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/handwriting-muscles.html#hand ), 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/handwriting-muscles.html#bilat ).

Poor hand position can cause a poor pen grip

We often talk about the most appropriate grip for handwriting being the tripod grip; but this usually only refers to finger position. It is easy to forget the importance of the actual hand position in relation to the pen and paper for handwriting.

The ideal position is for the hand, wrist and elbow to be below the tip of the pencil and under the writing line for both left and right-handed writers.

Some children will hold the pencil in a tripod grip but develop a hooked hand position or move the elbow too far up the table, causing the forearm and wrist to be nearly horizontal with the table edge, because they feel they can see what they are writing more clearly.

A hooked grip puts unnecessary strain on the hand ligaments and forces the body into a poor sitting position, again putting extra strain on the body. This in turn makes handwriting a tiring and uncomfortable task, impacting on a child’s overall learning experience.

It takes time to correct a poor hand position but it is well worth the perseverance as it will enable a child to write freely and more comfortably.

When writing normally, encourage children to angle the paper appropriately as this will also help to correct a poor hand position. With the correct paper tilt they will always be able to see what they are writing. If the paper is tilted at the correct angle for them, they will find a hooked hand position, or having their forearm further up the table, more difficult and uncomfortable to maintain.

Some children will find writing on a sloped desk helpful. Not all are comfortable writing or drawing on a flat surface and may benefit from the paper being positioned on an angled or sloped board. If you are not sure, instead of buying a specialist board, you could make one. Try using a ring binder or lever arch file stuffed with magazines and newspaper to make a sloped board. Tape the edges to stop the papers falling out or you could cover it in sticky back plastic to give a smoother finish to the board. The advantage of this is that you can make them to any angle of slope. Try a few to see which, if any, your child prefers. You may find that they only need the sloped board for a short while. It may also help to reduce the angle of the slope over time so that they gradually get used to moving from a sloped to horizontal writing plane.

Paper Position & Tilt are Important for Good Handwriting

The paper position and tilt on the desk, for both right and left-handed writers, can make a big difference to a child’s handwriting experience and comfort and yet it is an element which is often neglected.

The correct paper position and tilt enables your child to handwrite comfortably while being able to see what they are writing. It also allows the non-writing hand to move the paper up the table so that the writing hand elbow can stay in the same position. The aim is to have the paper move up the table, rather than the writing hand moving down and eventually off the table.

With the non-writing hand moving the paper up the table the writing line stays in the same place which means eye movements are less, helping to make the writing experience less tiring and stressful.

If the paper is positioned and tilted correctly, with their writing hand under the writing line, they will also be able to see more easily what they have just written and where to place the next letter, word or section of text on the page. This is especially important for left-handed writers.

The most appropriate paper tilt angle is generally suggested as anywhere between 20 to 45 degrees anti-clockwise for right-handed writers and 30 to 45 degrees clockwise for left-handed writers.

For more tips and advice on developing a good paper position and tilt:

For Parents: https://teachhandwriting.co.uk/paper-position.html

For Teachers: https://teachhandwriting.co.uk/paper-position-for-comfortable-handwriting.html

Why do Children Fidget or Appear Bored When Handwriting?

There are two key elements that can cause a child to fidget or appear bored when handwriting, both relate to being able to sit correctly:

  1. The height of the table and chair.
  2. The child’s physical core strength.

Table and Chair Height

A poor and uncomfortable sitting position that causes a child to fidget and wriggle about affects their ability to concentrate and pay attention; for example, when listening to a teacher, as well as distracting them from the task and breaking their train of thought. It also puts unnecessary strain on the body, making sitting tasks such as handwriting more tiring.

When a child is sitting on a chair too high for them, they may sit swinging their legs, causing the body to rock slightly. They might wrap their legs around the legs of the chair to stop them aching, which is not good for their circulation and can cause them to lean back away from the table top. Some children will sit with their legs underneath their bottom which often causes them to lean too far over the table due to being off balance, once again not good for their circulation or for handwriting and other fine motor skill activities such as eating or drawing.

If a table is too high for a child, they will have their arms raised too high, causing tension in the upper arms and shoulders or they may rest their head on the table. Both have a profound effect on a child’s ability to handwrite with fluidity, comfort and for any period of time. Another result of this is a child fidgets as they try to readjust their position to get comfortable, which in turn distracts them from the task at hand. 

For tips and ideas on how to help a child develop a good sitting posture and position for handwriting check out our FAQ section of the ‘Sitting’ section on the Parent area of our website: https://teachhandwriting.co.uk/sitting-faq.html

Teachers will find useful information using this link to our website: https://teachhandwriting.co.uk/handwriting-sitting-position-desk.html

Sitting and Core Strength

We often see children slouched over a desk, laying their head on the table or with their head propped up by their hand and arm, or fidgeting about while they are sitting at the desk writing. This can look as if they are bored and disinterested in what they are doing. However, this is not generally the case.

A poor posture position is not always due to boredom or incorrect chair and table height. For some children it is a lack of body strength or core muscle tone (the large muscle groups that control shoulder stability and the trunk of the body) that work to enable us to sit and stand upright for sustained periods of time.

We expect our children to sit at a desk for long periods of time at school. To be able to maintain a good sitting position for writing over any length of time requires good core strength. Those who lack strong core strength tend to slouch over the desk, lay their head on the desk, hold their head in their hand or pull their chair in so far that they can rest their tummy on the edge of the table to help them keep a more upright position.

This is bad for them, as it puts unnecessary strain on the body, causing neck or backache and discomfort, which in turn make them fidget as they try to get comfortable. All this can distract them from the task in hand and limit their handwriting ability as it reduces their hand and fingers movements to handwrite freely.

For more information, games and activities on developing a child’s core strengths check out our ‘Play’ section of the Parents area of our website: https://teachhandwriting.co.uk/games.html

Teachers will find useful information using this link to our website: https://teachhandwriting.co.uk/handwriting-difficulties.html

The Five Stages of Pencil Grip Development

There are 5 developmental stages, that a child needs to go through, before they can successfully use a mature tripod grip. They need to work through each stage and as their hand, shoulder and arm strength and mobility increases so does their ability to move to the next developmental stage of the grip. Children develop through these grip stages over time with new experiences using different tools and drawing/writing mediums especially in the early years (0 to 4 years old).

You will find that young children will move between, or have slightly different versions of, the grips depending on the task or the effect they are trying to achieve. This is exactly what we want to happen.

Stage 1. Palmer-supinate grasp

Holds the crayon/pencil in fist (whole hand) like a dagger. They use whole arm movements from the shoulder to mark-make. Due to this whole arm movement they prefer to work on a vertical surface.

Stage 2. Palmer or digital-pronate grasp

Holds a crayon/pencil with the palm of the hand facing down towards the paper. The crayon/pencil is held by all finger and the thumb. The movement comes from the shoulder and elbow. Again, due to the way the arm moves a vertical surface is preferred.

Stage 3. Four finger and thumb grip

Holds the crayon/pencil between the thumb and four fingers with the crayon/pencil nearly vertical up right position. Movement comes from the elbow and wrist.

Stage 4. Static Quadruped or tripod grip

Holds the pencil in very nearly in the correct position however the web space is narrower than it would be if held in a mature tripod grip. This means that the movement is coming from the wrist and large finger movements.

Stage 5. Mature/Dynamic tripod grip

This is traditionally considered the most appropriate pencil grip for handwriting. Holding the pencil between the thumb and index finger with pencil supported on the middle finger. The ring and little fingers are gently curled inwards. This give an open wide web space which means the movement comes from the fingers.

For more information on the five stages of pencil grip development click on the following link: https://teachhandwriting.co.uk/grip-development.html

Case Studies

For example, young Billy here is using a variation of a stage 1 – 3 throughout these colouring activities:

In this example it might look as if Billy has gone backwards in his grip development but he has not, he has learnt that the grip he is using offers him greater control:

Young William here is using different variations of stages 2 and 3 for gluing and painting activities:

Esme and Issy have both moved to stage 4 although for some activities such as drawing/painting they may use a different grip, but that is what we would expect to see.

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 a 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.

The Best Type of Paper for Teaching Handwriting

Just as the writing tool used by your child changes as they develop, so does the paper they write on.

Informal Pre-handwriting Pattern and Initial Letter Development

If your child is just starting out on the handwriting adventure then any type of plain paper (no ruled lines) is considered the best option, as many children find it less restrictive.

Young children, due to the stage of their physical development, use large movements to draw (from the shoulder rather than the wrist) which often creates larger shapes and lines; you don’t want to restrict this movement as it can cause handwriting difficulties later. As their gross and fine motor skills develop so does their pencil grip and ability to draw and write at a smaller scale, moving more from the shoulder to elbow and wrist.

Formal Pre-handwriting Pattern and Letter Development

When your child is ready to refine their pre-handwriting pattern skills, or move on to forming letters, it is a good idea to use plain paper. The aim at this stage is to learn how to form the letters correctly, not size or neatness as that comes later (Remember, Big is Beautiful).

Before moving to lined paper, to help your child begin to appreciate letter proportions and positioning, paper with picture clues can be used.

On our website the free writing paper and animations reinforce the idea of letter proportions and positioning by splitting the backgrounds into three colour zones to represent the sky, grass and earth. There are a number of reasons why this can be beneficial:

  • It can create a sub-conscious memory in your child’s mind of where particular letters sit in relation to others without the constraints of lines or obvious boundaries, especially as the picture can be any size. Children remember where to place the sun, grass or worms in their drawings; so why not letters?
  • It can be easier to talk through the formation of how a shape or letter is formed with pictorial and colour clues to guide and inform the direction of the movements required.     
  • As your child’s fine motor skills develop so the size of the picture/colour clues can be reduced to match their progress.

As your child’s fine motor skills develop it enables them to form smaller more refined versions of the letters and this is when it is more appropriate to use lined paper.

Warm up For Handwriting!

Warm Up Focus Areas

So, before you try to encourage your little darlings to sit and write, get them to do a few physical handwriting ‘Warm Up Exercises’.  Not only do they help to prepare the hands and fingers for the task ahead, they also help to release any tension that has built up. They are fun to do, which usually brings a smile and often laughter, an added tonic to any learning experience. The warm up exercises can be accessed through a number of ways:

The warm up exercises can be accessed through a number of ways:

  • Teachers through the content section for the Key Stage you are teaching:  

https://teachhandwriting.co.uk/handwriting-warm-up-exercises.html    

#Christmas Fun That Develops Handwriting Skills and No Pencil!

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.

Salt Dough

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!

Go to our ‘More fun handwriting activities’ page (https://teachhandwriting.co.uk/more-activities.html ) in our Resources section for a salt dough recipe, that I have found good to use with children, and just download the ‘Salt Dough Modelling’ pdf.

#Christmas Finger Printing a Fun Way to Support Handwriting

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?

For other useful tips on printing and setting up a printing work station, check out our ‘More fun handwriting activities’ in our Parents section under Learning Through Play: https://teachhandwriting.co.uk/more-activities.html