Too much Pressure or not Enough – #Handwriting?

Some children may hold a pencil correctly but struggle to maintain and control the pressure required to handwrite.

Here are some additional tips to help support a child who is pressing down too hard with their pencil:

Focused games and activities can help develop both the physical strength and sensory perception areas.

  • Make sure that the pencil isn’t gripped too close to the tip of the pencil (check out the how to teach section for more information).
  • Play dough writing – flatten a large piece of play dough/clay on to a desk and using a pencil write or draw onto it. The idea is to create smooth lines, not torn ones, which pressing too hard will create. The advantage of this activity is it gives a child instant feedback about whether they are pressing too hard or not. When a good pressure has been found ask the child to try doing it with their eyes closed and talk through how their body feels when they are using the right amount of pressure.
  • Corrugated card – place some corrugated card under the writing paper – the aim is to try not to flatten the bumps in the card.
  • Tin foil writing board – wrap a piece of card in tin foil and place the paper on top, the aim is to not rip the foil when writing.
  • Carbon copies – use carbon paper to create an extra copy, start with two or three sheets of paper on top of the carbon paper then move to two and then one, so that your child starts developing an understanding of how much pressure is needed for a task and how that feels. Talk through with them how it feels as they need less pressure to create a copy.
  • Pattern work – look at and discuss light and dark line patterns and how to create them. Then using different writing tools ask the child to try and create their own. Talk through how it feels when they are making dark lines compared to faint/pale colour lines using the same pencil or crayon.

Here are some additional tips to help support a child who is Not pressing down hard enough with their pencil:

Focused games and activities can help develop the physical strength and sensory perception areas.

  • Crayon rubbings – when a good pressure has been found ask the child to try doing it with their eyes closed and talk through how their body feels when they are using the right amount of pressure.
  • Wax drawings – rub a wax crayon all over a piece of paper then turn it over on to a plain piece of paper. Draw on the back of the wax crayoned paper and when finished lift and see another copy of the picture. The greater the pressure the more complete the hidden picture will appear.
  • Carbon copies – use carbon paper to create an extra copy, start with one sheet of paper on top of the carbon paper then move to two so that the child starts to develop an understanding of how much pressure is needed for a task and how that feels.
  • Use a softer pencil such as a B6 or B4 and slowly change the pencils so that they work up to a HB. Each pencil change will mean they have to exert a little more pressure to create the same line mark. B marked pencils are softer than H.
  • Pattern work – look at and discuss light and dark line patterns and how to create them. Then using different writing tools ask the child to try and create their own. Talk through how it feels when they are making dark lines compared to faint/pale colour lines using the same pencil or crayon.

Making it Easier to Copy from the Board

Copying accurately and quickly from a board at the front of a classroom can be a challenge at the best of times. For young children and those with specific learning difficulties it can be near on impossible. It is amazing how many children lose some, if not all, of a break time because they could not complete the copying task quickly enough in the lesson time.

The practise of taking information off the board has its uses and there are times when there is just no other alternative but it can be made more manageable, here are a few ideas which may help.

  • Make sure the child is sitting facing the board.
  • That they can see the board clearly.
  • That light is not reflecting off the board so that the writing disappears.
  • Try using a different colour marker pen for each line of writing (this way a child will be able to quickly locate the line they were copying from).
  • Or try numbering the lines so the child can more effectively find their way around the text.
  • Leave more of a gap between each line of writing so that each line is clearly visible from the back of the room.
  • Ask those children, who struggle copying, to start the first line of writing as you transfer the text to a smaller board which can then be placed at a more appropriate distance and level for them to continue copying from.
  • If you know the information that will need to be transferred to the child’s book then pre-prepare a text that can be given to the child to copy from. It may be in a different order or layout to that on the board; but it is the information and the child’s ability to access it, that is important.
  • Is a full sentence explanation always required or could the information be presented in another way such as a mind map or diagram which would be equally, or even more, useful to the child.

It can be surprising how frustrating and upsetting being asked to copy from the board can be for many children. So, anything that can help to alleviate these emotions and difficulties has got to be worth a try!

#Handwriting Letter & Word Spacing Issues

Some children find it difficult to space their letters in words correctly and to show spacing between words. There can be a number of reasons for this:

  1. They may not understand the concept or conventions of spacing words and letters and this needs to be explained.
  2. Other Physical Skills such as poor spatial awareness skills, eye tracking or general eyesight.
  3. Poor Key Strengths and/or Key Abilities elements, required for handwriting, such as sitting position, paper position, pencil grip, hand position and letter formation knowledge may also be hindering them.

 ‘Tips to support letter and word spacing’ will help you to identify if your child is having difficulty in understanding the spacing conventions and how to support them: https://teachhandwriting.co.uk/letter-and-word-formation-difficulties.html  

Our ‘Other Physical Skills’ assessment will help you to identify if your child’s spatial awareness or eye tracking skills may be affecting their spacing skills: https://teachhandwriting.co.uk/other-physical-skills-assessment.html

If you are not sure then book an eye test for your child, just to be on the safe side, it could be they need glasses.

Our step by step ‘Overcoming Handwriting Difficulties’ guide will support you in identifying other possible reasons for your child’s letter and spacing issues: https://teachhandwriting.co.uk/overcoming-handwriting-difficulties.html

Hand Swapping Issues?

Hand Swapping is a normal developmental stage in infants and young children and therefore, at this stage, not a sign that a child is uncertain of their dominant hand. However, this is not ideal for a child who has started school.

Hand swapping throughout a task is not necessarily a sign that a child is uncertain of their dominant hand.

There are two routes to tackling the hand swapping issue, the one to use depends on your answers to the following questions.

1. Does the child usually start with the one hand and then swap when that hand gets tired?

You can usually tell if this is the case because they may shake out or rub the tired hand and once it is rested go back to using it again. This is probably because their fine motor skills are weak. Through focused games and activities (https://teachhandwriting.co.uk/gross-and-fine-motor-skills-games.html#hand-finger), the muscle strength and dexterity can be gradually built up in the dominant hand, which in turn will build their stamina so that the hand swapping will reduce until they stop it altogether.

Once you are sure of dominance gently discourage swapping hands by taking a break from the activity and coming back to it a couple of minutes later using the preferred hand.

2. Does the child use their left hand if items are presented on their left-hand side and their right hand if they are presented on the right-hand side?

In toddlers and young children this is expected. In older children however it could mean that they have developed a delay in their skill to cross the mid-line point. This developmental bilateral coordination skill is vital to develop and can be addresses through a range of simple games and activities (https://teachhandwriting.co.uk/gross-and-fine-motor-skills-games.html#bilateral-coordination).

You can check a child’s hand and finger strengths (fine motor skills) and their bilateral coordination (gross motor skills) using our Key Strengths Assessment (https://teachhandwriting.co.uk/the-four-essential-strengths.html).

The Right Handwriting Tool for the Job!

As with learning any new skill the right tool at the right time can make a real difference to the whole learning experience as well as the outcome. Learning to handwrite is no different.

Young children due to their gross and fine motor skills ability require chunky shafted tools so that they can grip them effectively. This means they have a greater control over the tool and can achieve a more satisfactory outcome. If they are using a tool that is too thin they will find gripping it difficult and have to keep changing their grip. They will have less control of the tool making the experience disappointing at best and discouraging at worst.

To help young children to store patterns and letter shapes formation into their motor memory it is important that the tools used provide a resistance rather than one that flows effortlessly over the writing/drawing surface. The greater the resistance the more the body can neurologically acknowledge (feel) the movement and help to send appropriate information to the brain.

Some of the best tools for young children to begin learning to draw patterns, shapes and correctly write letters:

  • Chalk on boards, walls or paths
  • Flip chart pens or large felt tips on course paper such as sugar paper
  • Using appropriately sized paint brushes on course paper or surfaces
  • Finger painting or finger drawing in sand, paint or cornflour mix
  • Finger tracing and then trying to draw the pattern, shape or letter straight afterwards.
  • Try chalking the shape or letter onto a blackboard and have the child use a damp sponge to wipe it off again (make sure the child starts in the correct place and moves correctly around the shape or letter to the correct finish point).
  • Appropriately sized crayons and pencils on course paper or card (non-shiny side of cereal boxes and corrugated card can be good fun and different to use).

As children begin a more formal approach to learning to form their letters correctly then appropriately sized and lead grade pencils are the best tool for the job. Pencil come in all widths, lengths and shapes. The key is to find the style of pencil which best suits the child and their stage of pencil grip development. Remember one size doesn’t fit all!

When a child has learnt to join their letters and has a good and consistent letter size and places all their letters on the writing line correctly in relation to each other, then it maybe they are ready to be moved to pen. It is important before moving t child to pen that they are writing with speed (appropriate for their age) and fluidity (comfortable writing all the letters of the alphabet lower and upper case correctly). A child whose handwriting is slow and laboured may need additional support and time before being moved on to pen.

Spring/Easter Drawing Activity Ideas – Supporting Language & #Pre-handwriting Pattern Development

The Easter holiday break is upon us!

We have put together some quick step by step Easter drawing ideas for you to try, using basic shapes such as circles, rectangles and triangles. It is amazing how, by using these simple shapes, you and your child can create fantastic Spring/Easter: cards, pictures mobiles or bunting: http://bit.ly/2kyeo3w

Drawing pictures is a great way to help your child develop their pre-handwriting strokes and shape forming skills. As well as supporting shape, colour, pattern and language development.

Does Your Child Have Weak Hands?

There have been many articles over the last few years reporting the fact that children are struggling to hold pencils correctly for handwriting and drawing. The reasoning for this is more often than not based on our children’s use of technology and the effect this has on their hand strength and finger dexterity (Fine Motor Skills).

Poor fine motor skills and hand strength not only affects a child’s ability to learn and develop a good handwriting style it can make other grip patterns difficult to master as well. Power, precision, stability or a combination of all three are needed by children to compete everyday tasks such as dressing, picking up and carrying objects (especially small items), using a knife & fork, other tools and scissor skills.

To assess your child’s hand, finger strength and dexterity check out our assessment page: http://bit.ly/2C7xYwq

To improve their overall hand and finger strength check out our hand and finger strength and dexterity games:  http://bit.ly/2FhFkR7

Learning to hold a pencil in an appropriate grip is not the only grip style your child needs to develop, especially once they have started school. They will need to develop those which enable them to effectively use scissors as well as a knife and fork. If your child struggles with these activities it may be that they need to be taught how to form the grips correctly (as bad habits develop quickly and are difficult to change) or develop the appropriate hand and finger skills.

How to Hold Scissors

The tip of the thumb is in the top hole of the scissor handle while the tip of the middle finger is in the bottom hole. The index finger is on the bottom edge of the lower handle supporting and stabilising the scissors. The ring and little finger are curled into the palm (except if you are using large scissors as then they will fit in the bottom hole of the handle with the middle finger, to help create the cutting action).

The non-cutting hand should support the paper or item being cut; the thumb is on top of the paper and the fingers underneath, steadying and moving the paper.

How to Hold a Knife & Fork

The handle of the knife or fork lies diagonally across the top section of the palm. The ring and little finger wrap around the handle, the thumb sits on the side of the handle, while the index finger sits flat and straight on the back of the handle. The middle finger curls slightly around the handle so that when the wrist twists round, so that the knife blade edge or prongs of the fork are facing down towards the plate, the handle rests on the top middle finger joint area.

The Quadrupod Grip for #Handwriting

Last week we explained, that this grip is classified as an efficient grip for handwriting.

This grip may not put as much stress on the finger joints as other inefficient grips but it does restrict finger movements and therefore the fluidity of the handwriting.

The Quadrupod Grip is where the pencil is held between the top of the thumb, index and middle fingers and rests on the ring finger with the little finger slightly curled in.

I would normally see this as a developmental transitional pencil grip in younger children as they then move on to develop a Dynamic Tripod Grip, considered the most appropriate grip for handwriting.

Older children who have not moved on to develop the tripod grip may require more focused support in developing gross and/or fine motor skills. It is important to check that they are sitting correctly at the table and that the paper is positioned and tilted correctly for them. If they have a poor sitting posture it may be that extra work needs to be done on helping them to develop their gross motor skills. If this area seems fine then it could be that their fine motor skills require additional attention. See our ‘Key strengths needed for handwriting’ section for more information: https://www.teachhandwriting.co.uk/handwriting-key-strengths.html

It can be very difficult to get an older child to change their pencil grip especially if the old grip, like the Quadrupod Grip, is very similar to the new Dynamic Tripod Grip. This is when it becomes difficult to know whether to continue to try and make a child change their pencil grip or not.

I think what we have to remember is:

“A pencil hold that provides speed, legibility is comfortable and will not cause harm to the joints of the hand over time. If a hold satisfies these criteria there is no need to change it”

(Benrow 2002, cited A Wagenteld, J Kaldenberg (co-editors), 2005: Foundation of Paediatric Practice for the Occupational Therapy Assistant; Pub: Slack Incorporated, ISBN-10:1-55642-629-1)

So if the child is complaining that their hand or fingers hurt or ache when they use the Quadrupod Grip, or that it is hindering their handwriting fluidity and speed, then we do need to support them in changing their grip. For some it may be more appropriate to introduce them to the Adaptive Tripod Grip rather than trying to force them to use the Dynamic Tripod Grip.

We have to remember that every child is different and try our best to cater to their needs rather than our own preferences.  

Alternative Pencil Grips for #Handwriting

We thought we would re-run this series of articles due to the number of questions we receive regarding pencil grips and what is OK or NOT.

What is an efficient pencil grip?

“A pencil hold that provides speed, legibility is comfortable and will not cause harm to the joints of the hand over time. If a hold satisfies these criteria there is no need to change it”

(Benrow 2002, cited: Foundation of Paediatric Practice for the Occupational Therapy Assistant, 2005)

The above publication, and those listed at the end of the articles, explain that there are three efficient pencil grips for handwriting:

1. The Dynamic Tripod Grip is still the most appropriate grip for handwriting (we looked at this last week using our ‘Drawbridge Flip’ method), for those with good fine motor skills, as it allows the fingers to move freely; so the writer can form the letters more smoothly.

2. The Quadrupod Grip, this grip is a little more restrictive because the fingers cannot move as freely as they would if using the Tripod grip.

3. The Adaptive Tripod Grip, developed by the Belgian Neurologist Callewaert in 1963 (cited, Ann-Sofie Selin 2003) is a functional though not conventional grip for handwriting. This grip is often more appropriate to use with children who have low muscle tone or hyper mobility of the finger joints. It can also benefit older children who continue to hold a pencil too tightly, or who hold the pencil lightly using just their fingertips (often writing using whole arm movements), as well as those children who hold a pencil with their thumb wrapped around and across the pencil and index finger.

Over the next couple of weeks we will look more closely at grips 2 and 3.

Bibliography

Ann-Sofie Selin, 2003: Pencil Grip A Descriptive Model and Four Empirical Studies; Abo Akademi University Press

A Wagenteld, J Kaldenberg (co-editors), 2005: Foundation of Paediatric Practice for the Occupational Therapy Assistant; Pub: Slack Incorporated, ISBN-10:1-55642-629-1

Web-sites:

https://www.ot-mom-learning-activities.com/correct-pencil-grasp.html

https://www.otplan.com/articles/pencil-grasp-patterns.aspx

https://www.pediastaff.com/resources-pencil-grasp-patterns–may-2009

Handwriting is a Physical Activity

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.

You will find our assessments on the ‘Key Strengths needed for handwriting’ page: http://bit.ly/2D1RKKs

A better understanding of a child’s key skills abilities enables you to focus more effectively, through targeted physical games and activities, to help them build and develop their skills.

You will find ‘Games to build gross and fine motor skills’ here: http://bit.ly/2FhFkR7  and ‘Games for the other physical skills’ such as visual memory and eye tracking here: http://bit.ly/2M350S1

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.