfortably and without distraction, such as having the TV on.
Correct poor posture and keep the activity short – up to 5 minutes initially. However, one minute of happy drawing/writing is better than no minutes.
After the drawing/writing play a non-drawing activity or game with your child. Make this break between 3 and 5 minutes long, ensuring your child knows when it will end (use a timer so they can see when they will need to stop)
Return to the original drawing/writing activity for up to another 5 minutes.
End the sessions with a fun activity or treat.
Tips on Running the Session
Start with 2 drawing/writing activities and then slowly increase the drawing/writing time and/or the number of activities and reduce the playtime slot times.
You could try to do a couple of these kind of sessions at different times during the day.
It may take time for your child to be comfortable with the sessions. You need to show a lot of patience and encouragement, each improvement no matter how small needs to be recognised and positively praised.
Remember as your child’s skills develop so does their confidence to try and their self-esteem grows as they succeed where once they felt they failed.