Vertical to Horizontal Surfaces for Handwriting

Artist with easel

Young children, due to the stage of their physical development, draw from the shoulder rather than the elbow and wrist using large arm movements. At this stage they often prefer vertical drawing and painting surfaces as it allows a free range of movements. This is often why young children will write on walls, not because they are being naughty but because it just feels comfortable and so more enjoyable.

Drawing and writing on a vertical surface is important at this stage as it helps young children develop the wrist strength and flexibility they will need later on to hold a pencil correctly for handwriting.

The jump from a vertical to a horizontal writing surface can seem too great for some children; due to their stage of development. These children may benefit from the paper being positioned on a sloped board.

If you are not sure whether a child needs a sloped board for handwriting, 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; 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, the child prefers.

A homemade sloped board is just as effective as a bought one. Often a child only requires one for a short amount of time and quickly moves to writing on a horizontal surface. For a few children a sloped surface may be required for a few years, or indefinitely, in which case a purpose bought sloped writing board is a sounder investment.

Pre-handwriting Patterns – The First Step to Handwriting

Pre-handwriting patterns are the first step in helping a child to learn how to form letters for handwriting. They help the child to learn the shapes and directional pushes and pulls required to form letters. All letters are a combination of these shapes and lines.

Young children can start to learn these patterns through their play, long before they are ready to pick up a pencil, moving toys back and forth across the floor or whirling them around in the air. To a child it is just play and fun, but you are doing something far more powerful and constructive by helping them to develop the motor memory patterns and directional movement skills they will need for handwriting.

Later, as their coordination and gross motor skills develop, they make more controlled and varied movement patterns in their play. Changing directions, speed and size are all prerequisite skills needed for learning pre-handwriting patterns.

These handwriting patterns do not need to be taught as worksheet activities (though they do help to perfect shape and pattern formation), drawing pictures and patterns in sand, paint and with other writing tools are all fun ways to practise.

Teaching the handwriting patterns in groups helps to further develop the specific movements (pushes and pulls) required to form them and help commit them to the motor memory. A child can then recall these motor memories to support them as they begin to form letters.

Once the handwriting patterns have been mastered a child will have the confidence and skills base necessary to start forming letters, numbers and symbols.

Have you got your Free Pre-handwriting Pattern Animations & Worksheets? http://bit.ly/1yibFhm

 

The Quadrupod Grip for Handwriting

IMG_3288.JPG

A few weeks ago, we explained that this grip is classified as an efficient grip for handwriting.

I have to confess that I‘m not totally convinced.

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 – Fit for Handwriting’ section for more information: http://bit.ly/1LABUGZ

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 grip the 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 (see last week’s blog) 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.

Is Poor Body Posture or Pencil Grip Holding your Child Back?

Boy writng head leaning on hand

We expect our children to sit and write at a desk for longer periods of time at school and this can become very challenging for some children.  Handwriting is a very physical task requiring good gross and fine motor skills. A weakness in either, or both, of these areas can be the reason for a child to struggle with longer handwriting tasks.

Our step by step flow chart will guide you through the possible causes. Start from the top and work through each stage, clicking on the boxes to take you to the relevant section of our website. Identify possible reasons for your child’s poor body posture or pencil grip and our suggestions on how to help them: http://bit.ly/2JJpvRq

Why it is important to correct a poor body posture and/or pencil grip?

Children with a poor body posture often slouched over a desk, laying their head on the table or with their head propped up by their hand and arm, 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 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 many 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).

This is bad for them, as it puts unnecessary strain on the body, causing neck or backache and discomfort, which in turn makes 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 finger movements.

Children with a poor pencil grip can find forming letters difficult and their handwriting can be slow or uncomfortable. We often talk about the most appropriate grip for handwriting being the tripod grip (if developmentally appropriate bit.ly/1s7XjNP); but this usually only refers to finger position. It is easy to forget the importance of the actual hand position in relation to the pencil 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 (this is roughly at 45 degrees to the table edge if the paper is tilted correctly: bit.ly/1GsZVJ6).

Some children will hold the pencil in a tripod grip but develop a hooked hand position (more commonly seen with left handed writers) 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 better.

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 your child’s overall learning experience.

To Play is to Learn

There has been a lot in the press recently about the changes the Government are looking to make to the Early Years curriculum, such as a greater influence on teaching phonics, reading and maths skills (Ofsted’s Bold Beginnings Report). It feels as if they are pushing quite advanced skill sets down in to the Early Years. This seems to be going against the ethos of other countries that are often quoted to us as having exemplary Early Years curriculums. These are using and developing more play structured curriculum approaches; such as Finland (children start school at 7 years old).

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).

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. 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 experience, 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.

(Dr.D Whitebread, 2012)

Here are some articles from home and around the world I thought you may find interesting that support and highlight the importance of play in learning:

Bibliography

Kenneth R. Ginsburg, MD, MSEd, 25/07/2013; ‘The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds’: THE AMERICAN ACADEMY OF PEDIATRICS: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/119/1/182.full

Dr.D. Whitebread, April 2012: ‘The Importance of Play’; Commissioned for the Toy Industries of Europe:  http://www.importanceofplay.eu/IMG/pdf/dr_david_whitebread_-_the_importance_of_play.pdf

 

Did you miss out on the National Handwriting Day opportunity?

Joins syle sentences

The 23rd January was National Handwriting Day. Looking at our web site visitor numbers and quantity of social media posts there doesn’t seem to have been much support for the day. What a difference to World Book Day!

Was it because we don’t think we can make handwriting exciting and fun? Was it because children, and ourselves for that matter, don’t see the point in handwriting as most communication now involves touching a screen?

Did you know handwriting allows children to do so much more than just record information with paper and pen?

Gentry & Graham (2010) explain in their white paper how handwriting impacts on other important learning processes such as storage and retrieval of information to and from the memory, as well as reinforcing the link between letters and sounds (phonics). The learning of the letters of the alphabet is done through a visual system in the brain which aids letter recognition, the most reliable predictor of future reading success.

Neurological research (Karin James, 2012) has found that young children who learn their letters through visual practice, typing or hearing alone do not show the same benefits in pre-reading skills as those who have handwritten the single letter forms.

Therefore, developing handwriting skills is a key part of learning to read as it helps a child to understand that letters stand for sounds and that sounds are put together to make words. Learning to write letters is an important part of this understanding.

Research has found that those children without an automotive recall (instant, subconscious) of the letter shapes and their formation have their composition restricted (Gathercole, Pickering, Knight & Stegmann 2004, cited Medwell et al. 2007).

There are lots of ways of supporting handwriting, not all of them linked to pen and paper, and so everyday can be a handwriting day if you and the children believe it is important. You don’t have wait until next year!

Bibliography

Gentry.J.R, Graham.S, Fall 2010: Creating Better Readers and Writers: The Importance of Direct Systematic Spelling and Handwriting Instruction in Improving Academic Performance. White Paper-Sapertein Associates.

James T, January 2012, http://homepages.indiana.edu/web/page/normal/20986.html

Medwell. J, Wary. D: Handwriting: what do we know and what do we need to know, Literacy Vol. 41, No 1, April 2007.

Warm up For Handwriting!

Front Picture from Hand & finger Assessment  tommy-thumb

Well the festive holidays are over and many of us are back at work and school. So it is time to get back into good habits to set us off right into the New Year!

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:

  • By clicking on the Sun icon on the Letter Formation pages of the website
  • In the Key Strengths section of the website
  • In the Resources section of the website, by clicking on the activities button

Play Ideas to Support Correct Letter Shape Formation

Letter Shape Play

Dated 12/10/17

Learning to handwrite does not start with pen and paper but through play, as children explore shape and motion (how the body moves) through their senses – touch, sight and body awareness. Play is such an important element of your child’s physical, emotional, social and academic development.

It is through play that you can really engage your child in learning how to correctly form letters (the start points, orientation, directional movements and finish points).

Our non-pencil – ‘Big to Small’ activities are an easy fun way to start developing these skills early on through play: http://bit.ly/1ASjnua

Young children love seeing their name so it is a great way to introduce letter formation; here are some other fun ideas:

  • This activity can be done indoors on large sheets of paper or using chalk on a path or patio (the beach is also a great place to do this). Write your child’s name very big and make a mark on each letter that represents a start point (an arrow showing the direction of travel can also help). Remember to use a capital letter for the first letter of their name and we would suggest lower case letters for the remaining letters. Use the letters as a track for racing cars or toys. If you make the letters big enough your child could walk, hop, jump or skip around the letters. To help them remember the letters, once they have finished a letter, encourage them to say that letter‘s alphabet name (NOT a sound the letter can make).
  • Collect stones, twigs, leaves, etc… Use them to make the letters of your child’s name. They may only make one or two of the letters, before making a hedgehog house, nest or den for their toys becomes more interesting, but this does not matter, it is all part of the adventure.
  • Feely bag games are a fun way to explore shape and form. Try placing the letters of your child’s name into a bag or box they cannot see into. It is useful to talk through the letter shapes beforehand so they can see them as they move them about in their hands; then place them in the bag. For some children it can help to have another set of the letters outside the bag to help them identify the shape they are handling in the bag. Again encourage them to use the alphabet name of the letter.
  • Play-dough, clay and Plasticine activities are great for developing hand strength for handwriting and learning how to form letter shapes.

Your child will love these sort of activities as they see it as just playing and they get your undivided attention. You will enjoy it as you are sharing quality time with your child helping them to develop more than just their letter formation ability but also their communication and social skills.

Learning through play is a powerful way of supporting your child’s development. So have fun and play!

Handwriting is a Physical Activity

Girl Cartoon Hold PenDated 14/09/17

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 as well as 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. Getting them to do more of the paper and pencil activities is not the answer if they do not have all the appropriate key physical strengths to support their handwriting development.

Our assessment is simple to complete and does not need any specialist equipment. The important elements are; your knowledge of your own child and your observations of them at play and while they are engaged in normal day to day task.

Link to our Assessment page: bit.ly/1Aibiie

A better understanding of your 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.

Link to our Physical Games page:  bit.ly/1yfbrHU

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.