Drawing pictures is a great way to help your child develop their pre-handwriting strokes and shape forming skills. It is amazing how, by using these simple shapes, you and your child can create fantastic picture.
Try using basic shapes such as circles, rectangles and triangles to begin with and then add some swirls, curves and spiral to give extra detail.
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.
For a good handwriting style children need to develop their:
Gross Motor Skills – so they can sit correctly for periods of time.
Fine Motor Skills – so that they can hold and control the pencil and move the paper up the table as they write.
Motor Memory Skills – so they can recall how to form the letters.
Visual Memory Skills – so they recall what a particular letter looks like.
Spatial Awareness Skills– so they can place the letters correctly on the paper and in relation to one another.
Eye Tracking Skills– scanning from left to right so that the letters are formed and placed correctly.
If a child is struggling with handwriting it is important to take a closer look at their physical abilities. If they do not have all the appropriate key physical strengths to support their handwriting development getting them to do more of the paper and pencil activities is not the answer.
Our assessments are simple to complete and do not need any specialist equipment. The important elements are; your knowledge of the child and your observations of them at play and while they are engaged in normal day to day task.
Handwriting is such an important skill as it engages the neurological pathways and working memory in a way that pressing a keyboard just doesn’t; so once mastered it helps to open up the doorways to other literacy skills such as phonics, reading, spelling and composition.
We are always being shown how important play is in the development of young animals’ survival and hunting skills. How many times have you thought how cute or lovely when watching kittens, puppies or polar bears playing?
Humans are also animals which thrive and develop through play; in fact, play is so important the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights state it as a right for every child (Ginsburg, 2013).
We often think of play as a frivolous pastime rather than a practical and meaningful one. However, here at Teach Children 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:
Physical Play – active exercise (running, jumping, skipping etc..), rough & tumble and fine motor skills activities to develop whole body and hand and eye co-ordination strength and endurance. The outdoor element of such play develops independence, resourcefulness and self-regulation while the fine motor skills activities support the development of concentration and perseverance.
Play with Objects – starts as soon as a child can grasp and hold an object; mouthing, biting, turning, stroking, hitting and dropping. It’s how we all learn through the exploration of our senses (sensory-motor play). This type of play develops our abilities to; physically manipulate items, think, reason and problem solve, to set challenges and goals as well as to monitor our own progress.
Symbolic Play – refers to the development of spoken language, visual symbols such as letters and numbers, music, painting, drawing and other media used for communication of thought and ideas. This type of play allows children to develop the abilities to express and reflect on experiences, ideas and emotions. Sound and language play develops phonological awareness required for literacy, while number play that relates to real life situations supports numeracy skills.
Pretence/socio-dramatic Play – Pretend play provides the opportunity to develop cognitive, social, self-regulatory and academic skills. This kind of play means children have to learn and pick up on unspoken rules of interaction, taking on the role of a character and playing within the expected confines of that role.
Games with Rules – physical games such as chase, hide & seek, sport, board and computer games. Develop social skills and the emotional skills of taking turns, winning and losing as well as other people’s perspectives.
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.
There are a number of possible reasons why a child may reluctant to write or have a poor writing speed. Over the last few months, 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.
Eye tracking and/or spatial awareness difficulties can have a dramatic effect on a child’s handwriting ability. Weak skills in these key areas make it difficult for children to form letters correctly (curves and lines often not joining to complete the letter shape), as well as being unable to appropriately space letters in words and words in sentences. Other poor presentation skills include being unable to write on lines and often missing lines out when following on with a sentence.
It is also worth pointing out that a child with poor eye tracking and/or spatial awareness skills will also find reading difficult.
Eye tracking is the ability to control and coordinate the fine eye movements needed:
For left to right eye movements, without moving the head, needed to follow a line of writing as the letters are formed or for reading a line of print.
To focus and move the eyes to follow an object without moving the head, in all directions.
To track/follow objects near and far.
To focus on one object without moving the eyes.
Poor eye tracking skills can make handwriting very difficult, causing letter formation, spacing and positioning problems, leading to poor presentation. Often words are missed out or repeated, causing composition and legibility issues.
Activities that help to build these strengths and skills are: Swing Ball, target games and catching games.
Game idea: Goal post skittles
You need: Posts/marker, large plastic drink bottles/skittles and a range of ball sizes.
How to do it:
Place the posts about 2 metres away from the start position and about half a metre apart. Place the skittles about half a metre behind the posts but directly between them. The child starts by rolling a large ball through the posts to knock the skittles over. Before they roll the ball explain to get a maximum score, they need to knock all the skittles over in one roll and that the best way to do this is to look directly ahead through the posts at the skittles, NOT at the ball or their hand.
It may take a little practise, as they improve they can use a different size ball or move the skittles so that they form different patterns which means they have to be more accurate with the roll.
This game can also be used as a foot and eye activity, the same rules apply, they must look to where they want the ball to end up not at their feet or the ball, tricky!
Spatial awareness is the ability to be aware of:
The space around you and your position in that space.
The position and relationship of other objects in relation to one another and yourself.
Poor spatial awareness skills make handwriting difficult as it affects the ability to understand and produce the directional pushes and pulls required to form letters; as well as difficulties with spacing and positioning. Combined, these difficulties can cause poor presentation and possible legibility issues.
Activities that help to build these strengths and skills are: games such as ‘Twister’ or ‘Simon Says’ and jigsaws and pattern making.
Games idea: Pattern making
You need: Beads, building blocks, Lego or shapes.
How to do it:
Talk through the process of making the same pattern as shown on a card or already produced; for instance, the red square goes on the right of the blue square and the yellow square is below the blue square. Ask the child to verbalise what they see and are doing to recreate the pattern.
Patterns can be created and copied with all sorts of items – beads, building blocks, Lego and shapes.
As skill levels improve tessellation (a pattern of shapes that fit perfectly together) activities and square or patterned paper for colouring and creating their own pattern designs are enjoyable.
Handwriting skills don’t start with pencil and paper they begin with earlier play opportunities. Using play-dough type modelling materials is great for developing hand and finger strength, bilateral coordination, sensory perception and for learning and perfecting different grips for using tools.
So, why not make some great salt dough Christmas gifts and tree decorations with your child. Not only will they melt the hearts of those who receive them but you will be developing your child’s fine motor skills (needed for good handwriting) while having fun, can’t be bad!
Hand and finger printing can be a fun way of getting your child used to touching and using different textured mediums. The creative element can help some children to cope with, and learn to overcome, some sensory tactile defence difficulties. Being happy holding objects allows them to hold a pencil comfortably, leading to better handwriting.
Handwriting requires a child to apply the right amount of pressure to get the pencil marks of the letters on to the page. Too little pressure and the writing is often faint and wriggly in appearance (like a spider has walked across the page). Too heavy and the marks are very dark and can tear the paper; often the writing looks big, angular and laboured. Not being able to apply the correct pressure also affects how a child holds the pencil, which can cause the hand and fingers to tire more quickly, making writing tasks challenging.
Printing activities help your child to start to become aware of how to control the amount of pressure they use and the effect that this has on the quality of the work produced. Learning to control the amount of pressure exerted and how it feels can be very difficult for some children and it takes time and a range of experiences to develop these skills.
There are some fabulous printing ideas out on the internet; one of my favourite art resources is The Usborne Art Idea Books. Hand and finger printing can create some amazing artwork which can be used to make wonderful personalised Christmas cards, tags and paper.
Who could not be charmed by these fun thumb and fingertip snowmen or robins or delighted by a hand print angel?
Cooking is a great fun way to practise getting both hands to work together. This helps to develop coordination, hand and finger strength and dexterity skills; all skills required for handwriting. However, it is amazing how much talk can come from this as well; not just at the time with you but when they share the day’s experience with others later on (developing their phonological awareness).
An added benefit at this time of year is that you can do ‘Pick Your Own’. Getting out and about and encouraging your child to pick their own fruit is not only great fun but another sneaky way of working on their hand and finger strength and dexterity.
There are so many recipes, especially online, for making quick easy great tasting food (make a large batch and freeze the rest).
So, if the sun is shining, or it is just not raining, get out there find your local ‘Pick Your Own’ or check out the bargains at your local shops/market and get cooking!
The last thing you and your child probably want to think about right now is handwriting or phonics and getting ready for next term; and quite right too!
So, don’t think about it in the conventional way of practise, practise and practise.
Think more play, play and play!!!
Children learn so much through just playing; developing physical, mental, communication and vocabulary strengths and skills, which all support them at school and with learning.
Once introduced to a new game or activity children will very often take it and make it their own, making new rules and introducing extra characters or challenges.
The skill as a parent is remembering to let go of your preconceived ideas about how a game should be played and letting your child take the initiative.
If you provide the opportunities, it is amazing how they will take on the challenge of inventing a new game or (in their eyes) improving an existing one.
This does not have to cost a penny; use the toys they already have or make games using empty plastic bottles or cardboard tubes.
The following types of play can support and develop the key strengths and skills your child needs for handwriting and you have not had to mention school or homework.
The local play park is a fantastic free resource; running, jumping, crawling and climbing can all be encouraged. If your child is a little reluctant then it may well be that they are unsure how to do some of these activities. Explain when jumping that they needed to land on their feet and bend their knees as they land. Start small and as their confidence grows so does the height or distance they jump. Climbing can be scary for some children so again explain how to climb, moving one hand or foot at a time so that there are always three other points of contact.
If you are lucky enough to have a garden then mud play is messy but so much fun, it can be contained in a small area and will not only make you a cool adult but, if you join in, it will knock years off you (have a go, it is a great free therapy session).
Skittle games are always fun, extend the activity by decorating the skittles (plastic bottles or cardboard tubes) using anything from crayons, paint or even dress them up as people or animals.